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"Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noon, has paused at a sample Olivetti to type up thirty or forty lines of ruminations, or pondering more deeply has withdrawn to a darkened ware- or fire-house to limn his computed misunderstandings of the eternal questions of life, co-existence and depth, while never forgetting to eat Lunch his favorite meal..." Frank O'Hara Lunch Poems, 1964. This site is dedicated to the spirit of the man who wrote "I am ashamed of my century for being so entertaining, but I have to smile." Different century than the one we are all now inhabiting of course, and he did have the ill-grace to check out early, before the 1960s ended and America's contribution to that century’s ill-conceived wars, brutal assassinations and betrayals had changed our graceful, fond and confident smiles to the currently fashionable smirks, sneers, snickers and grimaces seen nightly on the news and political talk shows. But still. I hope to "limn" my own "computed misunderstandings of the eternal questions of life, co-existence and depth" on these pages, while never forgetting to eat Lunch, and always, always searching for those rare moments of grace -- when whatever it is that this century is clicks more clearly into view.


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APRIL 29, 2012 10:47AM

The Radical Elite

Rate: 12 Flag

"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, in The Washington Post, April 27th

When the always-on-top-of-the-most-conventional-and-conservative-wisdom Washington Post begins to take notice of the Republican Party's radicalism, you know it's become radical indeed. But, it is important, I think, to point out that this is a radicalism  embraced by a significant portion of the nation's elite and those in the affluent and often educated classes who see their interests most closely aligned with that elite.

The Tea Party isn't a pack of working class yahoos. Tea Partiers are, in general, more educated and affluent, not less so, than the general population. And the embrace of romance novelist Ayn Rand's loony ideas isn't thriving among the poor and downtrodden -- those ideas hold their greatest appeal to our affluent and elite financial classes, and wield the greatest influence among members of that class who have served in, and are served by, our government.

Today's yahoos most often have a college education, a good job in an industry that is heavily supported by government spending, and the kind of retirement package that for most other Americans is just a curious relic of someone else's past.

Is this "radicalism" often cynical and self-serving on the part of our elites -- and has the corporate and business world increasingly come to believe that what you say is judged by how it sells, not how closely it aligns with the truth or how absurdly it wanders into fantasy? Yes. But it is a mistake to think cynicism is the only, or even most important, explanation.

The older, whiter, more male and more affluent base of the party doesn't embrace these ideas just out of cynicism and self-interest -- it embraces them out of a self-interested cluelessness based in limited, privileged experience; an inability to see, understand and accept the economic change, and social, economic and other poor consequences of that change that have taken place over the last 30-50 years. Changes encouraged by policies they have supported; policies that have benefitted the eldest and most elite while often causing harm to other Americans, most especially younger Americans.

The older, whiter, more affluent Americans who support the Republican Party are drawn from the most privileged generations in the history of the world. Generations that during their own youth, especially if they were white and male, were the recipients of the greatest public investment in their economic future of any generations in history.

These were generations in which even unionized, working class parents could afford to send their children to college, secure their own retirement and acquire valuable assets for those children to inherit, generations in which the very bright sons of unionized postmen and plumbers were being given access to the most elite colleges and invited into the elite financial world, generations that now see themselves as "meritocrats" while systematically working to undermine the conditions and structures that made their "meritocratic" rise possible.

In other words, these radicals are often the most privileged, the most spoiled, people in the nation.

Everyone, left, right and center, defends their self-interest in the political arena. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we understand those interests in the context of competing interests and the greater good. In fact, if we don't understand our own self interest we are unlikely to understand, and respect, those interests that conflict with ours -- and we have no grounds for compromise.

But, the radicalism of the Republican Party reflects the limited and increasingly fantastical views of a uniquely privileged group of Americans who recognize no interests but their own, and who's interests, and understanding, have become increasingly detached from the better interests, and experienced realities, of the nation as a whole.

