Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Partiers and Wing Nuts: One and the Same?

What is it about the Tea Party movement? Do they intend to craft an image that could possibly serve respectable—or practical—ends? Or will they continue to prowl as a political Animal House—a crusty crowd of conservatives gone wild? While the core identity of this populist pandemic is difficult to pin down, one thing is becoming clear: more and more, the character of this movement defies sweeping generalizations. But if that's the case, why has so much of the criticism levied against it been so resoundingly applied? The answer lies within.

The reason Tea Partiers invite so much criticism is that the immoderate, intolerant, racist factions among them are the ones with all the good megaphones. Why? Because the main stream media knows who to give the good megaphones to and what it is most people want. And what most people want is conflict. Conflict sells. MSM doesn't do subtlety and nuance. One actually has to do a little digging to find those entrées at the news-reporting buffet. And it seems, as Bill Maher likes to point out, that the average American is fairly lazy in this regard, content to consume whatever the headline writers think will best promote ideological warfare. One cannot dissect the character of the Tea Party movement without dissecting the methodology of MSM.

Perhaps it is the emergence of the Coffee Party with is creed of civility that has some in the Tea Party not liking what they see when they look in the mirror. To be sure, the more moderate among them, those with legitimate concerns about things like the role of government and the size of the national debt, are beginning to be heard. Of course most will only disavow the wing nuts among them at a price: the other side must disavow the wing nuts in their camp as well. This is easy enough to do, but it is disingenuous to suggest that our wing nuts are just as pervasive as their wing nuts. Up until now, the wing nuts from the right have been the very face of the Tea Party movement, while the intelligently moderate conservatives among them have had to fight to be heard and struggle to hide their embarrassment.

Whether the soul of the Tea Party movement—or the Republican Party itself for that matter—is won over in the end by Rush, Glenn, Bill-O, Sarah and other backward-thinking, pseudo intellectuals like them or by Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public remains to be seen.  The truth is not all white people over 40 who pay taxes and like their health insurance are racist zombies. It's just that if they don't speak up themselves, the racist zombies will continue to speak for them.

Personally, I have hope that the rage in the present populist movement will mitigate and calmer heads will prevail. But then again I'm just an optimistic kind of guy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Obscene Justice?

In a world without consequence, the utterly unreasonable, untenable, and unconscionable become utterly viable. This is precisely the world those who violate others in the extreme come to inhabit, if only for the fleeting few moments it takes them to commit their atrocities. At this point a world with consequence takes precedence, and a punishment ostensibly consistent with the most just of human values is meted out.

It is here hidden within these values where, under the guise of legal sanction, one can rationalize as appropriate something that might otherwise be considered unthinkable. Though not absolute, the value of a life is apparently worth satisfying our lust for vengeance. To suggest it can satisfy the demands of justice is to ignore that justice is what we decide it is and nothing more.

Sanitizing the act of killing by doing it in an orderly, legal and "non-violent" manner does not hide the fact that we are acceding to the very same vulgar instincts which motivated whatever despicable crime was committed in the first place. By engaging in a reckless display of retribution, we explicitly repudiate what is arguably the most inviolable of human values—the preservation of life itself.

We have graduated, of course, from the crude practices of setting aflame, electrocuting, beheading and otherwise administering the 'less enlightened' methods of capital punishment. But is putting someone to death by lethal injection truly any less civilized? Or are we, by executing people with calmness and sterility, merely convincing ourselves we are being civilized and that we can indeed kill with honor and compassion? It may also be that our willingness to legalize killing has the unintended consequence of providing the criminal mind with the very rationale it needs to carry out its own ugly deeds.

Perhaps preserving life is not always the nobler value. Maybe life isn't worthy of being defended under all circumstances. But until we recognize that within each of us exists the whole of humanity's potential—both good and evil—justice will sometimes take the form of the obscene.