Giving the confused crowd far too much credit

GIVING THE CONFUSED CROWD FAR TOO MUCH CREDIT…. One of the reasons I’m inclined to write about the Tea Partiers is that there are still many in the political establishment who believe the political mainstream should do more to take the Tea Party crowd and its hysterical cries seriously. This strikes me as silly — most of the activists seem to have no idea what they’re talking about. Why explore substantive challenges with angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

By all appearances, this hasn’t quite sunk in yet with many observers. Thomas Friedman has a column today suggesting Tea Partiers strive to “become something more than just entertainment for Fox News.” Specifically, the columnist recommends that these activists start taking energy policy seriously and endorse “a $10 ‘Patriot Fee’ on every barrel of imported oil, with all proceeds going to pay down our national debt.”

To Friedman, such an approach seems consistent with the Tea Party’s purported goals — taking a progressive approach to energy policy would help lessen our dependence on the Middle East, lower the deficit, improve our security goals, leave future generations with a better environment, etc.

Friedman isn’t entirely naive. He concedes, “Yes, I know, dream on. The Tea Party is heading to the hard libertarian right and would never support an energy bill that puts a fee on carbon.” And to be sure, on a substantive level, his suggestion has merit.

But I think Friedman, like many establishment observers, doesn’t fully appreciate how ridiculous the Tea Party effort really is. John Cole summarizes the situation nicely.

They don’t care about the deficit. They care that a Democrat (and a black “Muslim,” to boot), is in the White House. They don’t care about fiscal restraint, they care that a Democrat is in the White House. They don’t, as some foolishly pretend, care about the Wall Street excesses. Certainly Cenk Uyger is not the only one who has noticed that the tea party bubbas could all be shipped to protest HCR, but the big money boys aren’t running the buses to protest Wall Street. They care that there is a Democrat in the White House.

And those crowds of angry white old people screaming “keep government out of my medicare” and waving signs of “Drill, baby, drill?” They sure as hell don’t care about the environment and are not going to become some sort of “Green Tea Party.”

Well, no, of course not. If the right’s rhetoric is any indication, we’re talking about a crowd that often perceives climate science as a Marxist plot.

The so-called “movement,” on the whole, doesn’t seem to care about policy. It hardly even seems to care about its own purported goals — this crowd not only applauded when Republicans added $5 trillion to the debt and decided to stop trying to pay for their own initiatives, they also took to the streets to complain about taxes after getting a tax cut.

Expecting far-right activists to move to the left on energy policy, just because it’s wise and in their interests, is regrettably a fool’s errand. Friedman isn’t wrong on policy grounds; he’s wrong to think unhinged conservatives who think the president is Hitler and the Affordable Care Act represents a “government takeover” can be reasoned with.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.