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Well said! I especially like the point that if we don't understand our own interests, we won't understand -- or respect -- the interests of others. I would only add that I don't believe this is at all limited to the Tea Party, or the Republican Party in general. Our government is being bought and sold equally thoroughly by those calling themselves Democrats as by any member of the Republican Party.
I absolutely agree about the Democrats. They are in many cases mostly just behind the times in thinking that political lies should at least seem plausible.
I will read the article. The Midwest is still, however, filled with blue-collar yahoos who espouse the Tea Party line.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the Mann/Ornstein piece. It was a moment of lucidity that up until now has only appeared on the web in places like Salon to name but one, and here, truth be told. And then I heard NPR cover it, almost if was breaking news that someone would write that message in the MSM.

And of course it's true, and the Tea Party insurgency has been underwritten by the same-old same olds. And a fact-based dialogue is nowhere in sight on the right. Heck, a number of us have documented that for years now. So it was a satisfying moment of lucidity, but I don't expect it to gain critical traction in the "mainstream." Progressives and serious reform-minded people have been on the defensive for too long for the tide to just change like that.
I like how you use polls, data, election results, and other facts to back up your assertions. That's because every good writer knows that anecdotal evidence is the worst and weakest kind.
Thank you. There was an article in the New York Times long ago along the same lines claiming that Tea Party members were well educated and relatively well off. There are things that conflict with this view however. The abundance of misspelled signs. The illogical and often comical misinformed quotes from their ranks like, "Keep your Government hands off my Medicare."

I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It wouldn't be first time the educated elite manipulated and exploited the gullible and less educated. Witness the Civil War. How many confederate soldiers owned slaves or large plantations? It seems to me that many of Tea Party suffer the same disease as many of our young Ron Paul Libertarians....they can't differentiate the meaninglessness of the rhetoric with the reality of how it would realise itself into policy.
You may describe who controls the Tea Party, but I think you ignore a large part of the population who consider themselves a part of it and actually provide its legs. At least in the Midwest there are an awful lot of middle class people who ascribe to what they consider the "core" values of the tea party. And in most cases those "core" values are tied up with religion, an area that the Republicans seem to have successfully kidnapped. They may not control the Tea Party, but they account for its voting strength, even when those votes are seemingly against their interests.
This is very well said. I'm one of those meritocrats. The bright daughter of a union phone man who got a scholarship to an elite college. Fortunately, I didn't turn into a tea-partier, but my Dad did. The union phone man, with a union job all his life, a union pension, union health care until 65, is now a dyed-in-the-wool, Rush-listening conservative.

Voting against his self-interest, much? Everything he has, and by association, every advantage that I had as a child and heading into my college years, I can thank a union for. All he can do is grouse about paying the dues all those years.

I do not understand it.
I have to agree, the predominance of misspellings and grammar errors on signs held by people who are quite clearly not well educated or well off (read affluent: NOT!) comprise the majority of the feet on the ground of the army of the Tea Party. With carefully phrased lies and sloganeering, they have captured the hearts and minds of the weak willed and fearful group of Middle Class America who still have something left to lose.

The Koch brothers provide the largest fundiung for the Tea Party and these guys are Bazillionaires from coal. And somehow, through a carefully planned program of educational evisceration for the public through reduced Public Education, they have created a larger than you might believe pool of people who are scared, withouut a finger to clearly point, and they want comforting.

In come the Tea Partiers, shouting and waving their guns, screaming God will save you if you vote for our platform! We'll save your family values and your Medicare (which is strange, being as how the Tea Party message is basically: All government is bad; yet Medicare is one of the largest governmental programs outside of Defense Spending and Social Security.)

The leaders, like all leaders in all political movements that base their power through fear mongering, are well educated, elitist folks who are pretending to be the voice of the people when in reality they are simply leading lambs to slaughter. The lambs just don't realize it until the first wave goes down under the saws. By then it's too late to run away and panic sets in, creating confusion that allows those in power to simply grab more while the people cry out, "Do something! Save us!"

To me it looks like a carefully crafted deception designed to fool those in the party as well as those outside it. Then again, I tend to avoid political parties as I feel they are actually detrimental to the process of good government and politics in general.

