Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 10, 2010

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party Is Not Being Held at Alice’s Restaurant

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Humor — by Mark Chubb on February 10, 2010

The Tea Party Movement – or at least a significant part of it – gathered in Nashville late last week for its first convention. Like an earlier assembly on the National Mall shortly after President Obama’s inauguration it attracted a large, angry, mostly white crowd. The Republican right’s effort to win over the movement’s adherents reflects the concern both major political parties have over its sudden emergence and their own unease about the future of conservatism (compassionate or otherwise).

Under ordinary circumstances, calls by the movement’s leaders for a new American Revolution might be seen as little more than a rhetorical flourish, a bit of hyperbole. Whether they imply something more sinister, even seditious deserves careful consideration.

As evidence of the nation’s deteriorating fortunes at home and abroad emerged from 2006 onwards, then-Senator Barack Obama tapped into the fuming sentiments of national disquiet he sensed on the campaign trail and vaguely if boldly branded himself the candidate of change. But now a significant number of Americans seem convinced that the change they got was not what they wanted. Did one or both of them mistake the other’s intentions or expectations?

Judging by the signs displayed at rallies around the country (and the firearms carried openly at others), the movement’s sympathizers seem concerned about more than taxes and deficits. They clearly see the election of Barack Obama as something more threatening, if not sinister, than a change in power from one major party to the other.

Before the election, the ill-conceived grounds for war in Iraq, the lingering threat posed by Al Qaeda and its confederates and the erosion of American prestige among the family of nations loomed large. As the election approached and economic fortunes flagged, jobs were lost, banks teetered on the brink and concern shifted to the home front. Not the homeland, but the home front; the one where families discuss their finances over the kitchen table and worry about their futures in both the short and long term.

As the depth and breadth of the financial crisis became clear, a rare, fragile and ephemeral bipartisan consensus bloomed around the idea that the situation required drastic action to avoid another Great Depression – or worse. Billions of dollars in cash and credit guarantees flowed into the fragile markets. Some banks lived, others died. Although many tears were shed, there was no time to mourn, and for some no time even to sleep. The crisis surrounding the risks posed by zombie banks produced zombie policy-makers who although aware of the unease created by their presence and actions were both unmoved by and unable to respond to it in any meaningful way.

Deep structural flaws persist in our economy. Not the least of these is the fact that the net worth of the top one percent of wage earners is more than twice that of the bottom 80 percent combined. Despite this yawning disparity and growing evidence of its adverse impacts on our health and national well-being, a large cross-section of the masses, now disabused of the notion that what’s good for General Motors is good for America, nonetheless sees no need for the government to level the playing field for the little guy. Indeed, laissez faire capitalism and democracy have become so conflated in the minds of Americans that a large segment of the polity seems content to live in poverty or at risk of entering poverty simply because it has become incapable of properly distinguishing it from liberty.

The invective directed at his two most recent predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, certainly got personal from time-to-time, as it does with all presidents, or, for that matter, leaders in general. But the broadsides directed at President Obama go beyond attacks on his personality, character or competence, and question his nationality, religion and patriotism, despite the ample evidence available to refute each element of the grand conspiracy theory.

Seemingly in defiance of reason, a surprising number of Americans believe the Office of the President is now in the hands of a Muslim terrorist with Bolshevik sympathies who favors the interests of fat-cat Wall Street bankers over those of Main Street merchants, family farmers and the hard-working, God-fearing Americans who believe they and their ancestors built this great and glorious country with their bare hands and innate ingenuity. This proposition would seem laughable on its face if were it not so firmly and fiercely held in whole or part by more than a select few Americans.

Like those afflicted by the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Tea Party sympathizers seem particularly incapable of retaining in their short-term memories salient facts about the conditions in which they find themselves. At the same time, what they take for long-term memories often emerge clouded in a fog of nostalgia that provokes a fondness and a fervor that betrays a misplaced faith that things are what they seem now as opposed to how they really were. This is especially true of their recollections regarding the beliefs of the republic’s founders and the circumstances of our nation’s revolutionary birth.

It might surprise more than a few Tea Party activists to learn that Adam Smith (1723-1790) was not among the Founding Fathers. He did have a powerful influence on their thinking, but probably through his earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) rather than his now more oft-quoted edition, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). The latter work’s publication coinciding with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, it hardly seems likely it exerted any influence at all on Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton or their compatriots. Far from being a believer in unbridled capitalism and unrestrained free markets, Smith saw both a more sanguine and salutary side to human nature than self-interest alone could accommodate and a clear and complementary role to that of markets for government as both a provider and protector of the public good.

The more I see and hear from the Tea Party activists the less they remind me of our forefathers in Boston Harbor and the more they bring to mind the gathering of the Mad Hatter and his fellows in the 1865 Lewis Carroll classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Those in attendance have many and mixed motives, and nothing is as it appears.

