What are the teabag protests really about?

April 19, 2009 | By | 24 Replies More

What are the teabag protests really about?

Their message is so incredibly incoherent, that it’s clear that these sparsely-attended “protests” weren’t really about what they were supposedly about, at least for many of the protesters.  Therefore, we need to explore the subterranean reasons.   On Keith Olberman’s show, Janeane Garofalo suggests that what really upsets the teabaggers is that there is a black man in White House.   With her theory, Garofalo is echoing one of my suspicions. And check out the blogger who took the microphone at one of the protests and had the protesters eating out of his hand, to demonstrate the incoherence.  


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (24)

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  1. It has been my suspicion all along that much of the Obama-hatred is merely because of his race. It is always vigorously denied and yet there is an unmistakable undercurrent of shock and distaste among my white conservative friends that is hard to explain away.

  2. I disagree. Obama has multiple strikes against him with these folks and race is but one and possibly not the largest.

    Back in the 40s, Joseph McCarthy discovered in his first Senate campaign that if he called his opponent an Egghead he drew support from people who disliked anyone who seemed smarter than they were. The fact that we really ought to have someone smarter in positions of authority cut no ice and we've been living with this profound anti-intellectualism since. Obama is an intellectual and he does not hide it. In fact, he's an intellectual with an edge—he can make his points understandable to people who aren't intellectuals. Strike one.

    Strike two, he's young and idealistic. Kennedy syndrome, and Kennedy was not popular. He won by a narrow margin and had an uphill battle. He was winning more by dint of his sense of humor and a good-looking wife than by his performance, which, mythologizing notwithstanding, was not stellar.

    Third thing is, he has told us all the truth about the condition we're in, and people of a certain mindset really cannot stand hearing that. When you tell them that things cannot be put back the way they were, their hair spontaneously combusts and the slogans come out, insisting that we need a president who will return us to our heritage. Whatever that it. So, strike three.

    Strike four, he's actually negotiating with people we were told for years were our enemies—and sometimes he's even admitted that they are or were enemies, but that acting like Rambo will only make things worse. It is the tacit admission that the United States is not All Powerful that galls these folks.

    He is spending a lot of money. He has put the cost of the Iraq War "On The Books" and told us we were lied to by the prior administration. Not only that, but he's about to start undoing all that stuff that so many people supported because they thought a guy they might like to have a beer with and now realize they were lied to by. So they feel like fools in private moments away from the rally. Strike five. Obama is showing them what idiots they were, but without actually telling them so.

    The race thing complicates this because I think so many people, while not actively racist, are still under the impression that blacks are inferior not because they are black but because they have not overcome the trial of Sysiphus—they didn't succeed against the overwhelming odds placed in their paths by our forebears "like all those other ethnic groups" (regardless of the reality of those myths) and there really shouldn't be a black man who is this smart or competent OR SUCCESSFUL. It confuses them. None of the cherished myths by which they make sense of the world apply. So if racism is involved at all, it is a very contorted, odd strain of it that doesn't actually have to do with Obama being black so much as there shouldn't be an Obama to begin with. But I think this is way down the list and too confused to be a cohesive issue for them.

    Lastly, though, he's going to Change Things. That always scares the hell out of the people who teabagged because it is not in their control. Not that the situation is or ever was in their control, but they felt as if things were AS THEY SHOULD BE by virtue of some natural law notions, reinforced by the jeremiads of their spokespeople (Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Hannity, Coulter, Etc) who told them that Those People will take the country to an unholy place—a place where services actually work, but work for people they believe don't "deserve it."

    I spoke to a man this past weekend who claimed that every time he used an ATM that had a Spanish language function it made him furious. Just furious. Why? Because we're Americans here and we speak English. That he has the choice was less important than that people he doesn't like also have a choice. Irrational? You bet. But those are the folks who participated in this absurd demonstration. Oversimplifying their raison detre is a mistake because we will misunderstand them and answer them from the wrong playbook.

    • Mindy Carney says:

      You nailed it, Mark, altho' I will argue that in certain demographics, race does rank higher on the list than you allow. Not only is he black, but his white momma, who would be in the same age group of the most bothered demographic, actually made a baby with an African! Oh my God. The fact that something so offensive not only happened, but that the result of such a union is now (arguably) leading the free world, well, GAWD. That's just wrong.

  3. Tony Coyle says:

    Mark – your last anecdotal point about the guy furious because ATM's provide a 'spanish' option reminds me of the 'little englander' approach to foreigners.

    1) shout loudly in english

    2) shout louder, appending 'o' to the end of some words

    3) when the foreigner speaks English, complain about their 'stupid bloody accent, innit'

    I recall a similar ATM moment in Spain many years ago. I was in line behind an obviously English couple (union jack shorts, scarlet 'tan') and overheard the woman say to her partner "love – it don't ave english – it just these bloody pictures! 'ow am I supposed to know what to do wif this!".

    They discussed the apparent problem, loudly enough for me to hear, complaining all the while, and eventually left the ATM penniless (to seek an alternative source of funds).

    The pictures they couldn't understand were pictures of European flags – each associated (obviously) with a button – representing the languages the machine understood. English (Union Jack!) was third or fourth (Spanish was first, obviously).

