Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”?

Today’s topic for discussion:  what is the Tea Party movement?  Unlike the usual post on the FM website, we have too little data to do anything but speculate.


  1. My guess
  2. Historical background
  3. Origin of the Tea Party Movement
  4. Articles about the Tea Parties
  5. For more information from the FM site, and an Afterword

(1)  My guess (nothing more than a guess)

The Tea Party movement is a real-life version of the movie Meet John Doe (1941),  Directed and produced by Frank Capra, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  The film tells about a grassroots political campaign during the Depression, created by a newspaper columnist and exploited by a wealthy businessman.  The popular angst is genuine, but conservative groups provide a small but important element of direction, funding, and organization.

(2)  Historical background

Popular movements often spontaneously form during periods of social unrest — like the 1930’s and today.  Like the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and the thousands of such uprisings since.  Sometimes powerful elites shape and direct these to their own ends.  As in the Protestant Reformation, where the elites used popular discontent with the established church to enhance their own power.

These are complex social phenomena.  Even the original Tea Parties, which we protests against imports of inexpensive tea (undercutting the prices of tea smuggled in by Americans).

Sometimes they catch fire then fade away, like the Bonus Army in 1932.  Sometimes they grow to power yet suddenly die (like the New Model Army after Cromwell).  Sometimes they sweep all before them, like the Protestant Reformation and the American Revolution.  Nobody can accurately predict these things.

If this recession continues much longer, or even grows worse (aka the double dip), then we’ll see real public anger.  The political map may change in ways we cannot now imagine.

(3)  Origin of the Tea Party Movement

The campaign opened on 19 February 2009 on CNBC with this broadcast (see a transcript here, posted by Freedom Eden) by Rich Santelli.

Rick Santelli: I Want to Set the Record Straight“, CNBC, 2 March 2009 — About his original broadcast.

Two websites previously set up went live shortly thereafter.

  • Here is the website claiming to be the “official home of the Chicago Tea Party”.
  • Here is the “Official Chicago Tea Party” website.

After that there was the “Tax Day Tea Party” website, “Online HQ for the April 15th Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party Rallies”. 

(4)  Articles about the Tea Party Movement

The infamous article alleging that this was well-planned agitprop:  “Backstabber:  Is Rick Santelli High On Koch?“, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, online at Playboy, 27 February 2009 — The authors are editors of The Exiled Online (see Wikipedia entry for details).  Amidst rumors of threatened litigation, Playboy removed it without comment.

Other articles — esp note the February 2010 New Yorker article.

  1. I Want to Set the Record Straight“, Rick Santelli, CNBC, 2 March 2009 — His reply to the allegations.
  2. The Rick Santelli ‘Tea Party’ Controversy: Article Kicks Up a Media Dust Storm“, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, AlterNet, 3 March 2009
  3. Uprising? Corporate Lobbyists Helping To Orchestrate Radical Anti-Obama Tea Party Protests“, Lee Fang, ThinkProgress, 9 April 2009
  4. Fake Teabaggers Are Anti-Spend, Anti-Government: Real Populists Want to Stop Banks from Plundering America“, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, AlterNet, 15 April 2009 — “The tea parties are AstroTurf,  fake grassroots.”
  5. Party Foul! Tea Partiers Eat Their Own In Bitter Internal Feud“, TPM, 12 November 2009
  6. The Movement – The rise of Tea Party activism“, Ben McGrath, New Yorker, 1 February 2010 — The most detailed reporting I’ve seen about this.

Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, has strongly promoted the movement:  see this Google list of his posts about them (with photos!).  Also see his paean about them:  “Tea Parties: Real Grassroots“, op-ed in the  New York Post, 13 April 2009.

(5a)  For more information from the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.  To see all posts about our new wars:

Other posts about the tea party movement:

(5b)  Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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34 thoughts on “Does the Tea Party movement remind you of the movie “Meet John Doe”?”

  1. I find it ridiculous how folks act like the “Tea Party Movement” just dropped out of the sky. They are just the latest tremor from a very old American faultline. Their anti-marxist paranoia, their apocalyptic mindset, their conspiracy theories about FEMA camps, their thinly veiled racism & nativism (as seen in their “birther” theories), all these things have almost direct correspondence to the “John Birch Society” of the 1960s, and doubtless to many conservative movements before that.