This is not a new tactic, but is is a new low in politics for the US spectrum. The funny thing is the Tea Party really doesn't give a rat's ass of concern for who's President, because they know the true power of American Political Policy is Congress. Congress at the state and federal level. And they are working it, baby, make no mistake.

If they can co-opt or run out of office plenty of state and federal politicians they see as a threat, putting in place their shills, then they can decide who'll be President when they're ready to elect a President for Life.

I'd like to say the people will see through them, but so far, the Emperor is still naked and no-one's said a damn thing other than how fine his clothes are. If I get a chance, I'm going to yell as loudly as I can, "Look MAW, he's nekkid! Is that one 'o them Streaker fag queen hamasexhuals?"

I don't know if it'll work, but I'd love to see the faces when someone calls out the Emperor on his "new clothes."

Thanks for calling out these truths that too many refuse to face.
I love it when the cultural elites point out the illiteracy of the TP army by pointing out their mispellings and other grammatical horrors....of which Open Salon is, btw, full.....take this one in this otherwise well written and thoughtful blog:"....Americans who recognize no interests but their own, and who's interests, and understanding........"! If you don't spot it you might be TP material::))
Thank you all for your comments.

Mr. Price -- The demographics and voting patterns of the Tea Party have been well studied and reported, in national media, non-partisan business media, all across the media spectrum. For instance, a poll conducted by the non partisan group, and reported widely, including by PR Newswire (a non-partisan business media service) compared Tea Party voters with general election voters from 2008 and found, "Tea Party sympathizers, while almost universally dissatisfied with the way the country is going, report they themselves are doing very well: more than three out of four say their personal economic situation is fairly good or very good. 76% are married; 78% went to college; 84% are working or retired." Google can help you easily access this kind of information.

Mr. Luigi -- Are you sure there aren't more errors to catch in my piece? I'm at an age when the internal proofreader goes alarming haywire with the most astounding words at times appearing where an entirely different word was meant. This piece, thankfully, seems free of the worst of those kind of errors. Or perhaps I just haven't discovered them yet.

But, the more important point; I agree with you. I think there is a Liberal tendency to both naively assume that education is a cure-all for moral failings and to dismiss conservatism as arising from a lack of education and intelligence, rather than a difference of interests and experience (just as conservatives dismiss the legitimacy of Liberal interests as arising from bad morals and naivete). It's not only infuriating to conservatives, who rightly feel condescended to, but it is a serious misjudgement that limits liberal's ability to influence and persuade, or simply provide others with their view of the issues. I certainly don't find conservative elites innocent in the condescension department though. While the condescending Liberal seems to assume their fellow Americans are idiots who need re-educating, the condescending Conservative seems to assume they are idiots to be exploited.

Whenever any of us are tempted to believe that others are acting against their own interests in the political arena, perhaps we should ask ourselves if what is bothering us actually isn't simply that they are acting against our interest. Generational differences, class differences, differences in the economy and history of the states or regions in which we reside, differences in the industries or economy sectors in which we earn our living, create huge differences in our actual experience and our actual interests.

When someone says they want the government to "take their hands off my Medicare" you can laugh and dismiss it. Or, you can try to counter the argument they are making -- the fear they are expressing that expanding health care coverage to younger workers will threaten the benefits they receive.

To the many people who have pointing out that there are working class people who hold Tea Party and conservative views. My point isn't that there aren't -- it is that it is a mistake to think that being working class, or uneducated explains Tea Party or conservative views. Something to keep in mind; there is a huge difference between the economic experiences of a 50, 60 or 70 year old white, working class male, who is more likely to embrace the Tea Party, and many other members of the working class -- working class women of the same age, younger male members of the working class, working class minorities, etc. These older workers came of age in a different America, under a different deal -- one in which they actually had more experience in common with, and for that reason find it easier to make common cause with, their middle class and even affluent contemporaries than members of the working class do today.

