Jill Lepore: Tea Party Time… and the Death of Compassion

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Jill Lepore (52 minutes, 25 mb mp3)

There’s more religion than politics in the 2010 Tea Party, Jill Lepore is saying. There’s less of 1776 about it than of 1976 — that dyspeptic post-Vietnam, post-Watergate bicentennial moment remembered for Gerald Ford and school busing fights in Boston elsewhere. 1976 marks a time when we discovered that the story of the American revolution is that “there is no story,” as the Common Ground journalist Anthony Lukas put it. “What there is is a political free-for-all about the story.”

“That’s where we are today,” Jill Lepore observes. “The whole question: ‘what would the founding fathers do?’ comes out of evangelical Chistianity, as in ‘what would Jesus do?’ … Glenn Beck talks about having had a conversion experience… The Tea Party movement presents the Constitution as a revealed religion.”

Jill Lepore is one of those historians who draws gladly on “the archives of the feet,” in Simon Schama’s phrase. For her sprightly New Yorker Magazine pieces and now for The Whites of Their Eyes, her hard-cover take on the Tea Party movement, she has been out among the tri-corner hat crowd at the Green Dragon Tavern facing Faneuil Hall. She was with Sarah Palin on Boston Common. She extends civic respect to the pitchfork patriots, but her judgment is unsparing: the tea partiers are misled by heritage tourism and pop biographies of the 18th Century revolutionists into supposing “I’m just like them,” or that “I’m in touch with them ’cause I’m wearing one of their hats.” Their founding favorites draw on celebrity culture, not history: there’s too little in their heads about the crucial anti-religious Thomas Paine of “The Age of Reason,” and too much Paul Revere (not much known for the Midnight Ride before Longfellow wrote the poem in 1861, a Union rallying myth during the Civil War). So what are they, and this moment, really about?

JL: These are people who want to have a dream. And what they have is a nightmare. Instead of looking at the now — which you were suggesting is an intolerable present; think about the moral complicity of our foreign interventions, the economic woes, these present day problems riven with strife; everything’s kind of a mess, it’s a very yucky present in many ways… What people want is a dream that is forward-looking, and what the Tea Party is is a dream about the past. I don’t think a historian can offer a different dream about the past. That’s not our job. It is the job of politicians to offer a dream about the future. Wasn’t that what Obama’s Dreams of My Father meant — it’s about the dreaminess of America. You’ve got to keep talking the dream.

CL: In the rise and fall, or rise-again kinds of trajectories that are always pretty clear a thousand years later, two thousand years later, whose job is it to tell anxious people what our direction might actually be?

JL: Well it’s clear that right now who’s doing it is Glenn Beck. And that is what’s so appealing for people who want that. It’s clear that Obama is not doing it. And people expected that he in fact would… This animating, forward-looking, reform-minded compassion that he was attempting to offer is not something that is coming out daily from the White House. I talked yesterday to a bunch of retired people, and one woman asked: ‘are we looking at the death of compassion?’ And I thought that’s a great question. That’s as good an interpretation of the current political moment as I can think of. It’s a very thoughtful remark.

Jill Lepore with Chris Lydon in her Harvard office, October 7, 2010

Comments

24 thoughts on “Jill Lepore: Tea Party Time… and the Death of Compassion

  1. Thanks for this wonderful conversation.

    Politics (and its various handmaiden’s) is perforce an idiot making machine. It’s hard to explain its behavior or its production quality other than to observe it’s breathtaking capacity for endlessness. No sane, rational, modest, or humble human being would stick their head into it’s maw and expect to retain their sanity and/or integrity. I learned this by snoozing through several history classes in the public schools of my youth (elite institutions all, stocked with long suffering effete, highly underpaid public servants whose sole purpose in life were to produce godless, homosexual, communist, Nazi, Luddite, minions for the future American fuhrer … this would explain the Gulag like cuisine we were forced to endure in the cafeteria).

    The tea party is in my estimation a text book case of a collective unconscious that has unresolved issues with it shadow self (using C.G. Jung’s idea of shadow). This is not simply my view of how they’re looking out at the world and seeing threats in various phantoms and boogers, and their role as potential victims. This is also how I’m viewing them; as phantoms and boogers, feeling the potential to be victimized by hysterical or absurd rhetoric unleashed into a mass Moloch Ala European fiasco 1914 – 1945. Or perhaps, something akin to the arc of Spain between 1936 – 1939. Unpleasant times in unpleasant places. Making friends with one’s shadow, or neutralizing their effect, can be a painful and long task.