    Sometimes I wonder why such people bother traveling to other countries. I also wonder if they are capable of any rational thought, or if they really are just automatons (a la Descartes).

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Mark: Good reminders of other reasons for the teaparties. Here I am, thinking that Obama is merely trying to do things that need to be done, using his intelligence to get them done. I had overlooked that rationally identifying and working to resolve important issues can be such a threat to so many people.

    Thanks, again, for the detailed thoughtful set of reminders.

  5. Hank says:

    I'm wondering if these hard-right uber-patriots (many no doubt brimming with righteousness & propriety & all sorts of judgements on other people's private lives, as seems to be their wont) are actually aware that to "teabag" someone, in modern vernacular, means "to place your wet scrotum on someone's head"?

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Hank: Entertaining footnote to an already absurd series of occurrences.

    • Hank says:

      Well, ever since Sarah "I can see Russia from my house" Palin & Joe Who Plumbs The Depths Of Idiocy filled the Idiot Vaccuum left by Dubya's absence, absurdity and ignorance have pretty much been the hallmarks of the fundy GOP. This confused, incoherent teabagging hyperreaction, mixed with things like emo-Republican Glenn Beck's crocodile tears and Texas secessionists (including The Norris, who wants to be the "president" of Nu-Texas). If the actual GOP, the one purportedly led by humans who care about their country and can comprehend reality, wish to be taken seriously, they have to amputate themselves from these fringe-dwelling whackjobs and get back to actual politics, instead of whipping up these laughable spook stories. Hell, the Right Fringe can't even decide if Obama's a fascist or a goddam commie!

  6. Tim Hogan says:

    Sorry Hank, you got it wrong! "Teabag" is when one places the scrotum in someone's mouth!


    I think the corporate fascist sponsors of these events actually knew the real definition before they launched the campaign in their typical arrogant, misanthropic fashion.

    If this is the best the GOP has, 2010 is going to be the best year ever for the Democratic party!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      But the Dems can't sit around gloating that the Republicans are self-imploded. They've got too many problems to deal with in the real world.

    • Tony Coyle says:

      and if the past is any guide – the Republicans will once again try to become the 'big tent' party, by accepting every grievance as alignment.

      When the economy sucks, and jobs are hard to come by – it's easy to target the government as being the problem, and by inference the party in control of government as the source of all your problems. We've already seen the first clumsy Republican forays into this. Expect more.

      Snake oil salesmen use such tactics all the time. The Republicans are no different.

      The Democrats cannot ignore the political realities of a recession while pushing their own agenda. "We won" is no more compelling an argument than "goddidit". They must ensure that 'the people' see that their agenda is 'for the people, by the people' else they will fail.

  7. Mindy Carney says:

    Hank, the Dems are fascists AND goddamn commies. And socialists, and baby-killers and terrorists and most of them aren't even citizens, for Gods' sake. Please, pay attention and make sure they get credit for all they do.

  8. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is another reason for the Anti Obama ism in the US. plain and simple denial.

    Under Bush, we were exposed to a near constant barrage of misinformation, FUD (Fear, uncertainty and doubt), astroturfing and about every other possible form of spin and propaganda to convince the public that the ultra conservative agenda was right (as in correct).

    We were told that it is "right"

    -to attack a sovereign nation that had never even threatened us.

    -to give up many constitutional protections, hard earned throughout the nations history.

    -to hate your neighbor because they're different somehow.

    -to distrust those who think for themselves.

    -to not only deregulate corporations, but to award them power and authority that must be reserved only for the government.

    -to punish entire populations for the misdeeds of their criminals.

    -to act on the assumption that everyone who disagreed with the "Right" thinkers must be destroyed.

    Then one day, with plenty of warning, the fecal material hit the ventilation turbine, and all that was "Right" turned out to be wrong. All along.

    The conservative egos can not admit to being wrong.

  9. Hank says:

    Tim: my mistake! I was thinking of the "drunken hetero party" version where you get out of the pool and apply your wet "bag" to your passed-out friend's head and take photos to show him when he regains consciousness. Not that I've done it or anything…

  10. Mindy Carney says:

    I was thinking I wanted to party with Hank. Now I'm not so sure . . .

  11. Hank says:

    Nah, it's cool Mindy. It's my job (if you count "solo freelance unpaid untrained amateur cultural anthropologist & ninja" as a job) to know about such things, but I'm not a practitioner. We can still party.

  12. Mindy Carney says:


    And that better count as a job, lest I, too, have no identifiable purpose in this world. Of course I'm only an aspiring ninja. I bow to your superior ninja-ness.

  13. Tony Coyle says:

    Australian humor is somewhere south of scatological (which I believe is a mysterious island somewhere in the tropics 😉 )

  14. Hank says:

    Tony, with dry wit like that you'd be right at home down here 🙂

  15. Tony Coyle says:

    You need your wit to be dry…. it helps balance the moisture content resulting from the intake of beer.

  16. Tony Coyle says:

    addendum to last thought – which maybe explains why American humor is so generally piss-poor ;-P

  17. Hank says:

    Crikey, you're practically a native already.

  18. Tony Coyle says:

    I take that as a compliment, sir – and raise a tinny to your health!

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