Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Action, Not Ideas

First off, I want to thank Alex Knapp for responding to the last post. Alex has a few quibbles, and I don't think he's entirely off base.

First, the fact that the Tea Parties aren't advocating action. Instapundit had a quote yesterday that Moe Lane has repeated:

“If people are in despair it is up to them to refuse indulge in the passivity that is the only way Obama succeeds in remaking this country, and take action. Turning passive into active is a time honored treatment for depression.”

But there has to be more than standing around holding up signs, right? That can't be the action that others are advocating, because holding a sign won't change the world, solve our economic crisis, restore the free markets, or convince the One that redistribution of pie is a bad thing.

Then again, maybe it doesn't have to do those things. Back in the days of the original Tea Parties, there wasn't really any focus on getting Parliament to repeal the Tea Act. Oh, the colonists may have been happy to see Parliament take that step, but that wasn't what the protests were about. The acts of defiance, from dumping tea into Boston Harbor to telling the captain of the Polly in Philadelphia that he would be tarred and feathered if he attempted to unload his cargo, were simply resistance to these policies. It didn't matter what Parliament did, because the people weren't going to listen to Parliament on this issue to begin with. The Tea Parties were a reaction to a policy, but they didn't advocate a policy position; they simply said they were not going to accept the new policy.*

Think of it this way: no matter how much Sam Adams may have wanted it to be so, the men who took part in the Boston Tea Party weren't shouting passages of The Rights of the Colonists as they cracked open the crates on the three ships in Boston Harbor.

Mobs aren't think tanks. Mobs are all action. We can't blame the mob for not having a better idea, because that's not the purpose of the mob. Maybe we can take Michael Patrick Leahy and J.P. Friere to task for not coming up with a policy that counters the stimulus/bailouts, but I don't think the responsibility is theirs alone. If blogging is the new pamphleteering, then every blogger has the potential to be this generation's Thomas Paine, John Adams, Joseph Warren, and so on. Coming up with ideas is our job... I'm just not sure how willing we are to offer those ideas when our own Army of Davids stands ready to tear us down with their slings and arrows.

*Interestingly enough, the Tea Act was repealed, but not until 1778. Yes, the British waited two years after we declared independence to repeal the hated tax on tea. Heckuva job, Freddie.


  1. Your frustration with the Tea Party movement is easy to explain.

    Movements, which exist on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, are oriented around a ‘negative consensus’ about what should not be done, rather than a positive programmatic agenda.

    Since there is no consensus in support of a single comprehensive ideology or set of programmatic preferences, this ‘negative consensus’ functions as the very lowest common denominator shared by an otherwise heterogeneous mob, and the movements agenda revolves around a multiplicity of issues not limited to a single arena. There are no barriers to membership in the group, which is open to all who wish to participate, making the social base and attitudinal orientation of activists even more diverse. The strong commitment to direct participation leads to the weakness of centralized organization and leadership, and a sometimes chaotic ‘assembly’ organizational style.

    It is not that the mob can not think, it just prefers no too. For this type of group just getting people to show up and hold a sign is about the most organization it can handle.

  2. @omega tau:
    Interestingly enough, this is the same phenomena we saw with the Obama campaign. They were united by their negative feelings toward Bush, and could rally extremely well with everyone who was against what was going on.

    Now, however, they don't have one, definite agenda. That's why he can so easily go back on his promises. His fan base didn't have one desire to begin with, other than doing away with what was already there.

    Very good observation. Perhaps we can somehow learn from his campaign and subsequent performance?

  3. Jordan

    What I learned from Obama election was the reinforcement that Political consensus, is crucially predicated on ambiguity not precision. Precision is not necessary for citizens to get involved in a given mobilization that offers no guarantee of success and/or immediate palpable rewards, be they values-related, idealistic and/or material. As long as all parties may read their preferred position into the proffered solution.

    Obama’s campaign strategist understood this, whoever is making the call on his policies decisions do not. The reason I know this is because we have the Tea Party Movement.

    This movement is a backlash, to the precision of Obama’s policy. Its ability to mature into political action and maintain its consensus will be determined for the most part if Obama continues on his current course.

    You will know when the Tea Party movement transfers to action when a politically legitimate leader emerges or attaches to the movement.

    Until then it is just a mob.