    The psyche is important in evaluating this situation. I’m glad Chris touched upon this. It is not the finger that decides to load the gun and pull the trigger, it’s the mind. The impulses here seem atavistic. The tricorn hat is a primitive symbol of self reliance and rebel community. It signifies a purifying imperative; we must untether ourselves from totalitarian oppression, lest we parish, along with the extinction of an ideology. The death of the body is one thing, the death of belief(s) is extinction. It’s the ideology that is under attack and focused upon. And the symbols are important in this regard. The symbols play a role to remind us that the ideology is still alive and kicking. The tricorn hat is the rebel’s uniform. It’s a David v. Goliath symbol. A slingshot could do no better. I think understanding of the role of the psyche on such matters is crucial in getting a handle on what is going on. It’s not a panacea. It’s not a pantheon. I personally have built innumerable pantheons. I worship all of them because they pay me respect in kind.

    As to Chris’ inquiry: Why does the media focus on the right wing hot heads? Spectacle + Conflict = Ratings. It sells soap. P.T. Barnum meets W.R. Hearst meets The Jerry Springer show. Unserious consumers get unserious information products. And if you enjoy being labeled a consumer, you’re on the road to commodity heaven already.

    Lastly, here’s a glum reminder that none of my underpaid school teachers taught me: The U.S. is not the last step for humanity. Many citizens here think the American revolution gave birth to the end-of-the-story for humanity and it’s progress. We’re the chosen people, or permanent surrogates for God’s Enterprise. As Chris told me once using Emerson word’s, the world spirit is a strong swimmer. Nobody should think America has the monopoly on this. Perhaps, what the tea party and the rest of the American Empire could use for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa: A Listen button and the means to use it for an extended period of time. Alas, it’s no fun being the strong, silent majority. Which brings to mind: it would be really great theatre to watch President Nixon and Hunter S. Thompson dance with the tea party.

  2. Chris extremely good piece. I’m suggesting everyone I know listen to it.

    Sorry new to the site and 1st post dropped the good, eh.

  3. Overly analyzing the Tea Party historical critique is to join them in the ridiculous spectacle a mad dash to gobble their own tail- Psyche, Jung, historical deconstruction, literary or religious explanations are just too vague and complicated. This inflates the incoherent noise with more hot air, but doesn’t explain it. It’s a lateral move. The Tea Partiers can’t really both love our country’s Constitution and hate the inevitable result of it’s compromises. And as critics of the critics, we with a more logical thought process must settle for their presence and resist a fruitless dissection of how much is ignorance vs lazy scholarship or thinking vs self-serving justifications, lest we become participants in the pointless confusion. If you listen to Ms. Lepore, she has wonderful, amusing sleight of hand– each time she describes her Tea Party subjects, she praises their intensity, sincerity, and her affection for them, and then thoroughly ridicules all their facts and ideas. It reminds me of those who say they need to listen to right-wing talk radio to see how they are thinking, to keep track of “the other side.” This is an activity I once thought useful, until about college graduation. I have very long since agreed with the Tea Party’s (etc) own claims that they have only a few simple, simplistic ideas; after about 6 words you don’t really need Jung, religion, history, newspapers, or an hour of talk radio to completely master their “views” entirely.

  4. This was a great interview. Glad to know about Jill and her work. I wish it were within my power to provide something of the psychoanalysis that Chris calls for. Pete picks up the need to understand the operation of symbols and ideology behind this movement.

    What came to my mind while listening were memories of Reagan’s “revolution”. The famous “morning again in America” ads and the startling narrative of simplicity and almost a return to innocence, that perenial theme. The issue would seem to be about the deployment of “kitsch” and its real power to evoke emotion but without reference to reality, and its complexity. Jill started to hint at this regarding “heritage tourism” and other things.

    I recall many critiques of Reagan’s era building on kitch sensibility. Hermann Broch was a great theorist of this, and people like Kundera and Sontag also wrote about it compellingly. We now in an age where kitsch cannot be easily differentiated, it is, as it were, woven into so much of media and what Debord called “the society of spectacle”. How can people take Christine O’Donnell seriously, with her ad “I’m not a witch, I’m just like you”? What has that got to do with being capable of being a US Senator?

