We're still haunted by the ghosts of 1968.
Not many days ago, the right began to push the insane meme that the Wall Street crisis resulted not from deregulation and deception but from the "hippie ethos." Now we have this L.A. Times piece
which claims to show us the true face of the Tea Party movement, based on the results of a recent CNN poll:
Neither "average Americans," as they like to portray themselves, nor trailer-park "Deliverance" throwbacks, as their lefty detractors would have us believe, tea partyers are more highly educated and wealthier than the rest of America. Nearly 75% are college educated, and two-thirds earn more than $50,000.
More likely to be white and male than the general population, tea partyers also skew toward middle age or older. That's the tell. Most came of age in the 1960s, an era distinguished by widespread disrespect for government. In their wonder years, they learned that politics was about protesting the Establishment and shouting down the Man. No wonder they're doing that now.
Hold on thar. We need at least two more tells: Region and religion. The great nationwide tea party is lot more caffeinated in Mobile, Alabama than in San Francisco, the acknowledged capitol of Hippieland.
Still, there is some truth to the observation that the anti-war rhetoric of 1969 segued neatly into the Milton Friedmanite revolution of 1979 and beyond. The Vietnam-era student protesters shouted "Don't trust the government!" And then came Reagan, who shouted back: "Yeah, don't trust the government! Trust the corporations instead!" The right-wing revolutionaries needed only to convince the populace that Big Biz and The People were one.
That's when they discovered that endless propaganda can work wonders.
Alas, as the years progressed, many American businessmen discovered that their companies could not survive without a middle class customer base, a base which the previous Keynesian consensus had created and protected. Not that you could ever get those businessmen to admit that thirty years of Friedmanism destroyed the middle class. Businessfolk have been propagandized too. Libertarian ideology is hardwired into their brains.
Despite the concessions I've made above, I have serious problems with the L.A. Times' "blame the hippies" analysis:
The partyers are essentially replaying the '60s protest paradigm. (We're aging boomers ourselves, so we know it when we see it.) They fancy themselves the vanguard of a revolution, when in fact they are typical self-absorbed, privileged children used to having their way -- now -- and uninhibited about complaining loudly when they don't. It's the same demographic Spiro Agnew called "an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."
In a flashback of "turn on, tune in, drop out," the partyers reject mainstream culture, don the equivalent of Che T-shirts that say "Don't Tread on Me," and join sects with trippy names like Oath Keepers, Patriotic Resistance and Freedom Force. Instead of getting themselves "back to the garden," they get off the grid and, like the Bill Ayers crew, indulge in fantasies about armed rebellion against the establishment.
I would not be so quick to dismiss the "fantasy" of armed rebellion. That's my quarrel with Ian Welsh's recent prognostications
: He dismisses the possibility that the current dark talk of guns and seccession might soon result in the actual discharge of firearms on a mass scale.
I think we came close to that hideous flash point during the Clinton years. Even though times were good, relentless propaganda caused rampant anti-government paranoia, which gave way to sporadic violence. Now, times are bad, and they may get worse. I fear that we may soon see another Oklahoma City. Worse, I fear that many Americans will sympathize with the home-grown terrorists.Propaganda.
My biggest problem with conventional analysis of the Tea Party movement is the refusal to acknowledge the role of propaganda. That's also my problem with conventional analyses of the Reagan revolution and the Clinton-era militia movement. All pundits insist on operating under the delusion that these things arise spontaneously.
We don't like to admit that propaganda plays a decisive role in American politics. We don't like to admit that most of our fellow human beings are ambulatory MP3 players who emit whatever sound files have been programmed into them.
If we allow ourselves to confess the fact -- to me, the obvious
fact -- that propaganda is both ubiquitous and effective, then we must also confess the existence of propagandists
. Hidden manipulators, if you will. But if we acknowledge the existence of such manipulators, we enter a realm parlously close to conspiracy theory. Hence, the very thought is impermissible.
Mainstreamers have a phobic reaction toward anything that reeks of conspiracy theory. Outside of the mainstream, the paranoia junkies refuse to admit that they are the most easily manipulated group in the country.
The birthers and teabaggers and the trannies all like to think
that they can think. In fact, all of those people are really just ambulatory MP3 players. True, they've been programmed with what they consider an "alternative" playlist. But it's not a real
alternative, since the songs still convey a Friedmanite message. The tea partying paranoids are puppets who operate under the delusion that they have cut the strings. They think that they are are free, but their subculture has been firmly under control from the start.
I'm not impressed by CNN's alleged poll results indicating that the baggers went to college. I visit college campuses often, and I see quite a few "ambulatory MP3 players" marching off to class. Indeed, collegiate ambulatory MP3 players put Barack Obama into office.Beans:
Propaganda can convince the masses of pretty much any proposition, however foolish. It's just a matter of determining how large a budget you will need -- $10 million, $10 billion, some figure in between.
I'm very serious when I say this: If you have enough money, you can convince a large sector of the population that pinto beans cure lung cancer.
Consider: With enough money, you can buy scientists who will get fake pinto bean studies into respected, peer-reviewed journals. (That sort of thing is more easily done than you may believe.) You can trumpet those studies in the popular media using purchased assets. You can have a brigade of radio propagandists blare the message daily.
"Pinto beans cure lung cancer! Go ahead and smoke all you want, because now we have a cure for cancer -- beans!
Of course, propaganda works best when it contains a kernel of truth, however small. In this case, one could argue that pinto beans are fat-free, and that people with low fat intake are much less likely to develop gastric reflux problems, which can cause cancer of the esophagus and lungs. Ergo, pinto beans cure lung cancer.
That's an inane argument, of course: There's a difference between prevention and a cure, and there are innumerable other ways of reducing fat intake. But most people are too stupid to notice nice distinctions. A tiny kernel of truth is all you need to make your $10 billion pinto bean campaign into a raging success -- if
you have $10 billion to spend on such a foolish project.
In all of the political propaganda blitzes that have afflicted this nation since 1979, there have been kernels of truth, sometimes very large kernels. For example, the Savings and Loan system really did need regulatory reform when Reagan came into office. That was the kernel of truth which allowed Reagan to do away with regulation altogether, thereby inviting sharks into the swimming pool.
Are there kernels of truth in the slogans shouted by the Tea Partiers? Of course.
That's what makes the baggers so easy to manipulate. That's what makes their movement so dangerous.