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Teabaggers vs. fundies

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Roy records the teabagger bloggers getting pissed about it,* but I enjoyed Ben Smith’s article about how social conservatives like Tony Perkins and Mike Huckabee are beginning to get antsy about the teabaggers, because the teabaggers aren’t respecting their right, as fundamentalist Christians, to dominate the conservative movement. (Everything with conservatives is about establishing the pecking order. Everything.) Teabaggers are pissed at Smith, who they perceive as sowing discontent and running off the fundies, but they only think that because paranoia is their ideology. I think Smith is probably on their side. His teabagger contacts, after all, make it clear they want to downplay religious right issues, so they can cast a wider net.** And he’s doing his best, by showing that they’re effective enough at this goal that fundies are very, very carefully complaining about losing the status of #1 Assholes that they enjoyed under President Bush.

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For anyone who’s lived in Republicanland, the rift Smith describes is nothing new. There have always been two kinds of conservatives, the fundies and what Smith calls the “libertarians”, but who I’m happy to call the teabaggers. These are the folks for whom racist/classist resentment matters more than sexist resentment, to make it simple. You may even come across an occasional teabagger sort who has feminist sympathies, but who finds herself more at home with Republicans, because she’s got racist beliefs and she enjoys being an asshole. (No wonder so many PUMAs were eager to run for the doors!) But in most cases, there’s very little ideological disagreement between these two camps, but there is an argument over lifestyles and priorities. On the lifestyle front, some teabaggers annoy fundies because teabaggers think church is boring, religion is kind of silly, and they don’t really apologize for being fornicators. In addition, some may find the creationist thing really stupid and roll their eyes at the fundie belief that gays can be changed with therapy.

But Smith goes too far when he describes this as a “socially liberal” streak of Republicans. In my experience, the libertarian streak of the conservative movement is sexist as hell, they just write the issue out differently in their minds. For fundies, sexism is expressed in trying to shove women back in the kitchen and punish them for their sexuality. Teabaggers enjoy sex a little too much for that, but you’ll find that they have a high tolerance for sexual harassment and even abuse, and will be quick to assume women are dumber or less capable. Both take a sick glee is seeing women get punished for perceived sins. You may meet some libertarian-types who support a woman’s right to choose, but they are right with the fundies in setting up restrictions, geographic and financial, that make abortion available to well-off women while keeping the poor from having it. Both will justify this cruelty as encouraging “responsibility”, but of course for fundies that means the responsibility to abstain, whereas teabaggers will assume the poor are too stupid to use contraception.

Or to summarize, the two camps are the pearl-clutching prudes who have fantasies of lives run by the church and strict gender roles with sex pushed out of sight, and the loud-mouthed assholes with a racist streak who enjoy conservatism because it means they get to feel superior to anyone who has had misfortune in their lives. In their purest forms, they can definitely butt heads. Fundies can judge teabagger lifestyles, and teabaggers can get impatient with the occasional charity work that fundies do for people the teabaggers would prefer to make fun of. But life is rarely that simple, and I’ve seen that the past 8 years under Bush have created a lot more people willing to do a hybrid sort of thing. Think of James O’Keefe and his friends—they combine racist assholery aimed at organizations like ACORN that do work on behalf of low-income neighborhoods with fundamentalist anti-sex nuttery aimed at Planned Parenthood. Organizations like the Independent Women’s Forum initially started off as being areligious anti-feminist groups, aimed mostly at supporting the rape culture and fighting on a secular level against feminist movements to fight against violence and for equality, but more and more of their time is spent on the fundie agenda of encouraging young women to obsess over virginity. People like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin seamlessly wind together the religiosity and the “I got mine, fuck you” mentality of the teabaggers.

And I think this coalition and even blending works together well under a Republican administration, and the reason is because Republicans don’t care about running up debts. Which sounds weird, but it’s not, if you look closely at their wish lists. Teabaggers want a suppressed minimum wage, tax cuts for the wealthy, and slashed social spending that goes towards actually improving the lives of poor people. Fundies don’t have a problem with the government spending money on social programs, as long as they’re the recipients. These two goals work together, because teabaggers don’t really see giving money to fundies so they can run marriage programs here and abstinence-only campaigns in Africa as something that will do anything effective to lift poor people up, so they don’t see it as a threat. Both groups support lavish spending on war—fundies because they see it as asserting Christian dominance, and teabaggers because it gives them a hard-on. By not caring about running up huge deficits, the Republicans make everyone happy. They start wars, cut taxes, suppress anything that could relieve poverty, and spread money around to fundamentalist charities. It’s only when Democrats get into office that these groups start to perceive resources as becoming scarce, and scarcity causes people to turn on each other.

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But I wouldn’t get too hopeful. The tensions between the two worldviews only crop up when it comes to the very small minority of conservatives who are genuinely honest and not prone to hypocrisy. The coalition holds together for a few reasons. Most libertarian-leaning conservatives see fundies as useful idiots, and so they tolerate them. Fundies are willing to be useful idiots, and they usually focus their energies on social reforms that are least likely to directly harm their fellow travelers in the conservative movement. (For instance, teabaggers who don’t seem to care about gay marriage really just don’t care. They’re not going to freak out if it’s legalized, but they’re not going to defend it, either. So fundies get to run anti-gay campaigns without internal resistance. But if fundies went out against divorce, there would be tension.) And frankly, the leadership of the conservative movement has gotten really, really good at creating issues where the two camps seem like one, further encouraging them to come together. For instance, Smith points out that the “no federal funding for abortion” thing gives a little something to everyone. Consequently, you’re seeing more people who are libertarian-minded signing up for the fundie agenda, and vice versa.

*Because they clearly think it’s in their best interests to keep their movement a bundle of ill-defined resentments. Any move towards taking a specific policy stand besides, “Wah!” is scary, because people will start to say, “Hey, that policy idea is stupid!” and will leave the movement. The further away from reality their protests, the better.

**And all real issues, actually. Again, the more diffuse and harder to understand their platform is, the better. That way any asshole with a chip on his shoulder and a fear that The Other is out to steal his sperm/his guns/his money can project what he wants on the movement.

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