    To say that the “Tea Baggers” are simply an emanation of media, or an astroturf organization, or mainly a reaction to our shit economy, misses the point. They have very influential leaders in media, like Glenn Beck for instance, and powerful corporate patrons (see Freedomworks). They are definitely magnified by our economic malaise. But these leaders and patrons are manipulating a very real strain of American populism.

    The “Tea Baggers/Tea Partiers” aren’t just stooges. They are real people with real beliefs… just like me. What has to be pointed out about them, though, is that they have no good solutions to our current problems. Their policy ideas, if followed, would lead to a failing state or to corporate oligarchy. I don’t care how politically incorrect it is to point out that they are paranoid in mindset, racist and nativist, and motivated by baseless conspiracy theories. Sorry, that’s the reality.
    FM reply: That’s what I was attempting to say. This is an esp idiotic popular movement, understanding neither the problem nor any solutions. Esp note that they protest government spending, but are vague as to what should be cut. For more on this see A look at our government’s debt – rising because we like to spend, esp section 2 — what the public wants cut.

  2. Burke G Sheppard

    Not having seen Meet John Doe, I don’t know how apt the comparison is. My own impression of the tea party movement is that it’s a reaction to a witch’s brew of problems, including the poor economy, the fact that neither party seems able to govern the country, and the exponential growth of government debt. I’m rather amazed at the fear and loathing that have been heaped on them. Given what has passed for governance in this country this past ten years or so, one ought to expect some degree of public protest. I suppose the commentariat is dismayed at the prospect of dissent from Obama.

    Fabius wrote: “If this recession continues much longer, or even grows worse (aka the double dip), then we’ll see real public anger. The political map may change in ways we cannot now imagine.

    Truer words was never spoke. I am pessimistic about our economic prospects. I expect, at best, a long period of stagnation, even if we manage to avoid the double dip. (To be clear, this is not meant as a slap at Obama. I expect things would be just as bad if McCain had been elected.) My Ouija board does not tell me what political changes this will produce.

  3. In my opinion many of the people who self-describe themselves as members of the Tea Party movement are regular people of varied political backgrounds who have recognized that the elites of both parties and the MSM treat them like sheep. Most are not crack-pots (although the movement has its share).

    The creation of a narrative and a nascent political organization for the political disillusioned is dangerous to both parties. So the Republicans hijacked the movement by self-appointing themselves as the leaders/sheep herders of the movement, while the Democrats “whined” about the Republicans’ power grab and the MSM stuck microphones in the faces of and took pictures of the crack-pots of the movement.

    Of course, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats nor the MSM cared, because their joint branding marginalizes the movement by pushing it to the fringe. From their point of view, this guarantees that the movement will likely never become as politically powerful as it could be. They want it to be thought of as an anti-Obama movement rather than an anti-sheep herder movement.
    FM reply: Actually surveys on this would be interesting to see! My guess is that they are not of “varied political backgrounds”, but mostly conservatives. More broadly, the TP’s vagueness is a strength. It allows people to read into it what they like (as you have done) — just as liberals did with the Obama Campaign. This similiarity means something, but I don’t know what.

  4. A major contributor to the Tea Party movement was Roe v. Wade.

    Essentially, it cast all opponents of abortion into the political wilderness, where for a generation they have existed alienated from mainstream political participation. But they have persisted; they have not gone away. During this interval, they have accrued the various political ideologies we now more broadly call “Tea Bagger.”
    FM reply: Is abortion one of the issues that these protests mention? One aspect of the TP’s that I find odd is their vague nature: against stuff, but not sure exactly what — or what the appropriate policies should be.

  5. Riff on Mr. Kinder’s comment at No 4:

    Many pro-lifers have recognized that notwithstanding repeated Republican campaign promises to appoint and confirm pro-life federal judges to repeal Roe v. Wade, they have been treated as sheep on this issue. Seven of the nine positions on the Supreme Court have been held by Republican appointees for years. Yet the only “roll-back” of Roe v. Wade has been the affirmance of the ban on partial birth abortion. Considering the barbarity of the procedure, you can’t help but wonder why that took so long.
    FM reply: But abortion does not appear to be a significant element of the TP movement.

