The Tea Party Movement

The New York Times’ article on Tea Party ‘founder’ Keli Carender, struck me as an interesting corrective to much of the treatment of the movement as either a Fox News ‘stunt’ or a wing of the Republican Party run by the same old white men with a few token non-males and non-whites. Carendar is apparently a bit of a libertarian:

“Well,” she said, thinking for a long time and then sighing. “Let’s see. Some days I’m very Randian. I feel like there shouldn’t be any of those programs [Medicaid and Medicare] that it should all be charitable organizations. Sometimes I think, well, maybe it really should be just state, and there should be no federal part in it at all. I bounce around in my solutions to the problem.”

Progressives have largely ignored this movement, because of its association with organizations like the John Birch Society and those who deny that Barack Obama is an American citizen. But I’m struck by how much the Tea Party is beginning to coalesce as a a group of bipartisan deficit hawks, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians.

The Tea Party doesn’t have settled leadership or a national platform, and its members have largely rebuffed attempts by some in the old guard of the Republican Party to define it. It also seems significantly younger than the Republican Party. In the same light, it doesn’t seem that all of the people currently flirting with the Tea Party movement would recognize themselves in the image of potentially violent disenfranchisement described by Frank Rich, who identifies an ideological affinity between the Tea Party and Joe Stack, the terrorist who flew a private plane into the IRS building in Austin, TX:

…most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril.

Now Rich is convinced that Tea Party members is a nascent hate group, but I’m not persuaded. Certainly there are hate groups out there, and some of them have put out feelers, trying to determine whether the Tea Party might grant them some legitimacy, as it has done for the John Birch Society. But the membership doesn’t know what it is, yet.

Because I teach college students at a pretty expensive private university, I asked this morning if anybody would be willing to talk to me about the Tea Party. I’ve just concluded a discussion with one Tea Partier, not necessarily representative, but very interesting. Continue reading The Tea Party Movement

Citizens United v. FEC: Yes, corporations are people, too.

Let’s get the jokes out of the way:

  • “If corporations are people, do they get to vote?”
  • “If corporations are people, can we start incarcerating them when they commit crimes?”
  • “Does this mean I can marry my bank?”
  • “Does charging a fee for incorporation constitute an unconstitutional violation of their reproductive rights?”
  • “Thank God we’ve finally ended the scourge of anti-corporate discrimination!”

The New York Times apparently thinks that democracy is done for:

With a single, disastrous 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century. Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment, the court’s conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.

Okay, let’s tone down the rhetoric. Here’s the thing: corporations are people and have been since at least 1830, though chartered personhood seems to have operated as an implicit norm even before that:

The great object of an incorporation is to bestow the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men. This capacity is always given to such a body. Any privileges which may exempt it from the burdens common to individuals, do not flow necessarily from the charter, but must be expressed in it, or they do not exist.

Continue reading Citizens United v. FEC: Yes, corporations are people, too.

Earthquakes and Providence

My old boss Ted Kinnaman has a piece in the Huffington Post on Pat Robertson’s claim that Haitians deserved the recent earthquake because they made a pact with the devil in order free themselves from colonial slavery. Others have developed the historical case for such a pact. Where many have taken Robertson to task for misrepresenting Christianity, Ted notes that while none of us would like to admit it, this kind of ascription of responsibility for one’s own suffering is actually a traditional problem throughout Christian theology, and in theism in general:

[Robertson’s] most fundamental intellectual commitment is to the existence of a good and all-powerful God. A good God cannot want people to suffer undeservedly, and an all-powerful God would not allow people to suffer undeservedly. Therefore any undeserved suffering is evidence that there is no such God. But since (he presumes) there is such a God, all human suffering must be deserved.

Continue reading Earthquakes and Providence


Ever since the markets became front page news, I’ve been caught in some sort of economics blog vortex. At this point, most of my reading is no longer directed towards macro-economic issues and institutional critique, but rather focuses on the economics department at George Mason. The problem is that it seems like these people really do know more about some things of general interest than ordinary folks.

So when Bryan Caplan started advising his colleagues on what to do this year (making hypothetical resolutions for them) I especially perked up when he suggested that Tyler Cowen write a book of advice:

Tyler Cowen should write that I call a “book of answers” with the working title Social Intelligence: What I Know About People That You Don’t. The key point of departure: The goal of the book is not to “get readers to ask themselves questions,” but to convey definite answers that Tyler defends without irony.  If you think this goes against his nature, I’ve seen him do this many times first-hand – just not in print.

Cowen apparently agrees with Caplan’s assessment, and responded with some advice about advice:

You don’t know what a person really thinks until you hear his or her advice.  Along these lines, if you really want to know what a person thinks, ask for advice and he or she will open up.

Ben Casnocha jumped in with 14 thoughts about advice, the best of which is:

Even if you know the other person is biased, studies show you still don’t discount that bias enough. Your car mechanic wants to sell you more parts, and you know that he wants to do that, but we still don’t discount his advice as much as we should.

Advising seems to be the space most often shot through with status games, power relations, and biases. This is a pretty standard cautionary line in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis: being consulted  encourages us to forget our fallibility, because an intimate request for action items short-circuits the standards of public justification that would normally guide a person seeking the truth.

We ought to be most cautious when our own advice is sought: the risk is that, as an advisor, we will trick ourselves into believing that our consultor has knowingly and legitimately granted us status as ‘The One Who Knows’ and thus not subject our own judgments to appropriate testing and skepticism. At the same time, the consultor who really doesn’t know the right answer (rather than using advice-seeking as a method to develop trust) will experience the lack of qualification of personal advice and be inclined to assume that the advisor has a legitimate expertise beyond prejudice and preference. As a result, two people (or many people) move from probably-justified uncertainty to probably-unjustified certainty through a method that reflection shows is not trustworthy.

On this basis, I suspect that the best advice is the most tentative advice, which regularly and honestly signals its own fallibility. (But beware false modesty!) Giving and receiving this sort of advice is most likely to model an authentic inquiry in which participants will continue seeking beyond the initial consultation.