Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Terrorism, American-Style

I have been mentioning off-hand that the guy who flew the plane into the IRS building in Austin was a terrorist but the first Tea-Party terrorist?  I will let someone else connect the dots.

The manifesto he left behind reads, “I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. … I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be whitewashed and ignored” — at which point, God willing, “the American zombies wake up and revolt.” This man was, by prevailing semantic conventions, a terrorist.
So, his act is clearly terrorism.  But is he a tea-bagger?  (hee, hee--hey, if they want to use a term that has sexual connotations, we can certainly have fun with it).
In the end, the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers is populist rage, and this is the core theme in Stack’s ramblings, whether the rage is directed at corporate titans (“plunderers”), the government (“totalitarian”) or individual politicians (“liars”).
I don’t doubt that Tea Partiers are on balance on the right, and if their movement ever crystallizes into a political party that will be its location. But until the requisite winnowing happens, a person with Stack’s fuzzy ideology wouldn’t feel terribly alone at a big Tea Party.
You could, on the one hand, follow this logic to the conclusion that Joseph Stack was the first Tea Party terrorist.
 But then the piece suggests that this might be a bad idea.
But you could instead conclude, as both Yglesias and the blogger Glenn Greenwald kind of suggest in their posts on the Stack episode, that maybe we should just quit using the word “terrorist.” After all, if we start thinking of the Tea Party movement as housing terrorists, then — “terrorist” being the policy-shaping word that it is — we’ll be more inclined to wiretap Tea Partiers and infiltrate their gatherings. And subjecting excitable people with a persecution complex to actual persecution could lead to more excitement than I’m in the mood for.
 It does worry me that we are living in a transition period that is alienating people, giving platforms to the various demagogues (is that giving Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin too much credit?), and seeing hate crimes of various kinds increase.  And this transition period is not just an economic one, where men are getting fired more than women and where people's savings are turned to dust, but also a demographic one.  That is, I wonder how much of the Tea Party movement and similar rage is less about the economy and more about what Obama represents to them--the changing of the guard in US politics from whites running the show to a more diverse cast (in their minds, only non-whites, which shows they suck at math). 

It is clear that winning national elections these days requires playing beyond one's ethnic group, as gaining a plurality of whites or of non-whites is not going to cut it.  In ethnic politics scholarship, this is seen as a good thing, as it forces those who seek to win office to moderate to appeal behind narrower identities.  But what this literature perhaps ignores is that the transition is pretty difficult .  The losers (and white folks who only see white folks as representing their interests are going to be losers in electoral terms) do not go quietly in the night. 

The parallel that come to my mind right now would be the 1960's, where you had parallel movements--peaceful and violent.  MLK Jr, civil disobedience and civil rights acts, but also assassinations, domestic terrorism, police overreaction.  And this has shaped American politics ever since.  Right now, we have few politicians with the courage to take a stand against the haters, and the media is so twisted, that I am not so confident about how this will all turn out.  My guess is that numbers and incentives will win out--that Obama will win a second term because the Republicans will become the party of white rural America--and most voters are not limited to that category.  But first, we must go through a nasty set of elections that are likely to be more like 1994 than anything else.

Not a happy way to begin the morning, so I will just think of last night's Lost, and the opportunity to sing "Hurley's got Sarah Palin arms" to the tune of Kim Carne's "Bette Davis Eyes."

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