  6. FM replies at Nos. 3 and 5:

    I agree with both. My comments are based on my observations of the people in my community, and may (probably) have no relevance to anywhere else in the country. I live in the redest part of a red state, where the religious right is the largest single political faction. Politics are a staple of daily discussions. A non-trivial minority of religious conservatives in my community voted for Obama, having never voted for a democrat before in their lives. Many stated publicly that they did so because they were tired of being treated as sheep or words to that effect by the republican elites. They also voice many of the same complaints you voice here.

    I see potential in the movement, provided it clarifies its objectives and adopts as its motto: “We’re not sheep.”
    FM reply: The “devil is in the details.”

  7. What is different in my mind about these folk is that they are primarily people who 2-3 years ago would not have even considered getting involved in any form of political protest. They were fully indifferent to all things political or economic until the recent crash and subsequent fallout. (I am speculating based on the number of folk I have had contact with who participated in these rallies.)

    I agree with Fabius that the movement is likely being co-opted by the right currently, but the underlying anger is quite genuine, it is not astroturf. It seems to me that the those on the left like to try and dismiss this groundswell of anger as ‘fringe’ and ‘extremist’ (or ‘racist’ and ‘nativist’ as from the first comment). Those on the right are trying to subvert or direct it to their own political ends. I think that both left and right are not understanding that the thrust of the anger is directed at government and at the status quo more generally.

  8. I agree with Fred and FM at the same time. It is definitely an open forum for any anger against illiberal causes. I have been to three tea parties in San Diego and my neighbor and I talk about it all the time. We are Glenn Beck fans and I didn’t see the Rick Santori broadcast live, but we like the overall message of disapproval it sends to Washington.

    BTW, I never once saw any socially conservative issues being discussed in particular. Some people seemed to support Palin, but everything was explicitly libertarian. And I went to a huge Tea Party down by the Harbor, and I saw no signs about abortion or gay marriage or values or anything like that. It was all about spending and Leviathan. I read somewhere that the big tent in politics is: fiscal conservative and ignorance of social issues.

  9. By not taking them seriously we risk what happened in my state. “Liberty movement activists take over GOP in Nevada“, Tax Day Tea Party, 14 December 2009:

    “It has been confirmed that the following previous officials within the party resigned at an emergency meeting.

    -Heather Kydd, secretary
    -Martha Kimpel, executive board member District F
    -Christine DeCorte, finance director
    -Swadeep Nigam, treasurer
    -Ron Futrell, communications director
    -Richard Scotti, chairman
    -Melody Howard, executive board member District C
    -Norm Yeager, executive board member District A

    Some of these individuals give multiple reasons for stepping down, but a very good source of mine tells me that most of it took place over frustration with movement activists controlling the votes to the point that the old establishment couldn’t continue on its current path.”

    It seems they are making an effort to take over the Republican Party by pushing out the country club Republicans not the other way around. My attempts at changing things have whiplashed back around and where I once was called a conservative I’m now called a moderate. LOL! This may turn into a very interesting time, indeed.
    FM reply: The reference to “country club” Republicans matchs my own experience with both parties (in my 20’s working for the Dems, 30 years working for the Repubs). Both parties are run by people contemptuous of their rank and file. Many despise their followers. It creates an unstable system. The tea party movement might signify the Rep’s imploding. Obama might do the same for the Dems. As I mentioned above, the parallelism of the parties internal structure is striking — and probably results from deeper social factors (invisible to me).

  10. Agoraphobic Plumber

    People who dismiss the tea partiers as “racist” or “nativist”, I suspect, are a set that widely intersects with the set that hear a person decry “illegal immigration” and immediately call them a racist. Is it not possible that what sticks in people’s craw is the “illegal” part rather than the “immigrant” part?

    I attended a tea party last spring (there aren’t many in my area, so I took the one chance I’ve seen) mostly out of curiosity. What I saw resembled a typical family community festival with a few political signs on display. People were cooking burgers, eating together, playing games with their kids, and having a good time. They tended actually to be mostly apolitical people who had recently taken an interest because of the recent downturn. It was ENTIRELY grassroots as far as I could see. NO professionally-made signs, nobody stirring up trouble or promoting any particular agenda, right or left.