As President Obama has discovered, appearances matter and one must take matters as they are not as we might wish them to be. Taking things as they come leaves little room for idealism. Governments have only two options when dealing with an economy. They can regulate or they can participate. Lofty principles and fine rhetoric do little or no good. (Perhaps this helps explain why the Supreme Court of the United States considers money spent advocating or opposing a political position protected speech.) In almost every instance, a delicate balance of both is required.

Those who cleave to former Republican standard-bearer, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s exhortation, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!” would do well to recall the other half of that prescription: “Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Not so long ago, when the nation was mired in another war in a far-off land, great debates arose in all quarters about the country’s future. In his ironic masterpiece, which became a counter-culture anthem, Arlo Guthrie (Woody‘s boy), sang about the tendency of authority and conformity to overwhelm common sense at every level of government. The long ballad was neither a call to arms nor a longing ode for a socialist utopia. It gently urged us to recall what was important, and suggested the answer might be found dining together at Alice’s Restaurant – “where you can get anything you want” (except Alice, of course).

I increasingly find myself isolated from the political views of my family and close friends with whom I grew up in the Midwest. The estrangement is real and growing, and makes me wonder whether it bears any resemblance to the feelings that divided families whose members found themselves on different sides in the Civil War.

The call for a new American revolution has affected me. I get it. People are angry.  But I am revolted.

If anyone from the Tea Party comes looking for me, they can find me at Alice’s. If they agree to behave themselves (and leave their guns outside), I’ll buy the tea (and leave the tip). I just hope they like chamomile with a bit of honey.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 10, 2010 @ 11:11 am

Well another amazing post from Mark. Yes he does get “it”! The American leadership and polity is in deep trouble and clearly a growing sense of frustration that real leaders are not showing up! Perhaps posting on HLSwatch.com might confuse some as to this post but I think not. Why? For the world’s oldest and richest democracy (Republic) to not figure out Homeland Security is frustrating for many reasons and feeds the nation’s frustrations. Constant harping on the fact that they may be further attacks, including ones involving WMD from what normally are credible sources, the Congress, the Administration, and the political leadership of both parties has utterly failed to examine what are in fact the current risk assessments and risk analysis of the capabilities of non-state actors. And in the meantime, clearly ongoing WMD proliferation with almost complete lack of skill and knowledge and capability in the foreign policy and foreign relations elites. Also include the entirety of the INTEL community as in reality part of the foreign policy and foreign relations elites. Personally, if within my power would have Leon Panetta testify before Congress as to what he found when he arrived at the CIA, and if problems what he is doing to fix them! Second, would do the same for retired General James Jones, the national security advisor and his deputies. Third would be Dennis Blair for same arrangements? Clearly assuming these persons are not fearful cowards, and not just striking poses something is scaring them very much? Is it a threat or the lack of success in combatting terrorism or proliferation? Let’s have them level with the President and the American people.
Again quote Andrew Jackson–“The job of the President of the US is not to make men rich!” Does Obama get that his first priority is protection of the American people not necessarily the FIRE sector? Does the net worth of the top 1% really need protection from class warfare and revenge when that accumulation of wealth has resulted in a really high restriction on the movement of the citizenry upwards but not necessarily downwards.
WE continue to allow the sinews of national power to erode? Rising hunger! Rising lack of medical care! Rising lack of educational opportunity! Rising lack of political opportunity by other than the well-endowed economically! And of course the voraciousness of the military/industrial/academic complex in supporting militarism and organized violence as the primary tool of foreign policy and foreign relations! I do think the term “blowback” both domestic and foreign may be about to arrive. The Teaparty members are not sophisticated but someone will be tapping that anger. Doubtful it will be the major parties but hey who knows? I think the current snowdrifts in the DC area are a metaphor for an area out of touch and out of sympathy with the American people and reality. People need work, food, shelter, medical care and education. If the current system does not provide it one may ask why? Just as the Haitians are not as powerless as some think, neither is the American citizenry organized or not.

Comment by christopher tingus

February 11, 2010 @ 7:39 am

Bravo! Bravo!

A must on the daily read Mr. President for you and staffers….Superb response to an article so well presented and quite timely indeed!

You can only fool the people some of the time and here on Main Street USA even in the bluest of blue – i.e., Teddy Kennedy’s seat….

….where the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (MA/DOR)for instance turns its cheek to the US and State Constitution and abuses citizenry, the populace of Taxachusetts is becoming truly enlightened here and elsewhere with the spotlight turning brighter and brighter on the dastardly deeds of “entrusted” by precious votes – supposed public servants who prefer self agenda rather upholding the dignity of its citizen and highlighting the premises setforth by our forefathers!

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
PO BOX 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 11, 2010 @ 10:06 am


The issues you raise are relevant to homeland security because they are crucial to the consent of the governed and how we pursue the goals set out in the constitution’s preamble.

A mostly personal take on the widening cultural divide you reference.

I am also a child of the heartland. I remain, at least by self-definition, a conservative. Yet, I find myself in tension — if not yet isolated — from the political views of family and friends.

Part of this is a conservative disinclination to change, and especially rapid change. I share my family’s and friends’ disdain for many of the changes I observe. Unlike many of my family and friends, I do not perceive these changes to be the result of an elite conspiracy.

