Friday, February 25, 2011

Party People

As has been pointed out in a recent comment thread here, there are some similarities between the pro-union rallies in Wisconsin, and teabagger rallies everywhere. This morning I read an interesting take on the idea. It isn't very long, so here's the whole thing:
There’s something about the union demonstrations in Madison, and the excitement it has caused on the left, that reminds me of the Tea Party. I think I’ve figured it out what it is. The advent of the labor movement is at the heart of the left’s sacred creation myth. The sense on the left that unions are under siege gives them something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Similarly, the sense on the right that America’s foundational values are under siege gave the Tea Party something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Of course, the Tea Party has about as much to do with the values of the American founding as John Adams has to do with Raytheon, and public-sector unionism has about as much to do with preventing worker exploitation as Eugene Debs has to do with unfireable $100,000 a year public-school teachers. But it’s nice to have a team, and a noble lineage, and to get out there and really give the bastards who are stealing our country hell.

(No less split along partisan lines, the comments there are generally much more enlightened than those that disagree here. But the author is smarter, and more and better read than me.)

I don't disagree that, in many ways, including enthusiasm across the spectrum and hyperbole at the fringes, from a distance the crowds are similar. But as I said in response to a recent comment, I also think there's a very basic and fundamental difference: on one side, the fears and complaints are mostly made of thin air, deceptively packaged and produced by the very people the protesters would (or should) find most repellant; on the other, what they are saying is demonstrably true, and their rights, their freedoms, if you will, are, in fact, being threatened.

Naturally, I claim the factual high ground here. Given evidence, I might be open to learning the truth is nearer to the middle, if still significantly to the left of the mean.

Teabaggers claim they want their country back, cry that "they're taking away our freedoms," call Obama a Nazi, a socialist, a communist, a Muslim, a foreigner. I've never heard any of them -- and many have been asked -- which freedoms have been removed or even threatened, except in some feverish and sweaty waking dream. Nor has any made a case (plenty of claims, of course, but no case) that the president does Nazi stuff. Painting on a mustache does not make it reich. Sure, there are deficits, and that's something about which to be alarmed. Real enough. But their understanding of the differences between those that preceded and those that followed Obama's election is entirely absent; and their so-called solutions are nonsensical and have always made things worse. Nor are deficits the coherent center of their complaints.

On the other hand, the unions in Wisconsin are demonstrably under attack. Not even conservatives deny that it's about trying to bust them. And whereas there are legitimate arguments to be made on either side of the right of government workers to strike, there's no doubt that what's at stake isn't some imaginary fever dream: it's the explicit end of their rights to collective bargaining. Agree with the concept or not, that's a freedom, and it's on its way to being taken away. And it's their central point.

Further, I can't think of a teabagger equivalent to the fact that the Wisconsin union members agreed to all the give-backs requested by the governor. They did so without striking or shutting down anything. All they want is to retain future bargaining rights. That's not imaginary. And it's nothing like the sort of no-compromise, all-for-us, nothing-for-you stance of teabaggers.

So, yeah. The vision of pro-union demonstrations is energizing to many liberals, and is a welcome pushback against the cynical, heartless, and ineffective budgetary plans of the teabagger Congress. It's just as bracing, I guess, to be in a lefty crowd as a righty one. And whereas I'm sure people can point to excessive rhetoric and signage, to the same sort of over-the-top vitriol that has characterized teabagger rallies and which comes from the mouths of RWS™ round the clock, it doesn't change the essential difference: the people in Wisconsin are in fact being fundamentally threatened in ways that affect their livelihoods; teabaggers are afraid of monsters under their beds and homosexuals in them.


Tim Savinar said...


There is a word-wide middle class revolution going on. The only hope for a stable society is to create a stable middle class. All around the world, the middle class (in most cases, this is the working class, which makes just enough money to survive, as opposed to the consumer class which has money left over to buy unnecessary stuff with, and the poor, who are literally dying or for whom survival is a daily struggle) is in revolt against government.

The Tea Party is one American manifestation of the revolt. I think when the Democrats think they can't win with Obama, and dump him, probably for Hillary (there have been many trial balloons on this), there may be an Obama Party created, which will be another American middle class revolt against government.

I spent the last presidential campaign talking to beautiful, Christian, moral Republicans -- talking to them about their presidential choices. They were not happy about McCaine's campaign of smear and attack, and they were attracted to Obama spiritually (in the broad sense), and to his demeanor and dignity. They were also attracted to Obama's idea that American society could become something to be proud of for real reasons, not just patriotic cant. These good people wanted permission to vote for a Democrat for maybe the first time in a long time. They did, and I think the Obamicans, as they were called, elected him. They might come back to him a second time.