    The main “cause” that MIGHT have united all the people there was that they all wanted to see less government spending…a sentiment I share. I realize that Fabius is a big Keynesian as are many others here, but you should realize that many people are not, since they cannot be in their own life, on a micro scale where most people live. On a gut level, people just understand that you can’t spend more than you make, and that’s what the government has been doing, in good times and bad no matter what, for decades. Even a Keynesian has to realize that if this is continued, it spells ultimate doom for our country sooner or later. And now it is speeding up. A trillion and a half deficit in one year? It would have been unthinkable even 2 or 3 years ago, after a long run of Bush’s fiscal clownishness that would have been unthinkable a decade before that.

    Consider just one political result of the current economic environment that no doubt many here laugh at: the survivalism movement is rapidly going mainstream. There are articles all over the place about it, and even offering tips on things to do. Lots of people who would have laughed at survivalists, called them racist or Rambo wannabes a decade ago are now squirreling away nuts like mad for the winter that they feel in their bones is coming at us. They call themselves “preppers”, but they’re basically the same with a different aura.

    I know because I’m one of them. And when I describe myself politically I usually call myself a conservative, but NOT a Republican. I don’t subscribe to the 9/11 truth thing, I don’t believe there is a secret lizardoid organization called the Illuminati that is plotting to take over the world and I don’t believe there is a government plan to ship us all to concentration camps and whatnot that you can find all over the web.

    But I keep going back to the idea that as a country or as an individual, you just cannot spend more than you make indefinitely and not expect there to be extremely negative consequences. A year or two? Perhaps that can work if you need it to. How many years in the last 40 have we had where we truly made as much as we spent, excluding social security surpluses? I count one, and that was at the tail end of a huge boom, when the Repubs were holding the Dem president in check. Then the Repubs took over entirely and it went back to the same-old, same-old.

    And that is why the many Repubs that are trying to coopt the tea partiers won’t be able to. They’re as deeply suspicious of the Repubs as the Dems, because we saw what they did when they had their chance, just as we’re now seeing how Dems run things without serious checks on them.

    I don’t pretend to know how this phenomenon will play out and I don’t know if it even formed in time to alter what’s coming, but I do know that most people who aren’t a part of it seem to be completely unable to interpret what it means accurately. I’d encourage everybody here to go to one of their events and really talk to the people and listen more than you talk. You’ll see a few nut cases, some extremists, and a lot of average folks who are really concerned about how things are and not really sure what to do about it.
    FM reply: This is too complex for a comment to analyze. I will give just two replies.

    (1) “People who dismiss the tea partiers as “racist” or “nativist”…”

    Amerian discourse at its finest, on both the left and right. Some on the Left call the right racist. The right dismisses the left because some call them racist. Neither side needs to think about the other side’s substantive criticism. Meanwhile the nation burns.

    (2) “people just understand that you can’t spend more than you make, and that’s what the government has been doing, in good times and bad no matter what, for decades”

    This is not Keynesian economics, it’s madness. Your misunderstanding on this wrecks most of your analysis. Keynes, and almost all modern economists, advocate counter-cyclical spending. Deficits during recessions, with small surpluses during the far longer booms to provide a balanced budget over the full business cycle. American voters want goodies all the time, without paying for them. The Tea Party movement shows no sign of changing this pattern. They just don’t like the result, and wish it were different. Look on their websites to find recommendations to balance the budget (no, ending stimulus programs will not do it). You will look in vain. They’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

  11. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge the link between “tea party movement” and “black man in the White House” is terminally clueless. And oh, by the way, apart from the inherent racism this “movement” is about as authentic as plastic flowers.

  12. I’ve been to three tea party events since it started. One of them was at Rep Adam Schiff’s summer town hall meeting on health care. I put myself in between the liberal and conservative camps. I heard racist statements uttered twice. Once against a LaRouche democrat (I guess they don’t like Obama either) for being a redneck. He took it in stride and didn’t respond with racist comments of his own. The other was when some hispanic kids from El Sereno telling whitey that he was living on stolen land. I realize the plural of anecdote isn’t data, so take that for what you think it is worth.