    The anti-intellectualism as an undercurrent that combines with the real emotions evoked by the kitsch and sentimental desire for “simpler” times are profoundly anti-historical. I miss the voice of Studs Terkel and all his oral tapestries of American voices. I wish people would reread things like American Dreams and Working and rediscover the native intelligence of “listening”.

    If you look at Glen Beck’s set, he is playing out this kitsch sensibility with his “old fashioned one room school” motif and his black board. We need a psychodynamics of kitsch to understand the profound impulses and emotions that this sets in motion. Becker wrote about “vital lies” and these are important in organizing coherent selves in the face of massive anxieties. Also, we would need to appreciate how much this is a reaction to Bush and war and to the shadow of all the government sanctioned torture which Obama has said he wants to avoid by looking forward, rather than backward. When we decide not to look we are opening up the door to kitsch, as Jill basically, said, that the coherent narrative is more important than struggling with the complexity of experience.

  5. Another wonderful interview, about which I have only one complaint.

    I don’t know why Chris cut off Lepore’s discussion of Skousen and “The 5,000 Year Leap”. The whole scary story is told by Sean Wilentz in the October 18 issue of The New Yorker. It’s important.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/18/101018fa_fact_wilentz?currentPage=all

    Another obvious answer as to why the media focuses on right wing hot heads is that a lot of the media is now composed of right wing hot heads. I’d like to see some historian trace the history of this, starting perhaps with the collapse (I know, not quite the right word) of the Fairness Doctrine, to the rise of talk radio and the ubiquity of Fox News, through the capture of the Supreme Court by the conservative wing, to Citizens United. To me, it seems that the solution to the mystery of right wing populism is propaganda. That, coupled with the cowardice of the corporate Democrats.

  6. Since we’re among friends, horrified friends, I’ll respectfully reiterate:

    “…The psyche is important in evaluating this situation.” –No, it’s not.

    “…We need a psychodynamics of kitsch to understand the profound impulses and emotion.” —No, we don’t.

    “….The anti-intellectualism as an undercurrent that combines with the real emotions.” —Big words describing impossibly tiny, stick figure thoughts. “Real emotions.” Real opinions. Everybody has them, please check at door. You’ll find a reciprocally generous evaluation of your convictions missing, desiccated, inanimate, judged illegitimate, sucked free of any compassion or consideration.

    ” … see some historian trace the history of this, starting perhaps with the collapse … of the Fairness Doctrine.” –Fairness, in the eye of the beholder; Fairness Doctrine, an apocryphal buggy whip.

    “… take Christine O’Donnell …What has that got to do with being capable of being a US Senator?” — Ballast, simply ballast. It is always preferable to have that 20% unavoidable fringe thoroughly meritless when the moment to jettison arrives.

    My advice, to borrow a phrase, is to “man up!”. This above discussion is eloquent, but this is not a salon, it is an election. If you are still aching for Schadenfreude, watch as the little man with the plaid Bermuda shorts and self-applied blindfold, swallows the poison pill. It will be a long, slow death. Patience my darlings.

  7. Not the most perceptive interview. The Tea Party has no foreign policy because its members are conservatives against the war, or at least willing to associate with those against war. The Republican Party cannot be against war, but has its myth that 2006 and 2008 were about “spending”. So they’re just shutting up about war long enough to win.

    The war is the Republican version of doomism to get us resigned to a lowered standard of living. The Democrats have their own version of doomism with 10% unemployment forever. Academic Democrats love lowered expectations the most, because they don’t make money but secretly resent those who do, and they like it when the pack falls back to them.

  8. @Thomas Who says it’s not a salon?

    The so-called Tea Party is an amorphous slogan that encompasses contradictions whose primary commonality is a certain strain of “white” disaffection (e.g. Ron Paul and Sarah Palin under one roof). As such, I agree that it’s not so useful to develop a refined vocabulary around it and analyze it to death.

    However, the disaffection is more pervasive than just the Tea Party. I liked Jill Lepore’s comment that the the current purveyor of ‘the dream’ is Glenn Beck (with the Koch brothers in the background?). Even though comment was perhaps tongue-in-cheek, and maybe biased by the fact that she just wrote a book about the tea party. More importantly, even for the non-Tea Party types, how will the vision be updated? The point of the death of newspaper in the conversation was important. Thus, the patient to be diagnosed is not the Tea Party in a paternalistic way, but the whole national identity.

