In April 2009 I was resting in a hotel room in Syracuse, hopping between two channels: a PBS documentary on Pete Seeger, the great American country singer of the left; and a Fox News report on the anti-tax Tea Party, with a country singer performing a populist song about how Washington is taxing hard-working ordinary people to finance the Wall Street financiers. There was a weird similarity between the two singers: both were articulating an anti-establishment, populist complaint against the exploitative rich and their state; both were calling for radical measures, including civil disobedience.
It was another painful reminder that today’s radical-populist right reminds us of the old radical-populist left (are today’s Christian survivalist-fundamentalist groups with their half-illegal status not organised like Black Panthers back in the 1960s?). It is a masterful ideological manipulation: the Tea Party agenda is fundamentally irrational in that it wants to protect the interests of hardworking ordinary people by privileging the “exploitative rich”, thus literally countering their own interests.
This twisted ideology is also behind the current federal government shutdown in the US. An opinion poll at the end of June 2012 showed that a majority of Americans, while opposing Obamacare, strongly support most of its provisions. Here we encounter Tea Party ideology at its purest: the majority wants to have its ideological cake and eat the real baking. They want the real benefits of healthcare reform, while rejecting its ideological form, which they perceive as a threat to the “freedom of choice”. They reject the concept of fruit, but they want apples, plums and strawberries.
[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on October 11th 2013.]