Last night I couldn’t get to sleep right away, and stayed up watching Lawrence O’Donnell eviscerate some Tea Party leaders on his MSNBC show “The Last Word.” I don’t know their names or those of the particular groups they represented, but that was one thing about which O’Donnell made a big issue– the fact that they were all separate groups with separate leaders which he seemed to view as strange and problematic. They didn’t, insisting that they collaborated and had similar goals in mind but different areas of focus, which seems reasonable for a grass-roots movement to me. What caused the interview to turn into a blood bath was when O’Donnell asked each of them to define what “socialism” means and ask what specific socialistic programs they would chooses to eliminate. Naturally he asked specifically about Medicare and social security first, because those are two programs which are a) federal and b) healthcare, supposedly the things that tea partiers on the ground have been complaining and waving signs about most. None of the four leaders said they would eliminate either of those programs given the choice, though one said he would dramatically overhaul social security.
On the “What is socialism?” question, nobody came up with a good answer– one said “the re-distribution of wealth,” which would be ridiculous even if that were a comprehensive definition as so far as I know, the tea partiers are not anarchists. They all support government existing in some sense, and in order exist government requires taxation, otherwise known as redistribution of wealth. Saying that you want x,y, and z government programs to continue but you oppose all taxation is like saying you want to mow the lawn but you refuse to put gas in the lawn mower– good luck with that. And that’s not an argument along the lines that if want something done, it has to be done by government….it’s an argument that if you want the government to do something, you have to give it the funding to do so. These two should not be confused. One of the tea party leaders being interviewed, for example, said that given the choice he would scrap the Department of Education and have public schooling be handled at the local level. Whatever you might think of this plan, that does qualify as a significant measure to make government smaller and reduce taxation! For tea partiers, however, my overwhelming impression is that those aren’t the reasons they want to eliminate federal control over public schooling– the real reason, quite simply, is that they don’t like national standards for education. They want “local communities” to be able to decide that their children don’t have to learn about evolution, can be forced to pray in school, and probably any number of things that the Supreme Court has decided are unconstitutional. To give them credit, however, these particular tea partiers being interviewed did, when asked, all acknowledge that there is such a thing as a separation of church and state in the U.S., though a couple of them stipulated “according to the Supreme Court,” as though the First Amendment should only be interpreted as supporting such a concept because SCOTUS has said so.
They did do– or attempted to do– quite a lot of fudging and dodging, however, but O’Donnell would have none of it. I hadn’t seen much of him on TV before aside from little snippets from time to time, so I had no idea this was his “thing.” I don’t know if it’s supposed to be his “thing” for “The Last Word,” but now I’m curious to see a few more episodes to find out.* He actually put the female tea party leader on “time out,” effectively, because she couldn’t or wouldn’t spit out a specific government program she would eliminate. He told her to think of an answer and he’d get back to her at the end of the show. Damn. That kind of thing reminds of me of what I so admired about television and radio news reporters on the BBC– they’re merciless. They don’t allow interviewees to simply decide to answer a question other than the one the reporter actually asked. If they try, the reporter will forcefully remind them of what the question is and demand that they answer it. That’s what O’Donnell was doing, and I almost felt sorry for the people being interviewed. But you know, “What do you consider socialism” and “What would you cut, if given the opportunity” are not exactly “gotcha” questions for tea party activists! The “Last Word” was followed on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann rattling off a list of complaints against tea party candidates for office all over the country. And those are horrible and reason enough to not support any of them, but my bigger grievance with the Tea Party is reflected in this interview with O’Donnell– none of them were clearly able to articulate what exactly they’re trying to eliminate, and none of them had an immediate answer of a part of government they would cut to significantly reduce the debt and the degree of unwanted control that government has over their lives. The obvious answer if you think about it for half a second would be the defense budget, which is larger than that of every other country in the world combined. But because these activists are really disenchanted Republicans, that’s not what they’re advocating for cutting– no, it’s all about Obama and healthcare, and not the trillions of dollars being poured needlessly into two “wars” with no reason and no end. Sigh.
Anyway– it was a good interview, and I’d like to see more like it even though it makes me cringe to see people embarrass themselves. I debated changing the channel a few times because it was becoming unbearable. But it’s either this or allow the tea party candidates to just keep spewing nonsense and thinking “WTF?” which doesn’t do anything to highlight their hypocrisy or the frightening implications of a lot of their ideas. These things need to be doggedly dragged out into the light by people like O’Donnell, so I’m glad he’s doing it.
*If it seems odd that I’m wondering about this, bear in mind that I don’t have TV at home. We have television sets, but they’re used for Netflix/DVDs and video games and that’s about it. And for the most part this is fine, but I do miss out on a lot of political/news commentary, which is sometimes a detriment and sometimes a bonus.