October 03, 2010


Via The Corner, I had to laugh at this NYT article about the Tea Party Movement.  I think the author is pretty ignorant of her subject matter.  It would be as if I tried to write a professional article on the environmental movement; I am not a part of it, I am fairly contemptuous of it, and I really haven't done the grokking necessary to understand why its followers behave the way they do.  (But I'd like to think I could do it better than she does because I've done it before.)

Her thesis is that "long-dormant ideas" and "once-obscure texts by dead writers" have shaped the movement.  (I find it amusing that she considers Hayek to be obscure, but I digress.)  She says of authors like Hayek and Skousen, author of The 5000 Year Leap, that:

They have convinced their readers that economists, the Founding Fathers, and indeed, God, are on their side when they accuse President Obama and the Democrats of being “socialists.” And they have established a counternarrative to what Tea Party supporters denounce as the “progressive” interpretation of economics and history in mainstream texts.

All told, the canon argues for a vision of the country where government’s role is to protect private property — against taxes as much as against thieves. Where religion plays a bigger role in public life. Where any public safety net is unconstitutional. And where the way back to prosperity is for markets to be left free from regulation.


I think she's attributing parts of the movement to these books when really she wants to attribute them to Glenn Beck, but that dead horse has already been beaten, so she focuses on the books he promotes on his show.  I admit that I am out of the loop these days, but I have watched some Glenn Beck lately and I must say that I am impressed with his new approach to bettering America.  My summary of it is that he is moving away from pointing out how much Washington stinks these days and is instead truly trying to encourage Americans to "be the change you want to see in the world."  His plan calls for self-reflection and self-improvement, with a focus on "faith, hope, and charity."  He wants everyone to commit to becoming a better person, and once we're all better people, we will have better people running for office as virtuous candidates for whom we can vote.  We are a nation of individuals, and we will be a better country once we are better individuals.  It's a long-term strategy, something quite interesting to promote nightly on a news show.

Glenn Beck does encourage people to strengthen their religious devotion on the way to becoming a better person.  If the NYT wants to characterize that as "where religion plays a bigger role in public life," um, OK.  I think that's a negative oversimplification of what he's proposing from a journalist who wants to scare readers into thinking he is advocating the blurring of church and state, but maybe I'm nitpicking.  I think the scare tactic of saying that "any public safety net is unconstitutional" is more egregious though.  It's funny because it's technically a true statement, but by not explaining it, the article leads readers to conclude that Tea Party folks are Scrooges who are out to screw the poor.  I have never heard anyone say anything of the sort: they resent the safety hammock, not the net.  And Glenn Beck regularly encourages his following to tithe, either to a church or a charity of their choice.  He wants people to be more charitable, not less.

I just thought the article was an interesting example of someone who is obviously writing outside her level of understanding.  It's a window into the mind of someone who's trying to be objective while writing about something she clearly thinks is simultaneously hokey and dangerous.

It wasn't as bad as it could've been, but the undertone of contempt was clear.  And I bet she thought she was being fair and balanced.

The most interesting part of the article was this, in my opinion:

Doug Bramley, a postal worker and Tea Party activist in Maine, picked up “The Road to Serfdom” after Mr. Beck mentioned it on air in June. (Next up for Mr. Bramley, another classic of libertarian thought: “I’ve got to read ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ â€ he said.) He found Hayek “dense reading,” but he loved “The 5000 Year Leap.”

“You don’t read it,” Mr. Bramley said, “you study it."

Across the country, many Tea Party groups are doing just that, often taking a chapter to discuss at each meeting.

I think this would've made a much better thesis.  Glenn Beck is prompting postal workers and regular folks to read substantive books.  I read Hayek last year and found it dense as well; the fact that Glenn Beck's viewers are devouring these intellectual tomes and creating book clubs to discuss them is phenomenal.  People are setting aside their Harry Potter and Twilight for Frederich Hayek!

But one would have to be less contemptuous of Tea Party people to write that story.

Posted by: Sarah at 09:27 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 I think that this is the problem that occurs when you start a story choosing facts (or "facts") to fit your foregone conclusion without the willingness to use your research for your own better understanding.

