April 16, 2009

Now that the Right has had its little Tea Tantrum, will we hear from them again? Michelle Malkin and all the progenitors of the Tantrums assured us that they were "here to stay," but it's hard to figure out exactly what they're going to do next.

Will the Tea Tantrums just fade like a three-year-old's when you just let her throw it and ignore her? One can't help suspect.

Still, watching yesterday's daylong Tea Party Propagandafest on Fox News -- through Neil Cavuto and Glenn Beck and finally finishing with Sean Hannity, one thing was perfectly clear: this was right-wing populism in action -- indeed, in the process of taking the reins of the leaderless conservative movement.

There was a lot of talk throughout the day about how "this wasn't about Republicans and Democrats," this was about "the people vs. politicians," "right and wrong," "socialism vs. capitalism," etc. etc. There was also a lot of talk about those parasites who feed off the producers. There were the "Atlas Is Shrugging" and "Ayn Rand Was Right" signs at all the rallies.

It's all populism -- and despite the token Democrats they trotted out from time to time, it was distinctly right-wing populism.

And they are clearly leading the conservative movement now. Indeed, Fox's broadcast itself was a clear signal of the movement's embrace of its populist wing.

A giveaway moment came during Hannity's evening broadcast from Atlanta, when he brought in a live feed from the Rick and Bubba Tea Tantrum in Alabama:

Hannity: And I'm going to tell you one other thing: When did we ever get to a point in America where, we're nearly at the point where fifty percent of Americans don't pay anything in taxes! Nothing!

[Crowd boos]

Rick: The numbers out are just astounding that, that, how much that the very top taxpayers actually pay. I feel like these taxpayers are disenfranchised. I want them to have a share of the burden just like they have a share of the vote.

That's right -- it's the wealthy top percentage of the country that needs a tax break. After all, they are the one Obama's targeting, right? So at least they're being upfront about just who "the taxpayers" are whose interests they're out marching to defend.

That brings to mind David Horsey's cartoon in this morning's Online P-I:


This is a phenomenon known as Producerism, which is a hallmark of right-wing populism. It's defined as:

a syncretic ideology of populist economic nationalism which holds that the productive forces of society - the ordinary worker, the small businessman, and the entrepreneur, are being held back by parasitical elements at both the top and bottom of the social structure.

... Producerism sees society's strength being "drained from both ends"--from the top by the machinations of globalized financial capital and the large, politically connected corporations which together conspire to restrict free enterprise, avoid taxes and destroy the fortunes of the honest businessman, and from the bottom by members of the underclass and illegal immigrants whose reliance on welfare and government benefits drains the strength of the nation. Consequently, nativist rhetoric is central to modern Producerism (Kazin, Berlet & Lyons). Illegal immigrants are viewed as a threat to the prosperity of the middle class, a drain on social services, and as a vanguard of globalization that threatens to destroy national identities and sovereignty. Some advocates of producerism go further, taking a similar position on legal immigration.

In the United States, Producerists are distrustful of both major political parties. The Republican Party is rejected for its support of corrupt Big Business and the Democratic Party for its advocacy of the unproductive lazy waiting for their entitlement handouts (Kazin, Stock, Berlet & Lyons).

Chip Berlet has written extensively about the long historical association of producerism with oppressive right-wing movements and regimes.

It is, in essence, predicated on the psychology of celebrity-worship: convincing working-class schlubs that they too can someday become rich and famous too -- because when they do, would they want to be taxed heavily? It's all about dangling that lottery carrot out there for the poor stiffs who were never any good at math to begin with.

And with right-wing populism, it's the wealthy who stand to benefit, which is why they so willingly underwrite it. This is why Henry Ford -- the ultimate enabler of fascism -- is such a seminal figure for American right-wing populists. It's also why Ayn Rand and Atlas Wanked are so important in their mythology.

It might, in fact, more accurately be called "sucker populism."

We certainly saw an upsurge in right-wing populism in Republican ranks in the 2008 campaign, reflected both by Sarah "Evita" Palin's unmistakable right-wing populism, as well as Ron Paul's insurgency (there were a lot of Ron Paul supporters at these Tea Tantrums). There's been Glenn Beck's soaring popularity -- during which time, you'll also recall, he eagerly defended the AIG bonuses. And now the Tantrums.

I doubt that either Palin or Paul have the actual political wherewithal to surge to the fore of the Republican Party as the chief of its populist wing (neither were particularly visible at the Tantrums). More likely, a corporate Republican who's good at faking the populism -- like Newt Gingrich or Mike Huckaby -- will claim the mantle.

It will be entertaining to watch, but it almost certainly won't be fun.

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