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The Tea Party's Embarrassing Irony: Its Ideal Nation Rejects Basic American Beliefs

June 23, 2014 in Blogs

By Elias Isquith, Salon

Tea Partiers like Rand Paul want a “democracy” in which big questions are never debated.

Of U.S. political culture’s many hypocrisies, few are more jarring than Americans’ ambivalence about democracy itself. Truth be told, despite its reputation as “the leader of the free world” and its history as the “arsenal of democracy,” America is a land where democracy is celebrated only in its most abstract and idealized form. Most everyone agrees that government of the people, by the people, for the people sounds pretty great. But when the reality of that principle is revealed — when all the happy talk of the greater good and the public will is replaced by the prosaic, undignified tedium of actual self-governance — millions of Americans, on both the left and the right, find themselves so disillusioned that they either reject politics entirely or, worse still, embrace an ideology so rigid and utopian as to serve as a kind of secular faith.

Once you’ve noticed it, Americans’ discomfort with the grit and grime of real-world democracy can at times feel omnipresent. Take Frank Capra’s beloved 1939 film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” in which Jimmy Stewart’s naive but idealistic Jefferson Smith is able to overcome the corruption and rancor of the U.S. Senate not through negotiation and compromise but because of his indomitable will, evidenced by his decision to filibuster to the point of exhaustion. Or to look at this pathology from the opposite end of the telescope, note how Netflix’s popular “House of Cards” series acknowledges the myriad trades and settlements of democratic governance but, through Frank Underwood, a protagonist who is both a master politician and a ruthless sociopath, presents this mode of behavior as fundamentally immoral and corrupt. The good guy keeps on fighting; the bad guy cuts a deal.

Or how about we leave the realm of popular entertainment (which admittedly is structured to celebrate the triumph of the individual above all else) and turn instead to actual American politics, where a lead actor since at least 2011 has been that group of dedicated and uncompromising right-wing ideologues known as the …read more


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