  13. Ave, Fabius

    Recall when Sulla used Rome’s plebians to rally to Marius and himself. The result was Civil War and the eventual castration of the Senate. All that was left was for Gaius Julius, whom we call Caesar today, to cross the Rubicon and end our republic.

    The Tea Party movement is a similar mobilization of a vast and vague dissatisfaction with all things under a rubric (no pun intended) of fiscal responsbility. All it takes to “join” is enough a dissatisfaction to get off the couch and into a meeting. Now that football season is winding up, baseball season not started, and basketball and hockey playoffs months into the future, the potential for ex-couch potatoes who also are miserable because of (a) weather, (b) work, (c) life, or (d) all of the above is great for joining the Tea Party Movement.

    What I wish to know is who is the “Sulla” behind this generation’s movement. Then we shall know our domestic enemy (ies) of this Republic.

    Vale, Scipio, Publius Cornelius
    FM reply: Your comments tend to terrify me. If only they could be easily dismissed…

  14. I have been of mixed emotions about the Tea Party Movement from the beginning. On one hand, I like that conservatives have finally gotten off their couches and become politically engaged. On the other hand, I find the whole movement and most of its leadership (Palin, Beck, etc.) to be rather empty heads repeating silly slogans without any true understanding of history and politics.

    Ultimately, these folks are just anti-Obama, even though he has ultimately done very little different from Bush 43. Where were these folks when Bush was enacting his ruinous policies, all of which Obama is continuing more or less?
    FM reply: You mention one of the humorous aspects of our situation (gallows humor, unfortunately). For example, read Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit site. All the thing Bush did without comment by him are now denounced by him.

  15. It is always interesting to see the reactionary sentiments of those that have never attended a Tea Party.Slurring the movement with terms like tea-baggers and racists and other dismissive terms indicates a fear based alinsky type response to protect status quo ideolgy as opposed to anything civil or rational.Could it be that those that do this feel like,well-sheep? Something about contempt prior to investigation perhaps?

    Yes,much of it is anger at what is perceived as a non-responsive government which has been building for several years.Not just when the current President was elected.When is the last time a petition succeeded? How about an email or phone your senator campaign? How is that “transparency” thing going? How are the “reforms” working out?

    The perception is that the government isn’t interested in the constituency,unless that constituency is holding on to a large checkbook.Election time baby-kissing and glad handing with the rubes aside.

    Part of the movement is to identify effective ways to elicit government responses,and as such is presently willing to settle for positive or negative responses such as were seen after the Brown election.More positive and effective interactions are hoped for in the future across party lines and labels.

    One of the things being sought is more horizontal,interactive,responsive type communication between the government and the citizens.One possible effective model of communication in early exploration is Browns success with the “social networking” sites.The present outdated vertical communication model works as a barrier.

    “We’re not sheep” is certainly a good start,but then the question becomes are we sheepdogs or shepherds?Where are the balances and lines?As usual at the nascency of a movement many things come up.Some will be workable solutions,some harebrained ideas.Time will tell if the movement will mature or flameout.It will certainly need to grow beyond traditional party lines and labels.

    If,as FM says,we the citizens are the problem then by all means we need to take responsibility and be the solution.I have optimism in the citizenry whether the Tea Party is a flash in the pan or grows into a legitimate movement.

  16. To Gaius Gracchus:

    I wasn’t politically engaged until I got out of college… in 2008. I knew Bush was evil and all that, but i never really got all that involved, as my degree was technical. The thing that peaked my interest was when I gave the government $5000 for the first time. I was like “what?!”.. “what for?”. So I read as much as I can now, and it all seems to be wasted.

    I go to the Tea Parties and enjoy the talk. I am not anti-Obama, but he does worry me.
    FM reply: List the policies of Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr., and those of Obama. Almost identical. That should worry you even more.

  17. “Where were these folks when Bush was enacting his ruinous policies, all of which Obama is continuing more or less?”

    They were organizing. Just getting started, no voice yet. But there were there, were you listening? I find many on the left, who have no ears. You had to LOOK for them then.

    Since the two dictators (oh, I’m sorry, “parties”) have made it immpossible for a third party to form, the next logical step, is to take over one, or both, from the inside. Hope they can!
    FM reply: I don’t know what people you refer to, but the conservatives were cheering Bush (yes, I was listening — their comments litter this website) — for much the same policies they denouce of Obama. Madness. The greatest madness is they weld the chains on their own legs, searching for someone to blame for their own flaws.