    It’s clear that the national identity is transforming, but the instruments of this transformation are unfamiliar. In America, we can very well trust an e-merchant to buy goods — sight unseen, but our political commentary is so vapid that one must seek sincerity on the fringes. Radio Open Source isn’t exactly in the main stream, unfortunately. Is it, then, any wonder that some people are placing long bets on tea party idiocy?

  9. How about “Do no harm”

    This country is, metaphorically speaking, a psychotic war machine propelled by a crazed consumer cult adrift in a sea of its own feces.

    How this country can get from where it is to any sane course seems to me to require funneling through the whirlwind of a complete collapse.

    How else can the insatiable appetite for war and trinkets be extinguished. By a political system blinded by centuries of corruption and obsessed with its own survival and greed?

  10. I recently listened to the 2003 “Christopher Lydon Interviews…” interview of Gore Vidal (what a wonderful man!), and was struck by how strange his call for a restoration of the constitution sounds in 2010. We have the wrong people restoring the constitution, if that’s the project we should be on.

    Being in the Philippines has been interesting in part because so much here is modeled on the United States, but it so often very clearly doesn’t work here. It’s a reminder that things have developed in the United States because of specific circumstances at specific times, and are often not appropriate under different circumstances. Chris has the “Zimbabwe question,” asking how we would feel if the son of a former president of Zimbabwe was effectively decided victor of a presidential election by judges appointed by his father. Perhaps it would be useful, in reading our constitution to ask whether it makes sense for a country writing a new constitution to adopt the same policies, and if it doesn’t, then to ask whether it makes sense in our own.

    There is always so much to say, but I’ll just conclude today by saying that “The 5,000 Year Leap” is worth looking into, I would recommend reading the reviews on Amazon, and even more so the comments on negative reviews, to get a feeling for the emotional importance the book has to much of the movement. One comment that was very funny to me, and sweet if you were to ignore the political consequences, was made by a grandmother who was reading the book with her grandson, finding it engaging and uplifting. It’s a mirror image of the relationship I have with my grandmother, where I will call her and talk for hours about the horrors of empire.

  11. I still cannot reconcile these comments with Arianna Huffington’s interview. She asks where the middle class. Now we are saying this is the politics of kitsch which is a swipe at the middle class if there ever was one.

    Academic elites want the middle class to accept a flat or declining standard of living along with social disintegration that is celebrated in elite art and music. Meanwhile the money behind the avant garde gets bigger all the time. In fact the surprise is that the Tea Party is so tame, facing a program to deliberately destroy the middle class.

  12. This is the best breakdown of the dynamics behind the Tea Party that I’ve heard so far. Wonderful to bump in to you today in Harvard Square, Chris. When can we have lunch?

  13. A very thoughtful insightful analysis. Better the second time around for me. Her mind is quick. She knows history and has derived a wisdom from it as she looks at what is happening today. So perhaps with that perspective she is not so alarmed or frightened as, say, I am about the Tea Party (?). Perhaps this episode will run it’s course- which is what I originally thought. But now I think not before we suffer from it.

    What sticks out from this interview ( my notes and not in any order):

    -the death of the newspaper is really about the death of the editor

    -we are in a time of political free for all interpreting the meaning of our revolution

    -Thurgood Marshall: the ideas in the Constitution, how far we have come… thankfully

    -Glenn Beck is doing it, Obama is not… (regarding people’s need for a dream)

    -historians don’t want to be bothered countering the preposterous things being said ( sigh!)

    -the founding fathers are being used by the tri-cornered hat set as human shields

    -we were founded in revolution but we value stability

    -no one makes so much sense to us today as Thomas Paine did in his pamphlet

    -the Tea Party neglects foreign policy, and they neglect other issues of commonality that we need government to provide: education, building and maintaing infrastructure. social safety net etc.

    we need more publicly engaged intellectuals ( Yes!!)

    Richard Hofstadter (I read him in college – should read him now again)

    Bernard Bailyn (his book “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” sits on my shelf, unread)

    Notes to myself: study more American history. Read Anthony Lukas

    And speaking of Anthony- I miss Anthony Lewis.

  14. “… Is it… any wonder that some people are placing long bets on tea party idiocy?”

    sifta— Yes.

    “the surprise is…the Tea Party is so tame, facing a program to deliberately destroy the middle class?”

    wellbasically– You brought pure joy into my day, as comes whenever I am faced with the overwhelmingly absurd.