Americans, Left and Right, pride themselves on their embrace of change. But that embrace means that every American dies in a different country than the one in which he or she was born. The difficulty we, as humans, have in recognizing those changes and their implications has political consequences.
I think the crash has plenty to do with the end of these angry white men dominating the world arena in most of the ruling elite is at end, and these self same men are trying a desperate attempt to hold on to control.

The anger on everyone's part is real.

Hiring a new media manager matters little.

Truth has a way of being well heard.

For those how listen.
The TEA partiers where I live are well-educated, wealthy Republicans whose ultimate goals are to produce revenues for themselves without reference for other middleclass citizens.
Great piece, and on one of my favorite topics. I'd been moving away from the Republican Party more many years, beginning with the GOP's attempted coup d'etat against Clinton and accelerating with the predations of the second George Bush. But the rise of the Tea Party was a defining moment for me that finally convinced me I could never go back.

Think about what happened for a moment. Here you had nationwide protests staged by a large chunk of the losing Republican Party just weeks after a new Democratic administration took office. That had never happened before. The Tea Partiers said it was about the deficit and too much spending, but that was a lie, otherwise they would have protested Bush. No, this was evidence -- a splash of icewater in the face -- that the Republican Party no longer subscribed to the democratic bargain. It was no longer willing to continue with the American Experiment -- which is an experiment because it asks us to do something that does not come easily for human beings, who are tribal by nature, which is to put our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor into the hands of our political adversaries (even enemies) if they win an election.

And so while the Tea Party protested the verdict of a national election in which they lost on the outside, while Republicans in Congress did everything they could on the inside to prevent the new administration from governing as if it were an illigitimate usurper, many of us who once called ourselves "conservative" began to understand that the only way to conserve American traditions and institutions was to throw our support fully behind the Democratic Party and other groups opposed to the GOP and Conservative Movement. Which I've done.

And Steve is right, the Mann/Ornstein op ed in the Post last weekend was a much too rare moment of clarity.
It should also be noted that on the very same day the Post published the Mann/Ornstein piece, the paper gave space to two Republican propagandists -- Jonah Goldberg and Frank Luntz. I urge everyone to read them closely. They confirm, in their furious efforts to use every rhetorical black art they've learned to hide the true nature of the Republican Party and portray a movement that is very different from the one that really exists, the worst findings of Mann and Ornstein in their own piece on the radicalism of the GOP.
The Tea Party may have been started by Republicans, but if it can break free and become independent maybe it could find a moderate center. If not it will drift into another splinter group so far outside the main stream that any mass appeal message like government accountability and efficiency will be lost.
The country club Republicans can't rule without their fundie constituency, and I'm not sure the educational requirements there are quite so high. RC's may have them beat. But what they lack in smarts they make up for in loyalty, unlike faux liberals who refuse to vote, and this time around all that will matter to them is their candidate is not Obama--so it would be a mistake not to take them seriously.
There was an equation for the way the New Left was organized, and it seems to apply to the Teabagger Party as well. It's 10-30-60. Ten percent of the membership are the people at the top, who are always present, always active, and basically leading the movement. Thirty percent will participate part of the time; it's something they do among other things, and the ten percent have to motivate them. The remaining sixty percent will join in if it seems like something exciting is happening. The sixty percent are the ground troops, or as they were once called, the cannon fodder.

I suspect that Ms. Esmense was referring to the ten percent here. The thirty percent are the people that show up with tea bags hanging from their tricorner hats. The sixty percent are the folks just hanging around the rally and occasionally cheering when someone talks about lynching the Evil Black President on the White People's White House lawn.

It's well to remember in the face of all the screaming and hasn't changed in my lifetime. It's demoralizing to think an election like this one in particular still has people on the fence and may ultimately be won by a bunch of tv ads directed at the poor souls who still can't identify their own best interests.
Since you asked .... Your link goes to Chris Mooney's WaPo article on conservative cognitive dysfunction.

This is the Mann/Ornstein article.

Ornstein has always been something of a straight-shooter despite his history. I remember hearing interesting - but not infuriating - arguments between him and Al Franken when Franken had his radio show. Ornstein was a regular.
And, excellent post, rated.