Sunday, January 26, 2014

Processing Schumer's Tea Party ignorance

On Friday, Senator Charles "Chuck" Schumer went after the Tea Party in a big way; he devoted an entire speech to the subject, and an op-ed at HuffPo, as well. Before digging in to the meat of Schumer's remarks, I think it interesting to note how, supposedly, the Tea Party was more or less "over." Pundits on the left have been proclaiming it's death, or at least its move to irrelevance, for years. Seriously. The Occupy Movement was--according to many of these pundits--some sort of death blow. Yet here we are, two years removed from Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement is today about as significant as Thomas E. Dewey!

But the pundits--and the Democrats, and the Administration--were not deterred. Since then, the Tea Party has been declared dead or over again and again and again. Polls have been cited by those on the Left to show how no one cares about the Tea Party anymore or--even better--how most people disapprove of the movement.

Given all of this, one has to ask the question: what the hell is Chuck Schumer doing, why is he targeting the Tea Party when it's supposedly on decline, especially given that Schumer is running for reelection in New York, hardly a Tea Party stronghold? He's gotten a little press from the speech, but hardly anything particularly significant.

The truth is, Schumer understands something that many of his fellow Democrats--and a good chunk of the punditry, on the Left and the Right--do not, something that they, in fact, have never understood. And this is partly because Schumer, whatever else he may be, is not stupid. Far from it, in fact. I personally think he's right up there with former Representative Barney Frank and former Senator Chris Dodd, when it comes to cagey, clever politicians. Of course, I also think this triumvirate should be in jail, that they should have gone there following the financial collapse of 2007/2008, because they were more responsible for that mess than any other people on the planet. But I digress.

So, Schumer doen in fact understand something important here, which is this: the simple idea of the Tea Party, a loose coalition of like-minded citizens who refuse to respect government agents as a matter of course, is and always has been a huge danger to people who hold the reigns of power. This is or was every bit as true of the Occupy Movement. And this reality gives politicians like Schumer--who are more interested in their personal power than in anything else--two options: pretend to sympathize with the movement or demonize it.

When it came to the Occupy Movement, Schumer was in something of a predicament, since he is one of the most--the most, actually--Wall Street-friendly officials in Washington, D.C. (once joined in this regard by, again, Dodd and Frank) and the initial target of the movement was Wall Street. But Schumer managed to bang the sympathy drum when he had to:
Pressed on whether he thought Occupy Wall Street could become a liability for Democrats, as Republicans are trying to make happen by linking Dems to the protests, Schumer said focusing on the protests themselves misses the larger point.  
“Occupy Wall Street has resonance far beyond the protests,” Schumer said. “Whether middle class people agree with the protests or not, the vast majority believes that they’re part of the 99 percent and that something should be done to help them.” Republicans who think this tactic will work with “swing voters,” Schumer said, are “inside their own bubble.”
See that? There's no way around it, this is some top-drawer politicking on the part of Schumer. He manages to justify the Occupy Movement and sympathize with its adherents without explicitly endorsing any specific idea, while simultaneously taking a shot at Republicans. Again, if there was any single member of Congress who should have caught heat from the Occupy crowd, it was Schumer, yet he more or less skated clean through all of this.

But look at what he said, above: he admits that the Occupy Movement matters because the fundamental issues being raised are ones that matter to a majority of the populace. And he does so in spite of the fact that these issues are rooted in questioning a system that Schumer has made a career out of protecting: the Wall Street financial system.

So what about the Tea Party movement? It fits the same rubric, insofar as the fundamental issues it was a response to--a government no longer responsive to the people and given to unsustainable taxing and spending--are ones a majority of the populace understand, ones that a majority of the population know are critical issues.

The difference (and the key to understanding Schumer's ignorance): from Schumer's point of view, he is a target of the Tea Party and there is nothing he can do to change this, unlike with the Occupy Movement, where Schumer could feign sympathy and mostly just stay out of the way until the movement died a natural death (which of course is exactly what happened).

Look at this portion of his speech:
The Tea Party fuse was lit by reactions to two events: the backlash against the emergency policy of bank rescue to avoid financial collapse and the backlash against election of Barack Obama, a Democrat, as President. The compounding friction of these two events caused the spark that ignited the Tea Party torch.
He's more or less correct here, except that it wasn't the election of Obama per se, it was the election of Obama followed by the ramming through of the Stimulus Bill. This action and the bailout--along with many other smaller actions by the government--ignited the movement. I summed this up, previously, using Rick Santelli's 2009 "rant of the year" as a backdrop:
[From Santelli's "rant": How about this, President and new administration? Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?] 
Note the part in bold: people who carry the water instead of people who just drink the water. That's the core point right there, that's the foundation of the movement, the idea that people who do the work day in and day out should not have to pay for everyone else, should not have to eat shit while the government bails out all of the people who acted foolishly, from big banks to private citizens.
So even as Schumer seems to get the genesis of the movement, he ultimately skips right past the underlying point, the core issue. And he does so because this point flies in the face with his own ideological assumptions about the nature of government and because accepting this point would require him to admit that he is a part of the real problem. But this leaves Schumer without a clear villain in the Tea Party movement, because there's nothing actually unreasonable about the concerns driving the movement. Thus, he invents a villain, or rather adopts one already prepared by the Left. From his speech:
The Tea Party elites - with little rebuttal - have been able to make “government” the boogeyman. They have convinced too much of America that government is the explanation for their ills. Even though most Americans and even most Tea Party adherents like much of what the government does, the Tea Party elites proclaim that everything that is wrong, even non-economic and private sector problems, can be blamed on the government.

Their mantra “dramatically shrink government and our problems will end” is the fundamentally false, but not effectively challenged premise, that is the core weakness of the Tea Party, and one we can exploit to turn American politics around to the benefit of our nation.
Got that? The "Tea Party elites" are the real problem, now. Forget the strawman of the government as boogeyman, that's window dressing. As is the equally false premise of claiming that the Tea Party mantra is "shrink government and our problems will end." Schumer's entire recipe for undermining the Tea Party is founded on an assumption that there are "Tea Party elites" pulling all of the strings, be they Kochs or...well, that's the only example Schumer actually gives. Funny how two people are apparently wholly responsible for a movement that has had huge political repercussions, a point even Schumer readily concedes.

But see, this is all because Schumer wrongly understands the Tea Party movement as an affront to his own hold on power. And because he imagines that, somehow, he's a critical element to the proper functioning of government, that he matters, he takes it as a given that the movement must be fundamentally about political power, and that therefore there has to be a political goal to it, one that must be about someone who would benefit from Schumer losing his personal hold on power.

The truth is that the Tea Party movement is not and has never been of one mind. Adherents and those who sympathize with it, those who actually get it, don't care a whit about Chuck Schumer, the politician. They care about a system that creates Chuck Schumers as a matter of course. They don't want to get rid of Chuck Schumer or government, they want a government that actually does what it is supposed to do, one that can't be used by demagogues and insiders to grab power via the use of government coffers, one that can't serve primarily as a means of rewarding supporters and buying votes. And to Chuck Schumer, that's exactly what the government is and always will be. In his mind, government is a tool to be used to advance his ideology and his Party's interests, and to maintain or expand his own hold on power, end of story.

In a word, his ignorance here is understandable. And that's because Schumer is a part of the problem, not a part of the solution.

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