How worried should we be?
Nate Silver has a good post up talking about the extreme exaggeration about the teabigot crowd size from the right, an exaggeration that puts all disputes over the size of protests in the past to bed. In the past, conservatives have, at best, been able to accuse liberals of exaggerating crowd sizes to be two, maybe three times the size they are. But the number being pushed by conservatives—and that was continuing to be emailed around and touted in comments sections after Michelle Malkin sheepishly corrected herself—was 2.2 million protesters, when the reality is closer to 60,000. Like Nate said:
That’s not a twofold or threefold exaggeration — it’s roughly a thirtyfold exaggeration.
The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn’t “in error”, as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.
The exaggeration of the crowd size tailors neatly the delusions and hysteria being pushed by the teabaggers. While it wasn’t 2.2 million people, it’s nonetheless tempting to suggest that never have so many yelled so loudly while knowing so little and believing so many lies. The teabaggers believe in death panels established to prioritize illegal immigrants over their white grandmothers, that schools will be installing abortion clinics in schools so they can perform abortions between classes, that the health care plan is actually a secret plan to get every Republican voter on record so they can put them in concentration camps. (You’d think voting booths would be more effective.) They’ve felt exactly zero need to attach themselves to reality in the past, so why would they be stopped by just making up physically impossible numbers for their protest? Hell, they should have said 5 million. There was a failure of imagination going on here.
One of the favorite myths being trotted out before the protesters had even cleared out was the myth that no trash was left behind. Stephen Suh was the only blogger that I saw that noted that this is actually something that wingnuts claim after every single wingnut gathering. They aren’t particularly original people, and certain myths get trotted out pretty much every time they get stimulated, as this thread—which devolved into a lot of wingnuts praising the Confederacy and all but claiming that their brave Southern heroes didn’t own slaves—demonstrates. I first heard the “conservative crowds didn’t leave a speck of litter” argument around 1994, when I heard Rush Limbaugh claim it about a gathering he had. I’m sure it’s much older than that. The funniest thing is that these ancient, creaky myths are trotted out every time as if they had just discovered their own purity and awesomeness. The myth, of course, is based on self-delusion and I’m sure a certain tautology. Wingnuts who saw trash on the ground a) ignored it or b) blamed it on someone else. Thers got a picture of the non-trash left by the pure and the righteous.
I’m sure the wingnuts will blame the mess on someone else.
The “we don’t leave trash” thing is a way of saying that their shit don’t stink. Prior to the whole event, the blogger Jamelle wrote an interesting post about the racist anxiety underlying the teabagger movement, and this passage really jumps out at you in conjunction with the wingnuts praising themselves for their trash-free existence.
Their sincere ideological opposition is mixed up with a unconscious – or conscious, for that matter – fear of blackness and what they perceive as its “contaminating” effects.
That is, the narrative of white supremacy in this country is a narrative of “purity.” In this story, America was built white hands, and it’s the job of those hands to keep the country – and her virtues – free of contamination from “mongrel” races. Hence Jim Crow, and anti-miscegenation laws, and the “one-drop” rule*, as well as the fierce obsession with racial purity in Southern religious traditions. Of course, this is something of an oversimplification (I’m setting aside a whole lot about economics and power relations), but it gets the basic outline right: an initial prejudice transformed, over the course of American history, into a distinctive narrative of white supremacy and racial purity. And one that still holds quite a bit of currency; a recent study (and unfortunately, I can’t find the link) suggests that most Americans continue to associate “black” with dirtiness and “white” with cleanliness.
Boy, there is a serious reason all this research needs to be published and searchable online, because I can already see the trolls whining. But non-ideologically-crazed folks can see the ugly reality that Jamelle is describing. I’d extend it to say that the legions of the unclean in the wingnut pantheon extend way past just black people. I’ve heard both hippies and Mexican immigrants literally called “dirty”. The purity balls are about establishing how all other women who don’t see themselves as chattel to be passed from father to husband are dirty. And as Pam’s oft-hilarious links to wingnuts screaming about homosexuality demonstrate, they’re obsessed with the idea that gay people are filthy, and anal sex—which is perceived as especially contaminating—is the main point of obsession for the wingnuts. (Often making you wonder if they realize entire homosexual acts occur without a penis in the room.) The longest part of the Conservapedia entry on “homosexuality” is dwelling on all the diseases that they seem to think only gay people get. Feminists are described as hairy. There’s more than a little obsession with the idea that everyone that is not in their tribe lives in filth and disease. As abortion providers have noted, when “pro-life” women come in for abortions, they often demand the right to bypass waiting with everyone else, or at least demand that they get their own room to wait, because they don’t want to be with the dirty sluts who get abortions. I guess their abortions are pure.
As Jamelle points out, that explains why health care is an especially motivating issue. A lot of bloggers made fun of the teabaggers for not having coherent policy ideas, but they’re way beyond that even being a possibility. They just want to shut it down, at any cost. They don’t want to share health care with the Unclean People. The abortion example is a really good one, and I’ve noted before that they’re bone scared of having to share medical facilities with the Unclean. That’s why Joe Wilson nearly had a heart attack at hearing about illegal immigrants getting care. Yes, he heard it in the context of this being denied, but he was forced to picture it: Mexican immigrants, the sort he would let work on his yard but not use his bathroom, sitting right there in the hospital next to you! Taking this attitude into account, you can really see why a lot of them are just as motivated by the fear of abortion, which they associate with dirty girls—there’s a genuine fear of having to share medical facilities with sluts, I guess. It’s catching, particularly if you have to wear a hospital gown.
Never mind, of course, that all the Unclean People already share their medical facilities. Maybe they don’t realize this, because generally speaking when you go to the doctor, you only see a minuscule fraction of the patients he’s got in the waiting room. Maybe they’ve convinced themselves that the Unclean People are kept out from lack of insurance. Sadly, many of us are, but certainly not all or even most. We’re already sharing their facilities.
So, only 60,000 people showed up. Compared to the number 2.2 million that was flying around, that sounds like a pittance. But Nate Silver was right that we ignore the teabaggers at our own peril:
Mock the protesters at your peril: business as usual suddenly isn’t so good for Democrats these days, and the sentiments of the 70,000 people who marched on Washington surely mirror those of millions more sitting at home.
He’s exactly right. The people who agree with the teabaggers that it’s them the Clean People against the Unclean People dominate politics in some part of the country. They dominate white rural areas, where they flock to escape the Uncleanliness that festers in our filthy cities. And they are angry. We should realize they are out there, and they’re a threat. But we should also realize they’re unbending, superstitious, and more than a little nuts, and they can’t be reasoned with or compromised with.
This sign, I thought, was the most interesting and indicative of teabagger concerns and delusions:
It says, “Robbin’ for the Hood: The Legend of Socialism”. (Lindsay has many more, plenty with racism as their “argument”.) It’s interesting, because it’s just further evidence that those of us who see “socialism” as a racist code word aren’t crazy. Also, there’s the continued city-bashing. What I thought was really interesting was that whoever made this sign seemed to think that using Robin Hood as a stand-in for the villain was a good idea. Most of us understand that Robin Hood is the hero of the stories about Robin Hood. But wingnuts tend to reflectively see Robin Hood as a villain. This isn’t the first time I’ve been puzzled by this. In Texas, opponents of laws that would create more equal spending between school districts have deemed such laws “Robin Hood Laws”. Again, they don’t see a problem with trotting out a traditional hero as a villain and expecting everyone else to play along.