Many of my fellow conservatives look for — and find — the cause of their discontent in liberal intellectuals, internationalists, elite media and other denizens of, mostly, the two coasts and university towns.

I tend to see the cause of my discontent in an inexorable unfolding of broad cultural, economic, demographic, and political movements that have been building strength for a century or more. So instead of looking for someone to blame and stop, I am more inclined to grab a surf board and see if I can ride the wave. This is not because I like the ride or where it seems to be taking me, but because I doubt the tsunami can be stopped or, if it can, the cataclysmic crash of it being stopped is likely to be worse than the wave itself.

(Bill Buckley, a hero of my youth, said that the purpose of a conservative is to “stand athwart history and yell stop!”)

Maybe you like the surfing. Maybe all these conservatives (and others who should not be mistaken for conservatives) lining up in the water to stop the wave are getting in your way. It is annoying. It is dangerous.

My conservative friends and family ought to listen and look more carefully. They ought to ask you questions. They should, in particular, be very self-aware of anything motivated by fear or anger. Neither fear nor anger is a conservative value.

But those of us on the surf boards should avoid condescension and disdain. We ought listen more carefully and, perhaps, more sympathetically. The waves of change are unpredictable and can be dangerous. I don’t think a bunch of surf-boards are going to get the nation very far.

We need to find someway to listen to one another with enough authentic hearing that rather than trying to stop or surf the waves, we begin building a ship — even an arc — in which the best we can be is preserved.

Most will find your preference for chamomile (or mine for green tea)suspicious. One easy step we each might take is to offer to buy the coffee, the beer, or whatever beverage our neighbor likes most.

(Further to this, please check out Gerard Alexander’s piece in Sunday’s Washington Post outlook: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/04/AR2010020403698.html)

Thanks for the provocative post.


Comment by Dr. Gary L. Jackson

February 11, 2010 @ 10:06 am

I appreciate that this is your blog, and you post what you want.

BUT I have been reading it for several years now, under the hand of several different persons, and I have been under the impression (now mistaken?) that it was supposed to be about homeland security reporting and honest, objective analysis.

Instead, we now get:
(1) whining about your personal odyssey/crisis of alienation from the (I suppose conservative and self-reliance) moral and philosophical heritage of your upbringing;
(2) vicious and baseless attacks against principled and concerned Tea Party fellow citizens who simply peacefully and openly exercise their Constitutional rights to assemble and practice political free speech (Your charge that they are ignorant gun-toting psychotics(“Mad”) is pretty clumsy and slimy.);
(3) thinly-veiled Marxist/collectivist/statist yearning to use government force to confiscate wealth from other citizens;
(4) and so on.

At least your diatribe revealed some of your ideological bias.

I am confident that most of your readership would appreciate if you would get back to objective reporting and analysis and just deposit the rest of your personal problems and ideological bias on a separate blog, not this one.

Yes, it is your blog, so you go do what you want.

Gary L. Jackson, PhD in government from Georgetown University
Major, Military Intelligence, US Army (Retired)
Tea-Partier, April 2009, Washington, DC

Comment by Mark Chubb

February 11, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

Phil, thanks for sharing the link to Gerard Alexander’s editorial and contributing your comments on my latest HLSwatch post. While trying to be intentionally provocative, I was also trying to surface some ideas that I hope will expand our discussion of what we consider material to homeland security.

I agree with much of what Mr. Alexander is saying. We see far too much evidence that both sides are talking at rather than with one another. That’s bad enough, but knowing they’re doing this, they persist with rhetoric intended to appeal to an audience that already agrees with most of what they have to say. This is the perfect breeding ground for extremism.

(I started my post with the assumption that my audience did NOT agree with my reading of the facts. In making this assumption, I not only avoided language that might pander to them, but made a conscious effort to incite them out of apathy.)

I’m sure that many of our readers (including Dr. Jackson) would be surprised to learn that despite my liberal leanings (in the U.S. sense of that word), I consider myself a liberal in the classic sense of that term. As such, I share many of the beliefs cherished by U.S. conservatives.

Individual liberty, I believe, like free will, is not a license to pursue self-interest at the expense of others. If I value my liberty, I am obliged not only to respect others’ liberty but also to do my best to extend an equal measure of liberty to them.

This, of course, does not imply that I condone “wealth redistribution.” But I do see the widening and deepening wealth and health disparities among our fellow citizens as evidence that we are treading upon unstable, even dangerous ground. Such signs should alarm even those enlightened solely by self-interest.

I believe most Americans share a common concern for the welfare of others. The disagreements that have come to the fore of late concerning how we deal with disparities of wealth and health should not distract us from our efforts to find workable solutions that advance the security of all. Such security depends not only upon equal access to opportunity, but also progress toward achieving equitable outcomes.

Here’s hoping HLSwatch readers seize the opportunity to continue this dialogue!

Comment by Mark Chubb

February 16, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

An interesting article on the Tea Party Movement from today’s New York Times. What do ties to (irregular) militia groups and efforts to recruit local and state law enforcement officers suggest?

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