“Sufficiently Vague”

Glenn Greenwald writes:

In one important sense, the “tea party” movement is similar to the Obama campaign for “change”:  it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they’re part of the same movement.

I think this is pretty spot on and Greenwald’s full piece goes into greater detail as to how the teabaggers are made up of very diverse subsets whose largest commonality is “Obama is bad.”

I watch Glenn Beck’s show almost every day. I just read his book, The Real America, and I’m probably going to pick up Common Sense later today. Beck is tapping into something powerful and it has the potential to derail any hope for progressive policy change during the Obama administration. Understanding the dynamics at play are key to diminishing their political effectiveness.

What makes the tea party movement tough to pigeon hole and Beck even tougher is that any charge of partisanship or being connected to the Republican Party is met by a “What? Who? Me?” response along the lines of “Republicans are corrupt and they should get the boot, too.” Beck routinely repositions his highly specific political and policy attacks around a common refrain of taking back Washington from corrupt elected officials and political agents.

Now I’m not so confident that Beck is doing anything other than being smart. He’s incredible adept at shifting between vague generalities, hair-brained conspiracy theories, and succinct political commentary that reveals him as an incredibly conservative individual. Most importantly, he’s spent about three decades working professionally in radio and has learned how to mobilize people to do what he wants them to do, most recently in the realm of politics, but for years as a shill for his corporate sponsors.

Obviously Beck wouldn’t be garnering the success he currently is if the vague arguments he’s making weren’t looping in large numbers of people that are ready to engage on some issue or another. What should be clear, though, is that while Beck’s charges are manifold, the impact they and the people who agree with some set of them have is fairly limited: to undermine the Obama administration and the Democratic Party at the benefit of the Republican Party. Greenwald is right that it is not accurate to describe the tea party movement as a Republican one; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a movement that, at least at this point in time, almost exclusively benefits the GOP.

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