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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

MSM’s Free Ride for Tea Party Unhinged

Since I read Jonathan Kay’s Newsweek web-exclusive article, “Black Helicopters Over Nashville,” I can’t help but chuckle a bit when I see the ubiquitous ads for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (teaser-trailer here, Superbowl ad here).
Subtitled “Never mind Sarah Palin and the tricornered hats. The tea-party movement is dominated by conspiracist kooks,” Kay’s article is one of the gutsier MSM reports on the tea party gathering. Kay writes,

I consider myself a conservative and arrived at this conference as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass. But I also happen to be writing a book for HarperCollins that focuses on 9/11 conspiracy theories, so I have a pretty good idea where the various screws and nuts can be found in the great toolbox of American political life.
Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn’t just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.

Kay then presents a gallery of tea party characters, including:

This world view’s modern-day prophets include Texas radio host Alex Jones, whose documentary, The Obama Deception, claims Obama’s candidacy was a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to “con the Amercan people into accepting global slavery”; Christian evangelist Pat Robertson; and the rightward strain of the aforementioned “9/11 Truth” movement. According to this dark vision, America’s 21st-century traumas signal the coming of a great political cataclysm, in which a false prophet such as Barack Obama will upend American sovereignty and render the country into a godless, one-world socialist dictatorship run by the United Nations from its offices in Manhattan.
Sure enough, in Nashville, Judge Roy Moore warned, among other things, of “a U.N. guard stationed in every house.” On the conference floor, it was taken for granted that Obama was seeking to destroy America’s place in the world and sell Israel out to the Arabs for some undefined nefarious purpose…
A software engineer from Clearwater, Fla., told me that Washington, D.C., liberals had engineered the financial crash so they could destroy the value of the U.S. dollar, pay off America’s debts with worthless paper, and then create a new currency called the Amero that would be used in a newly created “North American Currency Union” with Canada and Mexico. I rolled my eyes at this one-off kook. But then, hours later, the conference organizers showed a movie to the meeting hall, Generation Zero, whose thesis was only slightly less bizarre: that the financial meltdown was the handiwork of superannuated flower children seeking to destroy capitalism.
And then, of course, there is the double-whopper of all anti-Obama conspiracy theories, the “birther” claim that America’s president might actually be an illegal alien who’s constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House. This point was made by birther extraordinaire and Christian warrior Joseph Farah, who told the crowd the circumstances of Obama’s birth were more mysterious than those of Jesus Christ…

Having watched some of the tea party doings on C-SPAN and elsewhere, I commend Kay for his candor. But I think he only scratched the surface of the lunacy represented at the confab. However, Kay’s conclusion hits the bulls-eye:

Perhaps the most distressing part of all is that few media observers bothered to catalog these bizarre, conspiracist outbursts, and instead fixated on Sarah Palin’s Saturday night keynote address. It is as if, in the current overheated political atmosphere, we all simply have come to expect that radicalized conservatives will behave like unhinged paranoiacs when they collect in the same room…That doesn’t say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers’ tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.

The teasers for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ suggest Tim Burton may have inadvertantly provided an excellent cinematic analog for the tea party movement, sort of like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ and McCarthyism during an earlier era. As the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) says in the ‘Wonderland’ teaser trailer “Some say to survive it you need to be as mad as a hatter, which luckily…I am.”

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