16 April 2011

Back to Wisconsin

Sarah Palin was in Madison WI today for a tea-party rally interpreted by reporters as a reassertion of her relevance to the 2012 presidential campaign. She appeared under the auspices of Americans for Prosperity and was met by counterdemonstrators who claimed to have outnumbered the Palin fans by as much as four to one. The hecklers had their own rally to attend and their own speakers to here, but all accounts agree that they were more interested in trying to shout down or drown out Palin and her friends. This strikes me as bad form, but many progressives have convinced themselves that Tea Partiers aren't deserving of respect for their opinions because those are seen to be bought and paid for by the Koch brothers. Neither side seemed to be interested in debate, and today wasn't designed as an occasion for it. From what I've read Palin kept her composure but another speaker told the hecklers to go to hell. More ominously, this same speaker, the blogger Andrew Breitbart, looked forward to the end of "community organizing" with the victory of Gov. Walker over the public-employee unions. Breitbart applauded the triumph of a "silent majority" in Wisconsin and the nation as a whole, and the implicit contrast is telling. Rather than community organizing, the majority should be silent. Is this what Brietbart meant to say? Historically, the "silent majority" has symbolized those essentially conservative Americans who don't form mobs and make noise. It's a strange symbol for a TP-sympathizer to invoke, since the tea movement seemed to represent an end to right-wingers' inhibitions regarding gathering together and demonstrating in public. But Republicans have a habit of appealing to a silent majority whenever the opposition is particularly loud. Objectively speaking, they always have a point; there's no reason to believe that any large crowd, even if it numbers in the millions, represents the majority of the American people. But there's no more reason, given registration and participation stats, to believe that any election represents the majority of the American people. TPs may think of themselves as a silenced majority whenever the hecklers get too loud, but the real majority is most likely still silent, represented neither by TPs nor profligate progressives. Democracy should not have to presume the existence of a silent majority, and "community organizing" of some sort (the term itself has evil associations for Republicans who identify it with that sadistic butcher Saul Alinsky) is essential if the opinion of the majority is not to be a matter of inference. Why anyone who isn't irrationally disturbed by the phrase should desire an end to community organizing is a mystery to me, especially since the TPs have proven pretty good at it. Their confusion is understandable, or at least it comes as no surprise.

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