Monday, January 18, 2010

Eating their own

Interesting Op/Ed in the New York Times this weekend regarding the growing scam that is the Tea Party populist movements:

Steele is representative of a fascinating but little noted development on the right: the rise of buckrakers who are exploiting the party's anarchic confusion and divisions to cash in for their own private gain. In this cause, Steele is emulating no one if not Sarah Palin, whose hunger for celebrity and money outstrips even his own. As many suspected at the time, her 2008 campaign wardrobe, like the doomed campaign itself, was just a preview of coming attractions: she would surely dump the bother of serving as Alaska's besieged governor for a lucrative star turn on Fox News. Last week she made it official.

Both Steele and Palin claim to be devotees of the tea party movement. "I'm a tea partier, I'm a town-haller, I'm a grass-roots-er" is how Steele put it in a recent radio interview, wet-kissing a market he hopes will buy his book. Palin has far more grandiose ambitions. She recently signed on as a speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, scheduled next month in Nashville — even though she had turned down a speaking invitation from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the traditional meet-and-greet for the right. The conservative conference doesn't pay. The Tea Party Convention does. A blogger at Nashville Scene reported that Palin's price for the event was $120,000.

The entire Tea Party Convention is a profit-seeking affair charging $560 a ticket — plus the cost of a room at the Opryland Hotel. Among the convention's eight listed sponsors is Tea Party Emporium, which gives as its contact address 444 Madison Avenue in New York, also home to the high-fashion brand Burberry. This emporium's Web site offers a bejeweled tea bag at $89.99 for those furious at "a government hell bent on the largest redistribution of wealth in history." This is almost as shameless as Glenn Beck, whose own tea party profiteering has included hawking gold coins merchandised by a sponsor of his radio show.

I've always amused myself by holding the opinion that most right-wing for-profit-pundits are former liberal elitists that just got fed up with trying to fight the wingnut hype machine and decided to focus on their own finances instead. One can only bang your head up against the willful ignorance and hypocrisy so may times before the cynicism takes over you and you decided to just use their flaws for your own benefit instead. We will never be free of the idealogical zealots, their audience will never see the forest for the trees, so why not just accept that fate and turn it into profit for yourself instead?

I just say so because I've been jokingly tempted many times myself to reinvent myself as a wingnut pundit, for the sole reason that I'd be good at it. I know what makes them tick. I know where to hit them (or actually, hit their opponents) in a manner that is pleasing to them, and could adapt depending on the target. I know they are desperate for younger voices, and I know they love individuals willing to hate on their respective demographic (if the recent right-wing sites I read are any indication, only way you can get a gig as a female or minority pundit is to dogpile on women and minorities constantly). I know all their talking points and soundbytes. I know how to cater to the media ego at large to get those things heard in the next news cycle. And I also know how the public at large is often not paying attention to the details so I can pretty much get away with spewing whatever bullshit I feel like, so long as I identify with the right.

It would be so easy (and profitable!) to play that part. The main difficulty I would have is adopting the "Fuck you, I got mine" mentality that is often necessary when you sell your integrity up the river and sell out those that are hurt by you. So far, I couldn't rid myself of my nagging little conscious enough to do that. And maybe that's something you can never shake. But seriously, give me a few more years dealing with this horrible joke of what passes for political discourse in our country and I might be game.

But Palin and Steele represent a different sort of beast in the sense that they seem to believe their own dogma on a certain level (as in, I think they really do believe they are populist heroes), but yet are still using it to swindle their idealogical peers. I suppose it remains consistent in the larger movement conservative theme, it's been a cynical play on the people's sensitivities from the get go, when the first cries of "Keep the government out of my Medicare" were heard across DC. And they are by no means first to do so, I'd say they've been taking their cues from a lot of the pseudo-religious spokespeople that came before them, who quickly learned how to harness their constituents leanings to make a quick buck. But still, it's a bit baffling how they can balance both the sincere and the cynical in their own minds. I'd love to know what is actually going on inside their heads when they play within this large contradiction they have created for themselves, if anything does.

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