But while you may disagree with the programs of the Tea Party, you must agree that it is a natural response to government, and a political system, gone haywire.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting article about the difference between public employee unions vs. private employee unions. It makes a strong case that the basic economic principles that pertain to private unions don't pertain to public unions.

You'll probably just call him a teabagger, but I thought it made sound points, most importantly the difference between public and private employee unions (especially since people often quote stats that say # of unions:properity & wealth distribution).


Sid Schwab said...

I've read several interesting discussions on the matter. here's one, with this followup. There's this general info.

As I've suggested, I'm not a reflexive supporter of unions in all things. The point of this post was not about whether there should or should not be public employee unions, but about the question of party dynamics: tea vs democratic. I have mixed feelings about public employee unions; but, particularly now, as the wave of spending cuts sweeps the nation, public employees seem particularly vulnerable.

If and when there is some sort of reasonable equilibrium that addresses the revenue side as well, based on an intelligent discussion of what we need and what we can spend, I suppose I'd be less concerned about workers' rights. Maybe.

As it stands, teachers are being laid off everywhere, class sizes are increasing, education -- as bad as it already is -- will get even worse. Unions, in other words, don't seem to have as much influence as some suggest, at least in terms of maintaining jobs.

On the other hand, it's extraordinarily hard to fire bad teachers: that's another matter entirely, and gets to my ambivalence about public sector unions. Not taking that on at the moment.

Sid Schwab said...

And, to reiterate, PT: my particular point here was that, in my view, teabagger complaints are mostly fabricated or clearly wrong; the concerns about efforts to bust the unions are reality.

It's not coincidental, I'd add, that -- no matter one's opinion on public employee unions -- unions are the only financial counterbalance to the huge amounts of corporate money given to Republicans. I think it's naive to think this is just about budgets; especially since the WI unions agreed to all the monetary givebacks they were asked to do.

It's about eliminating the last counterweight to the vast influence of right-wing money over our politics.

Sid Schwab said...

Tim: I agree the Tea Party is a natural response. In theory. But it's in fact unnatural, in that it was ginned up, hyped, paid for, and fomented by the very forces that they claim to reject: big money, big business, lobbyists, people subverting the idea of democracy. Not to mention Fox "news." They're being used, and it couldn't be clearer.

So whereas there are plenty of reasons to be angry and agitated about our democracy, teabaggers have chosen the wrong horse, and they're saddled up backwards.

Finally, I removed your original post, in which your name was hot-linked. The link went to a site that was flagged for phishing. This one wasn't hot-linked. Maybe you can help straighten it out, and let me know if you're who you say you are. If so, it's a pleasure. If not, it's pretty damn weird.

Tim Savinar said...

Sid, the Tea Party is just like the Democratic party in the way you described it. The Dems had two years in control of the house, senate and presidency, to really get something done. All that happened was: no universal health care paid for by taxes (Medicare for everyone would have just involved turning up the rheostat), a complete financial collapse because congress is owned (and employed by) the big financial ("gambling house") companies and insurance companies, more war and world-wide destruction under the banner of forcing freedom and democracy down throats (when all they want is stability and happy children), etc. The Democrats are even more "owned" by the bad influencers, and lobbyists for them, then the Tea Party is, that's for sure! This makes the lost post even more useful. I send it below.

Tim Savinar said...


The force of Politics is like the force of Nature. Irrational, and destructive when it serves its ends. There are three ways to deal with political power (and natural power): 1. Stay out of its way, and live as best you can apart from it 2. Find a way to benefit from it, and 3. If you have the power, overpower it and use its inherent energy for your purposes.

Some think that because it is derived from the people and their perceptions of their needs, democracy is an inherently moral system. It isn’t. A pope noted some years ago that “there is nothing inherently moral about democracy; there can be immoral democracies.”

We live in a putatative democracy. (Not a true democracy, where the most important issues would be left to the voters such as: will the country go to war; will there be universal government health care paid for by income tax; what will the minimum wage be; etc.) In a democracy we make a compact: if we are in the majority, we will get our way, so long as certain inalienable rights of the minority are protected; and if we are in the minority, we will abide by the rules made by the majority, because someday we may be in the majority, and the new minority has entered into the same compact.

What can we do when we are in the minority, and the majority (or even the whole country!) is acting immorally?

The Zen Buddhist idea is to 1. draw a circle around all your friends and family and people who work for you, and to the extent you are able, make sure everyone gets food, exercise, and is in good health. This is the most you can do -- it is EVERYTHING you can do in this situation.

Immoral democracies, for those in the compact, are political forces like nature: if you can do any of 1,2,3 above, do it. If you can’t, you have to follow the Zen solution. Complaining and rationally arguing and opposing are frustrating, unsatisfying, and ultimately self-destructive occupations. Give it up, draw your circle,

Be Good, Do Good,
Be Well, Do Well.

Sid Schwab said...

