Tea Party Critics: Mixing and Matching

The following mixes and matches several quite different groups, confounding Tea Party activists will a long list of varied demographics:

The Very Angry Tea Party


In a bracing and astringent essay in The New York Review of Books, pointedly titled "The Tea Party Jacobins," Mark Lilla argued that the hodge-podge list of animosities Tea party supporters mention fail to cohere into a body of political grievances in the conventional sense: they lack the connecting thread of achieving political power. It is not for the sake of acquiring political power that Tea Party activists demonstrate, rally and organize; rather, Lilla argues, the appeal is to "individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power." He calls Tea Party activists a "libertarian mob" since they proclaim the belief "that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone." Lilla cites as examples the growth in home schooling, and, amidst a mounting distrust in doctors and conventional medicine, growing numbers of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated, not to mention our resurgent passion for self-diagnosis, self-medication and home therapies.

It's not left or right anger in the U.S. -- it's a general, strange, disconnected anger against all large institutions. We've lost faith in a lot of organizations, regardless of our political views.

This article is an absurd simplification, a caricature of parents opposed to vaccination mandates. I don't agree with the anti-vaccine movement, but to group all vaccine skeptics with the Tea Party movement is absurd. There are left, right, and center individuals opposed to vaccine mandates for different reasons.

Most of the anti-vax and homeopathy people I know are on the moderate to far political left. They often complain about gov't vaccination requirements while also arguing for empirical evidence-based medical care. Pick and choose the science / gov't agency you trust, I suppose? It would be wrong to say all New Age, alternative medicine embracing, left-leaning people are anti-vaccine. Some are, some aren't.

In the middle of the political spectrum, there are those who are anti-vaccine mandate. There are libertarian arguments that any mandate on people is, necessarily, a limit on individual choice and free will. Again, just as with the left, there are pro and con vaccine approaches among libertarians. Some support "opt-in" and some support "opt-out" requirements for childhood vaccinations. (No libertarians I know support absolute mandates, but I'm sure those individuals also exist.)

On the religious "conservative" right, refusing medical care, including vaccines, is based on interpretations of faiths. I have met Christians and Muslims who oppose injecting anything into blood. I don't understand the scriptural basis, but the point is that these people aren't basing their anti-vaccine position on politics alone, but on faith.

Simple generalizations about people are generally wrong. The New York Times columnists have generalized to the point of grouping people together who don't actually share political views. Again, I am not a vaccine skeptic, but I think this article was incomplete and unfair to people of all political views.

Here is the basic problem: The column author and the columnist cited view all skeptics as one group: Tea Party radicals. If you are skeptical of what the authors believe, you must be a Tea Party radical. You can't be logical, reasonable (and on the political left), if you question any government mandate or program. You can't question education, medicine, or any other "public good" and not be drifting towards that Jacobean mob that is the Tea Party.

Such arguments, coming from a professor of philosophy no less, are weak and disturbingly sloppy. I know plenty of liberals, libertarians, and even "socialists" who do not trust any large organizations. Not exactly members of the Tea Party movement, either.

Sadly, nuance seems beyond political debates.


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