I've changed my mind many times after researching something.  It wasn't always the case, but I got my ass handed to me often enough during arguments because I used selective facts that eventually I got sick of looking stupid and changed my approach.

I also found myself irritated at her accusations of "abolishing the safety net".  One reason is that as a volunteer for Sew Much Comfort, as well as someone who has worked for government agencies (aside from the whole military wife thing), I have seen the tremendous difference between volunteers taking care of people and the government doing so.  It's profound.  Although money is always nice, throwing money at a problem and having the government own it doesn't help everything.  Or most things.  And some would argue it doesn't help anything.  There are things only the government can do - national defense definitely, and much infrastructure (a lack of standardization in roads and substandard building leads to more problems than the current system by far).  But we take care of each other better than Uncle Sam can take care of us.  

Posted by: airforcewife at October 04, 2010 10:57 AM (uE3SA)

2 Although this article is not too bad, its opening is a Modist attack. The reader is supposed to dislike the Tea Party because it's not with the times, maaaan. But the reader might not realize that the Tea Party isn't the only movement that "has reached back to dusty bookshelves":

"These [Leftist] ideas are beyond old. They’re dead. Yet they’re still walking around."

- Bruce Thornton

The age of an idea does not matter. The truth of an idea does.

The ideas of Bastiat and Hayek are only "obscure" because they are not Leftist and therefore not mainstream. I don't remember either man being mentioned in my economics class. I may have first learned of both when I entered the blogosphere.

I have not read Skousen's book on Communism in over twenty years and have not read The 5000 Year Leap. Does the article distort his ideas or the ideas of other authors in the canon? If Skousen believed that "public schools should be used for religious study, and should encourage Bible reading," then I can understand how the author might feel justified to write, "The canon argues for a vision of the country [...] Where religion plays a bigger role in public life." Yet this is potentially misleading since Bastiat and Hayek weren't religious advocates. The canon does not speak with a single voice. If I wrote the article, I would point out that the canon includes both libertarian and conservative books.

The author does not lie, but she does omit. Is omission always deliberate deception? Is it even her fault? Could an editor have removed clarifications to make the article fit the print edition? (Space considerations matter far less in the blogosphere.)

The author could have stooped to depicting Tea Party members as illiterates touting books they can't even read, but she didn't. I've seen far worse depictions of the Tea Party.

"someone who is obviously writing outside her level of understanding"

Couldn't this describe almost all journalists, who are rarely specialists in the field they're covering?

What is acceptable journalism as opposed to simply rehashing press releases from some political organization or corporation?

Was Rightist coverage of the One Nation Working Together event any better than this? Can any of us really get into Al Sharpton's head? (As an ex-Leftist, I can try.)

Posted by: Amritas at October 04, 2010 01:32 PM (5a7nS)

3 The contempt felt by many "progressives" for the vast majority of Americans has become more and more obvious. What drives these feelings?...in some cases, like a John Kerry or a Teddy Kennedy, it is an aristocratic sense of entitlement. With others, it is a fear of loss of status...for example, the individual who drank the academic kool-aid and got a degree in some squishy subject and is now working at Borders...all he has to hold on to, psychologically speaking, is the sense of superiority that his credential gives him.

I expect that the attitude of typical NYT writers, once you get below the top tier, is more driven by the second factor than by the first. After all, they are working for an institution that may not even be around in 10 years, and if it is, it will need a lot fewer employees.

Posted by: david foster at October 04, 2010 02:34 PM (Gis4X)

4 David, good points. I can only add that the insecure vastly outnumber the aristocrats. The latter appear in the NYT but don't deign to work for it. Both share an entitlement mentality - a need for recognition by others for their alleged 'superiority'. The Tea Party scares them because its members - mere 'little people' - aren't 'looking up' to them anymore. They're suffering from acknowledgment withdrawal.

No wonder they side with Mohammed, who had a similar problem. The Meccans wouldn't accept his pretensions to authority. So he and his followers resorted to force, and a hundred converts became a hundred thousand.

Posted by: Amritas at October 06, 2010 02:35 PM (5a7nS)

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