We agree on a lot, Tim, and I've said much of it here before. I have a hard time seeing the "complete financial collapse" as having occurred in the last two years, however.

And, despite being fairly pathetic at it, the Ds, in the last two years, actually tried to rectify some of the damage and to improve things, whereas the Rs have done nothing but obstruct, while deliberately mischaracterizing the D efforts. I won't argue that Ds don't do that, too; but I thing the R lying has been much more deliberate, while being reinforced by a unified and unprecedented media conglomerate.

I've never expressed much hope for our political future, and it's for most of the reasons you mention. But I simply can't equate the Tea Party with Democrats. First of all, by polling, there's no difference at all between teabaggers and conservative Republicans; so in that sense, they're just a rebranding effort, like Altria.

Second, and more importantly as I see it, they're electing people who are really really bad: anti-education, hyper-religious which makes them science-deniers, homophobes, and conspiracy theorists, in addition to being just plain dumb. It's not a way to make progress.

And, of course, there's the fact that their central themes -- tax cuts and deregulation -- have been thoroughly discredited; at least in the simplistic forms they seem to advocate.

Cory said...

Tim, I like what you are writing, and the tone of your message, however, I'm still uncomfortable, as a Zen neophyte, about simply drawing my circle, as you would imply might work for Sid. As much as I would like to find a solution to my political frustrations, I question if it is it really that simple as you might imply. Your Zen solution, I think, argues against rational argument, complaining, and opposing, a political direction- given one does not participate in the compact- although does not rational argument, opposing, or even mere complaining, have it's place with regard to real political change? Or does not the same serve as an indication of public or collective working class demeanor, which always, if potent enough in sufficient numbers, precipitate some sort of real change? Or not? Does the $30 billion spent on congress by the "owners" of congress completely obliterate any real change by the poor and working class, or the consumer class? Is therefore, Sids blog useless and irrelevant, should he stick his tail between his legs, draw circles, and submit to The Corporation if he chooses to not participate in the compact? Isn't Sids message possibly good medicine for those willing to be aware of opposing or shared viewpoints, in affirmation and confirmation of a perceived problem that cries for and demands a solution in the center of a "middle class revolution". Isn't Sids writing part of this "middle class revolution". I don't know, but perhaps, giving the willingness of a cognisant person to participate in his "American" brand of existence, that being a part of the compact is really a given and not avoidable, and the solution is simply finding a way to be happy (regardless of political enviornment), without using or resorting to the given right we have to ignore our politics to the best we can, and realizing that our particular "democracy" has enabled us to easily ignore and become indifferent. I don't know... I'm just sayin..

Tim Savinar said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful response. You raise such important issues about our obligation to address our concerns head-on, and to do what we are capable of, to call attention to injustice, which really could be considered one's responsibility under the compact. And you are quite right to imply that Sid must keep it up, keep up the struggle, and call it like he sees it, because he is working for GOOD. In light of all of this, and your good points, I will re-think some of my own advice: perhaps the circle-drawing is not good counsel for everyone, and maybe I should be more moderate in suggesting it. I only suggest it to those for whom I think it gives them an alternative (which does GOOD) when they seem frustrated, troubled or unhappy. Zen practice never requires that we do harm to ourselves while trying to do good for another; so the circle is a therapeutic idea when faced with the unsurmountable (personally) evil. It just is a way of proposing that there are alternatives, if one needs them.

SID: As for you, you nut, why can't you be more like CORY? HaHa. No, the D's didn't create the problem (though actually they DID, but under Clinton when they let S. Weill get away with changing banking into gambling (with our and the gov's money as their stake), but I hold the D's responsible for their failed solution to the crisis, by giving my money and the treasury, to the same guys that got us into all the trouble, thereby rewarding and protecting them instead of fixing the problem.

Sid Schwab said...

Once again I share your concerns, Tim. I think it's outrageous how the banks were rescued in a way that allowed them to reward themselves and not to get the money out into the economy.

On the other hand, TARP was Bush's plan, and it happened on his watch. It passed with D support, it's true, but it was Bush's (Paulson's) idea. And I believe it's true that the Ds ideas for controls on the money were voted down.

The deregulation that occurred under Clinton (when Rs controlled both houses) surely contributed. But there were warnings that were ignored during the Bush/R control years; and Greenspan was practically orgasmic over the brilliance of mortgage-based securities.

And I responded a little like Cory did to your circle comment, but I removed it when I removed your comment. I wondered the same things. I believe I ended by saying, if you're telling me to stop blogging, you're probably right; if you're telling me not to stop blogging, you're probably right.

Cory said...

Tim: Likewise- comments appreciated and helpful. Context also understood. Please, no re-thinking required.

Sid: Please keep up the good fight, but not to your physical detriment! We need you buddy (and also dig your passion)!

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