Some people call the Tea Party a mystery. Who are these people? What do they want? The answer is simple: Tea Partiers are typical Republicans who felt betrayed by the Republican brand, and decided to create a new brand untainted by failure.
Here’s how it worked: In order to avoid blaming themselves for blind loyalty to the Republican Party during the miserable failures of the George W. Bush years (the wars, the deficits, Katrina), regular Republicans and Fox News created a new brand, the Tea Party, which represents the imagined good things of the Republican party, such as fiscal responsibility (not seen in national Republicans since perhaps Dwight Eisenhower) and commitment to freedom (completely extinguished under George W. Bush, again with the tacit consent of most Tea Partiers). So one way to look at the Tea Party is that it is a new Republican sub-brand (like Delta’s Song or United’s Ted) that appeared to be about change without actually making any change at all.
But the Tea Party seems to be something more than a simple rebrand. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Tea Party is a multiple personality disorder of the Republican Party. Multiple personalities are caused by severe trauma, spurring a victim to create a new, alternate identity to deal with the world. To allow this new personality to function with integrity, it ignores anything the core personality did. At the same time, a person with this disorder is often anxious, angry, phobic, and paranoid, seemingly for no reason.
Republicans went through all this: they controlled all three branches of government, and turned the country into a deficit-ridden mess fighting two wars (one necessary and poorly managed, the other optional and disastrous). Party members could blame themselves, but that would be too much to live with. So they created an alternate, happy personality, which could ignore any association with all its past mistakes.
Sadly, it’s not easy to have multiple personalities. To ignore their own past, Tea Partiers create a new story for themselves, relying on conspiratorial histories of the United States not seen since the heyday of John Birch. These are typically the work of paranoid anti-Semite Cleon Skousen, whose work is being heavily promoted by Glenn Beck. (Interestingly, Skousen believed that Dwight Eisenhower, the last Republican to balance the budget, was a communist agent.) These histories lead to confused understandings of the nature of our current economic crisis, leading Glenn Beck, for example, to lay the blame for all recent American ills at the feet of George Soros. I suppose it sounds better than saying “International Jewry.”
Normally I’m all for a bit of harmless rebranding. But when the rebrand leads to a revival of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, and blind hatred, you really can’t say it’s harmless anymore. I suppose the one hope we have is that Rupert Murdoch makes so much money off The Simpsons and Glee that he will stop promoting the Tea Party when it begins threatening to actually destabilize American culture.
And I have to say, it’s sad to hope the Glee is our best hope for democratic liberalism in America.
Update: Turns out Rupert Murdoch’s greed (or Gleed?) won out, and he gave Glenn Beck the boot. Now Rupert Murdoch can get back to hacking the voice mail of murdered girls in the UK.