  18. Bonesetter Brown

    Glad to see you mentioning my old friend Long John Willoughby. I don’t think things have gotten bad enough to turn the Tea Parties into John Doe Clubs. Interesting comment by A. Plumber above, comparing the gathering to a family community festival. Sounds very John Doe Club like. I myself couldn’t say — haven’t had any direct exposure.

    To those who’ve never seen the movie, the John Doe movement was neither Democrat or Republican. The media tycoon D.B. Horton looked to turn the John Doe Clubs into a 3rd party, and have himself elected POTUS.

    If things get worse, and I suspect they will, I won’t be the least bit surprised to see a Perot-like run by somebody who looks to capitalize on the discontent reflected by the Tea Party movement. The Brown victory in MA is Exhibit A for an election that can turn on a dime. Perot in 92 another good example.
    FM reply: I wouldn’t apply the movie’s analogy that closely (no 1942 studio would label as bad guys a major political party, hence the 3rd party evildoer).

    We might be on the edge of a depression (the economic data is distorted and conflicting). The government’s senior advisors well understand this. Hence the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus in late 2008 and early 2009 (as I recommended in my posts of September 2008. Today, after 3 years of recession, we’re weaker. Another downturn could initiate positive feedback, accellerating the decline. But unlike 2008, stimulus programs might be politically difficult to implement. The results might be severe. Probably beyond the imagination of the tea party protestors. Ignorance is bliss only until the consequences hit.

  19. Bonesetter Brown

    Fabius, you mention in your post that Meet John Doe depicts a storyline where “conservative groups provide a small but important element of direction, funding, and organization”. I don’t recall D.B. Horton or his cohorts being protrayed in any political light — left or right. But they were monied, very monied.
    FM reply: I think the parallel is clear both in the movie and today. There was no need to spell it out then, nor should it be necessary today.

  20. From #10 FM said: “Amerian discourse at its finest, on both the left and right. Some on the Left call the right racist. The right dismisses the left because some call them racist. Neither side needs to think about the other side’s substantive criticism. Meanwhile the nation burns.

    There is something to this, talk about race is stalled. Now I’ll be happier than anyone to start talking about racial/tribal politics in the USA (as I see Fabius you have already started to do). The topic is an toxic river draining into the swamp of “class”. We’re all submerged in this swamp to some degree. You gotta dig through a lot of ugly before you get to the real poison.

  21. As someone who always viewed themselves as conservative and a Republican (yet has only voted for a Republican candidate for president once in the last six presidential elections), I am just struck at how from far understanding these folks are. The Republican Party of the past believed in law-and-order, but today’s party refuses to think that Wall Street needs need any law or order. Of course, both Democrats and Republicans used to believe in protecting Main Street and US workers, but both are tools of Wall Street, playing people on both sides as fools……

  22. Regarding Tea Bagger ignorance and vagueness:
    Noam Chomsky has often stated that the great success of conservative establishment elites during the past thirty years has been to direct populist anger toward government and away from big business through the meaningless catch-all ideology of “free markets”. The incoherence of the Tea Parties is a product of this sleight-of-hand: anger over the hijacking of institutions by special interests, but instead of attacking the interests, they go after the institutions. The Republican propaganda machine in full swing amid an undereducated and ill-informed populace.
    FM reply: Thanks for the Chomsky reference. If you have any links or citations, that would be useful.

  23. Specific Chomsky quotes are needles in haystacks…. However the advent of streaming internet video in the past few years has broadened his exposure exponentially. I still reread Manufacturing Consent before every election. In many ways his media criticisms have attained new dimension since the development of cable news, especially regarding the right-wing base. Here’s a couple links with somewhat relevant discussion. To be fair, he implicates liberal as well as conservative elites. (parts 4, 5 & 6) (strident but powerful frankness) (critique of American libertarianism)

    Every time I hear Glen Beck call himself a libertarian, I think of that third vid. Speaks volumes to the incoherence of the Baggers when pressed beyond rhetoric.

    BTW FM nice snag on the New Yorker article; haven’t received my issue yet. Quality, thorough reporting as usual. One of traditional media’s last great brands.
    FM reply: thanks for the links!