  15. “–no one makes so much sense to us today as Thomas Paine did in his pamphlet…”

    Potter– you need to get out more. Here, would do.

  16. Meadoff- I meant on a national level, a leadership level, we have no Thomas Paine. (If you can think of someone- please let us know)

    Also -no one hangs around here more than I do. Maybe Nother. If you hung around here you would know that.

    ——————

    On the lament of death of compassion, which was a point arrived at in this interview. I think it’s been true for a long long time for part of our polity- Republicans mostly; it’s their creed. That is why GWBush used ‘”compassionate conservatism” to appeal to independents. Something may have been gnawing at him from inside- perhaps. There will be many of those who appear without compassion, Tea Party people many, who will find that they want and need it- or already are the recipients of it.

    There are many compassionate people and compassion will not die.

  17. Fantastic interview. Thanks to Mr. Lydon, thanks to Ms. Lepore. Revealing and warm.

    Also, for what it’s worth, I appreciate Open Source for the salon that it is, even if I only participate by listening.

  18. Another great interview Chris!! I have forwarded the link to this page to everyone I know. Very few journalists interview with your depth. Keep it coming.

  19. I have enjoyed Jill Lepore’s articles in the New Yorker since she began writing for that magazine. She generally chooses topics on which to expound that aren’t widely covered, the Tea Party being an exception but she’s still a great resource for the obscure tidbit.

    To me, the Tea Party is a movement that was born of FEAR (conservative psyches are extremely fearful – bogeymen are everywhere – and either desire to maintain the status quo – stop the progression while it’s still tolerable before it ruins (name your security blanket) or better yet turn back the clock to an imagined halcyon era that is largely nostalgic and idealized.)

    The Tea Party’s reactionary stance Jeff Eaton referred to it as “Kitsch” is a longing for simpler times that they in hindsight believe they now understand – (knowledge and understanding being the assuager of FEAR). They “cling to their guns and religion” out of xenophobic (the other) FEAR and FEAR of pissing off God. Today’s world and challenges are now so interrelated and most issues are so complex that many people are not intellectually able to apprehend the cruces of any, save the most rudimentary issues. Today’s legislators are no exception. They are ill equipped to parse the vast amount of conflicting data surrounding any piece of proposed legislation to say nothing of the sheer quantity of legalese and double speak that comprises each bill. They are dependent upon aides and confidantes to digest the data and end up voting on how they believe it will affect their re-election chances, wallet or emotion (again FEAR) and usually end up with a plethora of unintended consequences. Tea party advocates sense that the problems are complex but believe they have simple solutions (the partiers and problems) and that the 3 branches of government are floundering/foundering. Their solution is to cleave to those (Beck et al.) who pander to their FEAR and offer simplistic slogans, nostrums, patriotism and platitudes (I have stated here before that scared people want someone to tell them what to do.) Tea Partiers also like to believe that their paranoia is justified and there has been a “vast leftwing conspiracy” to brainwash the masses with expurgated and false history (if they only knew history is only true to its chroniclers and believers.)

    The liberals (I among them) have allowed the center (which has moved progressively to the right) to set the agenda in the name of compromise and bipartisanship instead of holding Obama’s feet to the fire, which pissed off most of the Right and Left. I had high hopes for our president but now view him as a politician more concerned with his re-election and congressional power than improving the nation and in many ways “Bush Lite.”

    The “Christian” President Obama would do well to remember the biblical phrase from Revelation: So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

    Pete Crangle: So now that Ollie’s 2 feet tall, you have flown the coop and are now your own bird? How’s life in the shadow of Hanford?

    Peace to ALL,

    Jazzman

  20. Jazzman, so good hear your voice of reason and clarity amigo. Best to you and yours (especially those grandchildren). We’ve flown the coop from Hanford and hopefully it’s shadow. I no longer glow in the dark! It’s one thing to live on top of a profuse and dangerous toxic dump, but it is extremely illuminating to canvas a variety of people, who tend to be permanent fixtures to the place, and hear so much collective delusion. We’re now living in the blue part of the state (which suffers from delusions of a different sort, but since they are of the type I share and aspire to, it feels saner in its collective, socially corporate manifestations).

