I subscribed to The Atlantic magazine back when it was good.
I coasted for a few years, while it declined.
Now, I'm just waiting for my subscription to expire. But it still
shows up, and the latest issue bore an attention-getting
blurb. In case you can't make it out over there:
Tea Parties p. 42
So I turned to page 42, but you can click
here to read Kinsley's article, titled: "My Country, Tis of Me: There's
nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots."
You might think from the blurb, and the title, that Kinsley is
following in the tedious, predictable tradition that deemed
Tea Partiers and their ideological kin
But the article itself doesn't fit that genre. Instead, the
closest Kinsley gets to a "patriotism" issue is:
What is most irksome about the Tea Party Patriots is their
expropriation of the word patriot, with the implication that if
you disagree with them, you're not a patriot, or at least you're less
patriotic than they are.
I've heard that magazine article authors do not typically
write their own headlines.
Certainly (however) someone at the magazine
should have noticed that the article's headline
exemplifies the more-patriotic-than-thou
tactic that Kinsley calls "irksome" in the article's text.
And note that Kinsley uses "Tea Party Patriots" throughout his article;
I assume he visited this site.
He seems unaware of other national groups, like Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Express,
Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project,
and so on. But that would be (a) more work and (b) complicate
Kinsley's simple story; by concentrating on "Tea Party Patriots", Kinsley
gets to pretend that TPers generally have "expropriated" the
That's a quibble, though.
Kinsley's analysis of the TP phenomenon
is lazy and superficial, researched (as near as I can tell) entirely
through hit-and-miss Googling. In fact, it
sounds as if he would have preferred to avoid the whole topic:
… the Tea Party Patriots, I predict, are just the
flavor of the month: the kind of story that the media are incapable of
not exaggerating. …
The Tea Party Patriots will be an answer on
Jeopardy or a crossword-puzzle clue.
Then why bother writing a cover-teased article about them
in a national magazine?
(Well, I imagine he
was paid to do it. I guess that's a decent excuse.)
Kinsley's essential uninterest in his topic
causes him to get sloppy. For example,
he happened across an
article covering March's Tea Party rally in Searchlight,
Nevada, population 700, hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Kinsley's takehome point from the article:
"I like what they're saying. It's common sense," a random
a Los Angeles Times reporter at a big Tea Party rally. Then
he added, "They've got to focus on issues like keeping jobs here and
lowering the cost of prescription drugs." These, of course, are projects
that can be conducted only by Big Government. If the Tea Party Patriots
ever developed a coherent platform or agenda, they would lose half their
But in the original LA Times
"random man-in-the-crowd" was identified
as a "51-year-old assistant kitchen manager at the Searchlight
Nugget Casino, where some tea party backers asked him for directions."
one of the 8-10 thousand people who came to the rally in
Searchlight. Yet Kinsley (almost certainly unintentionally) tries
to hold him up as a typical incoherent Tea Partier.
Another example comes when Kinsley tries to confront what he sees
as Tea Party ideology:
The government's main function these days is writing checks to old
people. These checks allow people to retire and pursue avocations such
as going to Tea Party rallies. This basic fact about the government is
no great secret. In fact, it's a huge cliché, probably available more
than once in an average day's newspaper. But the Tea Party Patriots feel
free to ignore it and continue serving up rhetoric about "the
audaciousness and arrogance of our government," and calling for the
elimination of the Federal Reserve Board or drastic restraints on the
power of the Internal Revenue Service.
Start with the
one thing Kingsley has in quote marks, which I've boldfaced. Where
did he get this quote from? Kinsley doesn't bother to say, and it's not
in the web version of his article, but that's why we have the Google.
as near as I can tell, is the source of the quote. It's seven words out
of the "Tea Party Manifesto", written by Karen Miner Hurd, founder and
chair of the
Hampton Roads Tea Party, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
At least this is an actual quote from something an authentic TPer
actually said or wrote—congratulations on getting one of those
in your article, Mike. But it's only quoted in order
to dismiss it as "rhetoric".
Do TPers generally call for the "elimination
of the Federal Reserve", as Kinsley implies?
Probably some do, some don't, many don't
have an expressed opinion on the matter. Although Kinsley
quotes Karen Hurd, he doesn't seem to have noticed that she considered
this particular issue to be, at best, secondary:
It won't matter if you want the Federal Reserve abolished if Congress
keeps appropriating power for itself, and voters are ignored.
What about Kinsley's allegation that "government's main function these
days is writing checks to old people"? I assume this refers to Social
Security; while it's a big
of current and projected
federal spending, it's sloppy and silly to call it "government's main
And let's not ignore Kingsley's snarky implication that there's something
illegitimate about people who have had Social Security taxes yanked from
their paychecks during their entire working lives getting benefits
Kinsley seems befuddled by the simple fact that the TP phenomenon
doesn't have a great deal of ideological cohesion. There's no "party
line", no make-or-break litmus tests.
Here's something perceptive Daniel Foster wrote in the Corner
last month on that issue:
We knew the tea party movement was grassroots and decentralized, but
perhaps we haven't fully realized the extent to which, in its nascence,
the very idea of the tea party is plural. In other words, the
"tea party" that poll respondents identify with is what the philosopher
Walter Bryce Gallie called "an essentially contested concept," or a term
that can't be employed without begging all sorts of questions about what
that term means. We have a pretty solid grasp of what it means
about a person that he or she identifies as a Republican or a Democrat.
But the tea party is too young, too diffuse, too morally and politically
charged in the minds of both supporters and detractors, for us to be
able to say at this point that it means any one thing.
Still, it seems fair to say that, at its core, the tea party is
unified by a legitimate worry that government has grown too big, too
intrusive, too expensive, and too unresponsive to the concerns of
ordinary Americans. And though that worry has yet to (and perhaps never
will) cohere into a single platform or set of policy prescriptions, the
fact that the tea partiers are the single most engaged and vocal force
in American politics today should, as I've suggested before, give conservatives and
proponents of limited government hope.
Those two short paragraphs are far more insightful about the
Tea Party than Kinsley's entire article. Too bad Kinsley didn't
read them first.
It's not as if a lefty can't write a smart, perceptive
article about TPers. As David Boaz notes at Cato@Liberty,
John Judis managed
that feat in a recent issue of The New Republic.