Tristero at Hullabaloo has a post this weekend responding to a February article in the Progressive by Chip Berlet entitled "Taking Tea Partiers Seriously". He is bothered by a theme in Berlet's article that suggests that there is anything about the Tea Party or the cultural right's agenda that should be respected. Take them seriously as a threat? Yes. Take them seriously as having ideas and policies worthy of our respect? No.
Read Tristero's post for his fully developed argument, but it boils down to this: Tea Partiers believe things that make it impossible for Progressives like him to find any common ground with them, even if they are against the war in Afghanistan and giveaways to Wall Street. A left-right coalition focused on de-militarization and economic issues is impossible because of the separation on cultural issues--gay marriage, abortion, race.
I agree that extreme tea partiers are unreachable, but that's not the issue. He should be worried about why the extreme right is doing a better job of capturing the growing rage of those in the uncommitted middle. And that's essentially Berlet's point--the Tea Partiers we need to be taking seriously are not the extremists, but the sane citizens who see what's wrong about the American imperial agenda and the domination of Wall Street and other uber-corporations in Washington--who find themselves more attracted to people on the right who are organizing around these issues than they are to those who are organizing on the left. The Tea Party has to be taken seriously because they are doing a much more effective recruiting job than those on the left, and Berlet's article should be read as a wake-up call to Progressives and a challenge to them: Why are they losing this recruitment battle?
I'd argue that it's an ethos thing. For all the reasons that Tristero lists for being uncomfortable with the Tea Partiers because of their attitudes on race and sexual politics, the Main Street Middle feels uncomfortable with people on the secular left. People in the uncommitted middle might be more ambivalent about these issues than the hard liners on the far right, but they lean right because, well, the language of the right resonates with the language they were brought up on. And because these people are for the most part not intellectuals who have thought everything through, the cultural left agenda just just doesn't resonate and often gives them the creeps. And the far right tells them that there's good reason for them to feel that the left is creepy--they're godless secularists. You're not on their team. You're on our team. And since organizers on the cultural left are doing little to reach out to them, they have nowhere else to go.
A lot of these people in the uncommitted Middle have not played on any team before, but losing their jobs or houses is forcing them to choose, and they are choosing the right rather than the left, and if people like Tristero are willing to concede this Main Street Middle, they better come up with a pretty creative strategy to be effective politically without it. So far I haven't seen anything that seems plausible.
But Tristero is probably right that there is no point in people like him reaching out to Main Streeters who would just find his views and allegiances too strange, too coastal cosmopolitan. It's not up to the cultural left to find common ground with the cultural right--that's probably never going to work. It should be the job of Christian Progressives--particularly doctrinally conservative Christians who are political and economic progressives, namely a coalition of Dorothy Day Catholics, and Sojourner Evangelicals, and the Black Churches. They respect and understand the sincere, heartfelt religiosity and decency of Main Street, and they share the power-and-wealth distribution critique of the political left. These Christians would have very little influence on the hard-core Tea Partiers, but they could be effective in influencing those in the not-yet-committed Main Street Middle. They can reach both ways because they define the balance point between left and right in this country. It's up to them to define a sane, politically viable middle ground that can channel populist energies productively.
That's what I've seen as the task of this blog since the beginning. But either it's an idea whose time has not yet come or it's an idea whose time has passed. I don't know. Because it just doesn't seem to resonate beyond a very narrowly defined group. But I'm open to any suggestions about how to promote this idea if anybody think there's anything to it. I am at a point where I am ready either to retool this blog or disband it depending on whether this basic purpose for the blog has any legs.