    The United States of Crangle has certainly been reduced in size, but I suspect the Contract with Crangle is trying to resurrect itself through the tea party. I share your concern/sentiments about the role of fear (and I’ll add anxiety and loathing) as a prime/primal factor. This is why I’m sticking with my assessment mentioned at the top of the thread. After listening to tea party rhetoric, including wandering into to two fairly large rallies (while still in red state utopia), I see no reason to rethink the role of fear, anxiety, and loathing as the forces of motivation and action.

    The tenor of the rhetoric, especially at the rallies, comes off trying to sound both menacing and reasonable concurrently. The overall vibe can be described as the process of a collective shadow dance (conservatives have no monopoly on this, any ideology with hegemonic aspirations will due). I’m of the opinion that this has been a primary driving force that has unleashed the Moloch on many occasions. And the juice/fuel for such engines can be economic instability, religious crusading, culture clash, totalitarian monopoly’s on power, political ideology, etc. Some of theses factors are in play here. Failure to, at the very least, make even a modest, crude attempt to understand and scrutinize the situation, is to remain in a fog, IMO. Prudence, and a desire to affect change by perturbing the existing dynamics, cannot occur until there is an understanding of the dynamics and forces in play. Politics, like advertising, has a monstrous appetite for peering into the psyche so it may pull its levers and push its buttons to desired affect.

    It’s probably impossible to legislate the psyche away. Election cycles, economic policy, military missions, etc. do not resolve nor allay the matters which haunt the psyche, the intellect, the spirit, or other coarse grained, intangible expressions of what makes a human being human. Election cycles, etc, are a means for different ends. They more often than not, perpetuate the problems, not relieve them. It would be naive folly to suppose otherwise, and naive to hope for a panacea. There is no cure here in my estimation, for this is about the human condition, and politics is a recent (though vital) expression of this condition. There are examples where people can come to terms with issues that have been debilitating and virulent. Examples right here in U.S. of Crangle where a variety of factors are addressed to achieve some level of quiescence (e.g. civil rights, a long, painful road, still undergoing various stresses, but certainly not simply a politic problem/issue).

    One, of many, critical issue for me: what’s the desired target of this political realm? I suspect, and no great insight here, power and all its trappings. The hobby horse for the U.S. of Crangle. This of course works to reduce us to mere servants of its machinery, not the inverse.

  21. As national stories go, I think the United States is haunted by the legacy of slavery as well as ressemblances to it in the present. How could a nation reconcile fighting for freedon and liberty, while also agreeing to legalize slavery and the ownership of people as property.

    How can country founded on the idea of independence, eradicate indigenous people in settlng the west, and continue to fight frontier wars in the name of ‘freedom’ (this would be in the war on terror and in the cold war) against movements for self-determination? There is an anti-colonial tradition that dealt with these issues and provided alternate visions for what a collective of people, even government could be like, but they are not a part of the discussion today, which is about big/small government, legalism/libertarianism and isolationism/globalization etc but nothing more complex in between.

    Clearly the right wing has hacked the media for decades, but I’d have to say behind it all is a more insideous liberal righteousness. Propping up the obsession with the tea party movement as well as sudden “indignation” at Bush, Wall St., B.P. etc. is a dirty moralism that basically sees in other peoples insane furor ones own virtuousness which allows bleeding hearty liberals to ignore their complicity with the violence and inequality around them…

    Once you stop thinking about left/right good guys/bad guys, things are really quietly and silently more dire for a lot of people in U.S. but especially around the world, and all the discussion from and about currupt national politics blinds us to those struggles for which there are few ez-solutions and even less sustained attention…maybe because they require epistemic re-evaluation rather than more preching to an ever-narrowing choir!

  22. Hi Chris,

    Thanks again for another great interview. I’ve been meaning to write about this one for awhile, but I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling until tonight. I now realize that I was bothered by the cozy way Jill Lepore seemed to relate to the Tea Partiers, as if they actually were members of her own family (and by the sound of it, I think that may in fact be true). Some of these activists may be pleasant enough to sit down and chat with, but taken as whole that includes their demagogic leaders (Beck, Palin, et al), it seems to me they are dangerous bunch. This Alternet piece makes the case of just how lethal they may be: http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/148588/fascist_america%3A_is_this_election_the_next_turn_/

    Ultimately, I have no idea whether the Tea Party movement will metastasize into a neo-fascist takeover of the government. If I had to put money on it, I’d bet it will not. But I’d like someone as smart as Jill Lepore to take that possibility more seriously.

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