Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dick Armey is a man of the people

This editorial by Dick Armey is hilarious in its inauthenticity. It trumpets the beauty of a non-hierarchical grassroots movement in language clearly written by a PR firm. It is the velvet glove of populism. I feel like I’m still hearing the echoes of Spiro Agnew saying “nattering nabobs of negativity.”

The editorial describes the tea party as “decentralized,” as not a “top-down hierarchy.” I just wonder if the writers would apply the logic of the analysis to corporate governance. Would they apply their same populist message to the people at the bottom of corporate hierarchies having tea parties to improve their working conditions or increase their wages or to decry the growing gap between the pay of the people at the top and the people at the bottom?

Would Dick Armey celebrate a labor movement that, instead of looking to government for regulation of working conditions, self-organized in a decentralized leaderless movement that forced an oil company to improve the safety conditions on a drilling rig? Would he celebrate in the same glowing terms a decentralized labor union that applied the same logic to corporate governance as the tea party does to national governance, bottom-up rather than top-down; a labor movement that would work for higher wages, shorter hours, increased job security, and a raised standard of living for themselves and their families?

It seems to me that such a movement would decrease the need for government regulation because the labor movement would be able to advocate on its own behalf, making regulation unnecessary or less necessary. It would be labor taking a more assertive position in the free market that the libertarians love so much. So I would hope that people like Dick Armey would support such a movement wholeheartedly. I would like to think he would apply the same logic to such a movement in organized labor. But somehow I doubt it.

I remember reading Invisible Hands, describing the foundation of the movement we are seeing now, in the Goldwater years. There is a lot of talk from those people about the labor movement and the questioning of authority (i.e. capital) as somehow a moral shortcoming on the part of the general populace. This is why I’m skeptical of the tea party organizers (i.e. Freedom Works, not the people attending the rallies).

There are two moments in here that make me see this top-down attitude hiding behind what I think is faux-populism on Armey’s part. First is the fact that he says the tea party “rebellion's name derives from the glorious rant of CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, who in February 2009 called for a new "tea party" from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.” I can’t imagine a greater symbol of being “of the people” than standing on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

There is also a sort of linguistic slip in his call for letting “the leaders be the activists.” I know in this sentence he means that the activists should lead, but it’s funny that this can easily be read as meaning the opposite; let the leaders become like activists, as Patricia Clough (2004) says, “there is something more than intimacy between power and resistance in the ever-growing dependency of power on the usurpation of resistance” (p. 18).

This final point draws me into the problem of the analysis of a movement like the tea party, especially for someone who is outside of the movement. Who am I to say that, even if I disagree with their conclusions, the people attending tea party rallies are inauthentic in their feelings about government? How does one manage an analysis with the politics of it lurking in the background? How do we locate what constitutes a political “movement” like the tea party. Is it possible to separate the people or the movement from the PR company Freedom Works or do we have to call the people at the rallies a “front for” or “dupes to” a corporate organization that is using a bottom-up populist message to push what is really a top-down corporate agenda?

No comments: