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Chomsky: How the Tea Partiers Are Getting Screwed by Their Own Ideology

'We should not underestimate the depth of moral indignation that lies behind the furious, often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power."

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Lee’s work and studies of the U.S. rustbelt make clear that we should not underestimate the depth of moral indignation that lies behind the furious, often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power.

In the U.S., the Tea Party movement—and even more so the broader circles it reaches—reflect the spirit of disenchantment. The Tea Party’s anti-tax extremism is not as immediately suicidal as Joe Stack’s protest, but it is suicidal nonetheless.

California today is a dramatic illustration. The world’s greatest public system of higher education is being dismantled.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he’ll have to eliminate state health and welfare programs unless the federal government forks over some $7 billion. Other governors are joining in.

Meanwhile a newly powerful states’ rights movement is demanding that the federal government not intrude into our affairs—a nice illustration of what Orwell called “doublethink”: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind while believing both of them, practically a motto for our times.

California’s plight results in large part from anti-tax fanaticism. It’s much the same elsewhere, even in affluent suburbs.

Encouraging anti-tax sentiment has long been a staple of business propaganda. People must be indoctrinated to hate and fear the government, for good reasons: Of the existing power systems, the government is the one that in principle, and sometimes in fact, answers to the public and can constrain the depredations of private power.

However, anti-government propaganda must be nuanced. Business of course favors a powerful state that works for multinationals and financial institutions—and even bails them out when they destroy the economy.

But in a brilliant exercise in doublethink, people are led to hate and fear the deficit. That way, business’s cohorts in Washington may agree to cut benefits and entitlements like Social Security (but not bailouts).

At the same time, people should not oppose what is largely creating the deficit—the growing military budget and the hopelessly inefficient privatized healthcare system.

It is easy to ridicule how Joe Stack and others like him articulate their concerns, but it’s far more appropriate to understand what lies behind their perceptions and actions at a time when people with real grievances are being mobilized in ways that pose no slight danger to themselves and to others.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.

 
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