  24. Re #22. It’s nice that leftists delude themselves by dismissing the opposition as “undereducated and ill-informed.” That way you don’t have to do any hard thinking. Also makes it easier to defeat you.

    Part of the Tea Party reaction to BAU (Business As Usual) in D.C. is directed against special favors for big business and Wall Street. Markets function quite well when the government and courts vigorously defend open competition, low barriers to entry, and enforcement of contracts.

    We haven’t had a government that eschews favors to its favored constituencies for quite some time now. Pick your favorites: Labor unions, trial lawyers, etc. for the Dems, Big Business, financial industry, etc. for the Reps.
    FM reply: More parallelism between left and right. Both denounce their opponents as fools of some sort. Both decalre the system to be corrupt. It was probably the same in 2010. Still, the parallels are exact. The Tea Party folks are light on both analysis and solutions, which makes them (broadly speaking) just fodder for smarter and more aggressive elites.

  25. Pingback: Linkage is Good for You: Leaner, Meaner Edition | In Mala Fide

  26. No, and Frank Capra is rolling over in his grave at any suggestion otherwise. You obviously have a poor ability to comprehend visual media. The cardinal rule of the John Doe Clubs in the film is to completely shun all politics. Thus it’s the antithesis of the Tea Party, which is a political movement by definition. This article would’ve made John Doe jump off that building!

    1. AC Robinson,

      I don’t believe your reading is compete, on several levels.

      First, a major theme of the movie is the corruption of a group created outside the political system, as a powerful external agent (i.e., Norton then) mobilizes it for partisan ends. That is also the story of the Tea Party Movement — born as a non-partisan group opposing bank bailouts, became shock troops for bank-friendly Republicans.

      Second, the people of 1941 knew the history of populist movements (esp those of the 1930s). Often born as apolitical groups, they often found that social reform required political involvement. The Moral Rearmament movement, Father Townsend’s National Union for Social Justice, etc. In the John Doe Clubs we see this process in the early stage, and how inevitably they are drawn into politics — one way, or another.

      Thrid, the brief story of the John Doe clubs mirrors that of the Tea Party Movement in several important ways. Weak leadership, ill-defined conceptual grounding (see Mitchell’s arguments about this with Willoughby), easily manipulated members — esp their reluctance to move from glittering generalities to confront hard reality.

      For more analysis of this fascinating film I recommend:

      1. AC Robinson,

        Now for the key point. You said:

        “The cardinal rule of the John Doe Clubs in the film is to completely shun all politics. ”

        The key point about the John Doe Clubs is that they were astroturfed.

        In the firm Norton announced their creation after “John Doe’s” radio broadcast. He said they were non-political, but intended them to further his political ambitions.

        That mirrors the history of the Tea Party Movement, which were also astroturf.

        That is, both had a high degree of grass-roots participation — which provided their energy. But the initial impetus and follow-up drive came from powerful elites. So their politicization was baked in from their beginnings.

        For more about the astroturf nation of the TP Movement:

  27. What a difference 4 years make. Note that the idea in the John Doe movement are not actually TEA Party movement ideas, but more along the 9-12 Project and a moral/Biblical movement of a new Age of Enlightenment. The TEA Party movement has remained along the grass roots, because, as you say, it (the movement) is made up of individuals not of any collective mind-think, keeping it more local than national. Those who ride the TEA Party movement to elective office are being pushed back by the major parties, and slowly losing.

    Still, the real roots are natural grown, not astroturf… like, say, the following Occupy movement, which was organized from day 1 and never has taken any roots.

    1. TP Movement is astroturf? December 2013 and you still think that?

      You know what you’re talking about, Benjamin.

  28. disgusted by ignorance and apathy and fear and hatred

    It’s amazing how most people are smart in things that aren’t even factual. The Tea Party started more than two decades before 2009. What are you doing with your life, editor of fabiusmaximus?

    1. Disguested,

      Your grade school history told you, I hope, that there are no clear “beginnings” for most things in history — since everything has antecedents. Roots that precede the bloom.

      However the “Tea Party Movement” as a visible national phenomenon dates to 19 February 2009. For details (links to original sources, etc) see this post.

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