Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sympathy for the teabaggers: confessions of a liberal

Sure, the tea baggers may largely be a creation of Fox news, but they aren't completely. There are people in the United States urgently of the opinion that the government has too much power. People like me, who watch John Stewart and read the NY Times, tend to find them a little ridiculous, well, them and those who purport to speak for them, like Glenn Beck.

Yet even as I watch clips of them on John Stewart, I am struck by how much real, sincere concern is in the eyes of the teabaggers. These are people who truly and deeply love their country. However misguided their emotional theories of democracy (my side lost the election so the elected government should be invalid), I am sympathetic to what I have observed is their core instinct: the government has not proved itself competent or worthy enough to wield the power it has. So that power should be reduced.

I don't think it is that nuts to point out that in fact the governments of both the US and the UK have really let us all down in a number of important ways: (i) malevolent action (breaking international law to enter Iraq); eroding civil liberties in the false name of the war on terror; (ii) inaction (the utter failure for the governments of this world to competently agree on a basic plan to deal with the way humans use resources on this planet, aka, environmental concerns) and (iii) incompetence.

Those old ladies at International House of Pancakes who get their teabagger meetings televised by Fox feel this. And they have no real concept of how bad (iii) is. I am not sure any of us do. I was at a meeting of industry leaders (wireless ISPs) with the UK government recently and it made me nauseous. It made me nauseous because I realized that the people talking had no idea of basic commercial realities, of contracts and offloading risk and where margins were made, basically how our industry functioned. And then I thought of all the money the US and the UK taxpayers have poured into the banks. If the UK government understands the banking industry as well as they understand my industry, then the electorate has been royally screwed (ooh, no pun intended, I forgot I was in a monarchy here).

The result of (i) - (iii) is that my faith in representative democracy is deeply shaken. I feel like Martin Luther shaking his head at the excesses of Rome. I want to call for a Reformation, a radical overhauling of ideas and institutions no longer fit for purpose. I want to call out the bad laws and dysfunctional plurality of agencies (UK) and the vicious nicene and internicene battles fought in my beloved Washington. Make a list of bad ideas, like indulgences and purgatory and focus groups and then nail it somewhere. Luckily, I am a blogger so I can do it in fifteen minutes!

I joke (that was a joke) but that is precisely the serious problem for anyone aspiring to reform the lousy systemic perversion of representative democracy we seem to be stuck with now: reform requires popular support and popular involvement. This is where I can sympathize with the teabaggers. They are up for it. They are out on the street, on their feet to make their country a better place.

I don't think actually that the liberals think that everything is going so well that no reform is necessary. I think everyone has to agree in theory that cleaning up government institutions to make them better able to serve the electorate is not possible without the involvement of the electorate. We have to be more hands-on, because right now the alienated lower middle class in the United States are vocal and organized. We should be with them, sharing this moment, looking for reforms we can agree on.

But we won't. It's depressing. Even though liberals probably have a greater reason to call for reform than the teabaggers . . . even though liberals, traditionally the people with opportunities and education, desperately want their countries to flourish and their world to survive. We're too busy, us, middle class parents and homeowners, the people with the most to give and the most to gain: we're all too fucking busy. We are wage slaves and we are putting an extension on the house and we are parents. We are. I am. We all are. And at the end of the day I am really tired and I want to go to sleep.

I can't tell you how unfortunate I feel to be coming to the conclusion that, for me, this is becoming less and less acceptable.

When the protester Neda was shot by Iranian police walking toward a peaceful protest this summer, it greatly saddened me. I remember talking to my dad about it while we were driving to the gym. He shrugged and said that liberty has always been bought with blood. He was very squared up to this reality. (Whoa, I thought, my dad is a bad ass)

And it is true. Now, I am not going to take to the streets to try to get shot, but if my father's generation was au fait with laying down their lives for liberty, I feel like I need to lay down a little of my time for liberty, to wrestle back power, and here I and the teabaggers may in fact feel exactly the same way.

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