I know how much both of my readers like a little rhetorical discussion now and then, so let’s turn to politics. I’m looking for something that will be interesting, the way a house on fire is interesting, so let’s have a look at several tea party websites. There is no “official” tea party, but multiple groups, so I’ll look briefly at some of the rhetoric on four websites.
Tea Party Nation: Their name is an instructive place to start, with the addition of the word “nation”, which is clearly meant to say that this is a national movement. Which it certainly is. They want to emphasize that fact with the name, and maybe the importance of their own group as well. Perhaps they also wish to imply that it is even bigger than it is.
On the day I’m looking at the site, just under the title and navigation bar are what look like an advertisement, reading “This is Where They’ll Store Your Emails” with a warning that “NSA will store every one of your phone calls and emails…” With the headline of “They” and the subtext referring to “every one” of your communications, we see paranoia at its best. The government is coming to get you.
This belief is actually a common motif in American history. There were people back in the 60s and 70s, I had friends from that period, who exactly agreed with the idea that the government was out to get us and spy on us. I was told about one rumor that the government was going to build concentration camps in West Virginia. But in those days such a belief was leftist, and now it’s right wing.
Tea Party Patriots: Again notice the name with the use of “patriots”, as though that sets them apart from other groups. This site opens with an enormous banner in striking reddish orange colors, reading “Project Phoenix: It’s Time to Rise Again”. The phoenix is the mythological bird that rises from the ashes of its own self destructive immolation. The implication seems to be that our country has destroyed itself and needs to be resurrected.
This attitude, that the country has been destroyed, seems to miss the point that we are still the richest, most powerful country on the earth, without any question, and one of the most free. Nevertheless, there is a common line of thinking among tea party groups that “everything has gone to hell”.
Tea Party Express: The homepage on this site looks like it is meant to say “look how patriotic” (i.e. political) we are. It has the American flag, as well as flag colors, all over the page. Underneath the name of the page is the phrase “Restore Liberty, Honor the Constitution”. The slogan tells us that “liberty” is gone and needs to be restored (i.e. “everything has gone to hell”).
With the phrase “Honor the Constitution” another very common tea party motif is being invoked. The various tea party groups have taken up this motif through constant repetition, to claim that only truly pure patriots like themselves actually “honor” the Constitution, exactly the way you’re supposed to. That is to say, it’s not that there are disagreements over interpreting the Constitution. No. The tea party is right and their opponents are bastards who don’t respect the Constitution and the really obvious way you’re supposed to understand it.
Tea Party: This must have been the first group to register a website, so no additional noun was needed as part of their name. Just like the previous website, the visual imagery here is all flag. The slogan at the top reads “Our mission is to bring awareness to any issue which challenges the security, sovereignty or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation…The United States of America.” With the phrase “our beloved nation” the emotional appeal is heavy and obvious. I also notice the phrase “Our mission” and wonder whether all political parties have a “mission”. That word adds to the emotional appeal, and it also seems to imply a semi-religious attitude toward what they are doing. Also notice that they are watching out for any challenges to “sovereignty”. What exactly does that mean? UN black helicopters? A more subtle allusion to the paranoia that other sites talk about openly?
All of these websites display some paranoia, which is much of what makes them tea party websites in the first place. The fact is, however, that every government in the world, including ours, does need watching. The government does do things wrong—like the recent revelations that the IRS targeted tea party groups for extra scrutiny. Such targeting was a despicable abuse of government power. There was also listening in on the phone calls of AP reporters.
The tea party people are right that we need to be vigilant (which makes an interesting irony of the fact that they practically spit on themselves expressing their hatred of the media, which functions in part to keep an eye on the government). But on the tea party websites, it is also easy to find a tone of hysteria. Look at these headlines from some of the websites I’ve discussed:
Tea Party Nation
(Blog headline) Disturbing Pattern: Obama Puts Our Enemies Above Us
Tea Party Patriots
(News headline) President enables illegal immigrants but won’t meet with law enforcement
(News item headline) Obama half-brother uses IRS status to fund polygamy?
(Rotating images) Obama to Muslims: Tell Me What You Want
When you are so paranoid that you make up stupid shit about the president, or stupid shit about anything, when you cannot distinguish between reality and your own hysterical nonsense, then what the hell good are you at watching out for government that oversteps its limits?
We do need to keep an eye on our government, but people whose basic function is nonstop screaming are not very helpful.