Sympathy for the Tea Party


I have a weird thing about the Tea Party type of people, in that, while I don’t think the Jews are running black helicopters from NATO down the Mississippi nor do I think Obama is “sekret Muslin usurper President of Kenya,” I do actually find it exciting that there are pissed-off bands of people in this country-and I don’t believe they’re all astroturfed and I do think a great deal of Tea Party members have come to the tea party organically and with some not-terrible complaints, particularly those about the disinvolvement of Americans from politics. The problem is so many of them go awry with the whole birther crowd, and also that, like many of us, they have few reliable sources of information and so they spend their days printing out copies of blog posts garned from the crazy-net. That’s a shame, because a loud movement actually working towards the goal of a smaller, lest-wasteful, more accountable government would be awesome. And it’s also a shame because the Tea Party associates, as demonstrated in today’s Ben McGrath story in the New Yorker, are much closer to us than we think. They aren’t some weird far-off critters: they are, actually, our families and our neighbors and our friends-of-friends, as McGrath shows.

The Soros grumbler, who had also labelled John McCain a Communist, was dressed in jeans pulled up well above his waist with suspenders, and wearing thick, oversized shades. When he saw my notebook, he turned to Seely and asked, “Where’s he from, supposedly?” Informed that I live in New York, he replied, “There’s a nightmare right there.” What he had in mind was not a concentration of godless liberals, as it turned out, but something more troubling. “Major earthquake faults,” he said. “It’s hard in spots, but basically it’s like a bag of bricks.” Some more discussion revolved around a super-volcano in Yellowstone (“It’ll fry Denver and Salt Lake at the same time”) and the dire geological forecasts of Edgar Cayce, the so-called Sleeping Prophet, which involved the sudden emergence of coastlines in what, for the time being, is known as the Midwest. I asked the man his name. “T. J. Randall,” he said. “That’s not my real name, but that’s the one I’m using.”

Seely saw our encounter with the doomsayer more charitably than Hofstadter might have. “That’s an example of an intelligent person who’s not quite got it all together,” he said. “You can tell that. But he’s pretty interesting to talk to.” Seely’s own reaction, upon learning where I’d come from, had been to ask if I was familiar with the New School, in Greenwich Village. His youngest daughter, Amber, had gone there.

I asked Seely what Amber thought of the Tea Party. “We kind of hit a happy medium where we don’t discuss certain things,” he said, and added that at the moment Amber, who now works for a nonprofit that builds affordable housing in New Orleans, was visiting his son, Denver, who is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in mechanical engineering at Mississippi State.