Deranged and Confused

Somewhere, I read that stress can be measured as the distance between your expectations and your reality. I thought of this when I read the “manifesto” left behind by Joe Stack, the fellow who flew a plane into an Austin IRS building. My impression is of a man who expected something else entirely from his life than what he got, and he was stressed, and angry, about it.

Stack had issues with taxes going back to the early 1980s. He refers to particular parts of the tax code that were changed then, but he doesn’t make clear what was bad about them. Then in 1994 he and his wife did not file tax returns. The reason for this is murky, but my suspicion is that he came to believe he did not have to pay taxes. About that time there was a small movement of anti-government extremists who, through creative reading of the tax codes, had come to the conclusion that there was no law that actually compelled anyone to pay taxes. These people were active on the old USENET newsgroups, which is how I came in contact with them. Note that several of these same people believed the U.S. had been under martial law since the Civil War, and this was somehow connected to American flags with gold fringe around them.

Apparently Stack’s wife divorced him and filed for bankruptcy to get out from under her tax debt, but Stack seems to have stubbornly refused to acknowledge he had done anything wrong. And it appears this act of defiance wrecked the rest of his life. He had considerable financial problems, but he also owned a couple of small planes, which suggests he was far from destitute. Lots of people are worse off, in other words.

The diatribe Stack left behind doesn’t fit neatly into any one ideological cubbyhole. He was angry with government, politicians of both parties, corporations, unions, health insurance companies, the Catholic church and organized religion generally. We can only guess if the “tea party” movement had any impact on him. My impression is that he had been on a self-destructive course for a great many years.

However, it appears some current anti-government extremists are claiming Stack as a martyr to their cause. Frank Rich writes about this in his column today. Although whatever it is that passes for “leadership” among the tea partiers has not publicly embraced Stack, apparently Facebook and many right-wing sites are bursting with praise for him.

On the other hand, the crew at Free Republic is certain he was a leftie. See, for example, Joe Stack’s “manifesto” ends by bashing Capitalism and quoting Marx! (Comment: “This guy sound like a ‘right-wing extremist’ to you? He sounds more like Obama or one of his many revolutionary-left associates!”) (Note: Stack appears to have been mocking Marx more than approving of him, but again, Stack’s political beliefs seem to have been all over the map. Stack’s real beef with capitalism may have been that he failed at it.)

However, I suspect Rich is right about a connection between the Clinton-era right-wing fringe obsessed with black helicopters, citizen militias, Ruby Ridge, and the destruction of David Koresh’s compound in Waco and the current right-wing fringe who are rallying around “tea parties” and threatening secession.

And I think it’s also true that the Republican Party has little control over the tea partiers. Rich writes,

The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.

I was also struck by this:

A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation. Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged. At the conference’s conclusion, a presidential straw poll was won by Congressman Paul, ending a three-year Romney winning streak. No less an establishment conservative observer than the Wall Street Journal editorialist Dorothy Rabinowitz describes Paul’s followers as “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged.”

Interesting that the truthers have migrated to the Right. They used to be associated only with the Left.

Anyway — recent polling suggests that the tea partiers are disproportionately white, but have average income and education. I remember reading recently that they tended to be middle aged or older, but I can’t find a reference to that now.

What does this tell us? The “tea partiers” on the whole are not the most oppressed and downtrodden among us, just the most pissed off. They’ve got more distance between their expectations and their reality than most of the rest of us.

What are their expectations? What are they pissed off about, really? Because for all their screaming about taxes, most of ’em are not paying more taxes now than they were last year or five years ago. Certainly racism is a factor in much of their animosity to President Obama, but that’s far from the whole story.

According to the “Tea Party Patriots” website, their core values are “Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, Free Markets.” On the surface, not the stuff of angry mobs.

But I don’t think you have to be a psychologist to understand that the anger is being fueled by something else entirely, some horrific chasm between their expectations and their reality. Essentially, you’ve got a lump of middle-class white people who have hit mid-life or older, and their lives haven’t worked out the way they expected. In that way, at least, Joe Stack was one of them. And hey, folks, join the club.

The problem is that when they look for the cause of their problems, they see black helicopters and Big Gubmint, whereas the rest of us see financial sector oligarchy and disaster capitalism. I think I’ve used this analogy before, but they make me think of panicked horses who run back into the burning barn. We laugh at their weird conspiracy theories, but the truth is that the real “conspiracy” is so much bigger and so much scarier than what they imagine.

12 thoughts on “Deranged and Confused

  1. Teabaggers are like people who, after being slowly blinded, then go into a blind rage and lash out at any and every one near them.
    Look, we’re all disillusioned.
    This is not the same country that my parents came to from Russia and Ukraine, after WWII. Within a few years of mostly manual labor, they were able to get married, buy a car, then a house, and then raise kids in a lower-middle class suburb, where we didn’t have it all, but we didn’t lack for a whole lot, either.
    I saw this coming, back in the late ’70’s, when I was in my late teens and early twenties. It’s not that I’m that smart, it’s that I read a lot. I saw the disaster that was to come from the post-Goldwater right, the birth of Reaganism, and the accendance of the right.
    I’ve been fighting that my whole entire life, it’s been my (mostly losing) cause – that and anti-nuclear energy, which has now reared its ugly head again. Sigh… We NEVER learn, do we.
    But I’m not going to fly my plane into a government building. First, I don’t have a plane. Second, I truly believe that government is the one engine, that when run correctly, and properly regulated by voters, is the one thing that can drive us towards a better future.
    The job of every corporation, and ‘capitalism’ as a whole, is to seperate a fool from his money. Sure, I can “vote” “NO: to eating at MickeyD’s, not buying Exxon, etc,. But, in reality, corporations have become the life blood of this country. Until the recent SCOTUS decision, I at least had a hope that my little efforts, like the work that I did in the ’08 primaries and general election, for Obama, might make a difference. Not so much now.
    Uhm, anyone want to give me free flying lessons and lend me their plane?
    Juss kiddin’!

    “… but the truth is that the real “conspiracy” is so much bigger and so much scarier than what they imagine. ”
    So true,
    So true…
    If only they knew,
    Then, what would they do?

  2. I just finished reading the NY Times piece on Keli Corander, the Teabaggers “Liberty Belle.”
    No wonder she’s the darling of the movement. She’s not on Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security. She’s relatively young, at 30, a female with a nose ring, and she’s an improv actress.
    Except if you read the article, she is clueless. She doesn’t have any solutions. Just complaints. Plus, shock alert here – she started off as a, dare I say it – Republican! Don’t faint, I know…
    The reason she’s become a poster child is not that she is representative of people of her age and background, but that she’s the antithesis of what you’d expect.
    The NY Times wouldn’t dedicate a front cover to Keli’s mother, if she were of the same opinion. Why? Because she would be representative of that movement. They chose Keli because she seems like an outlier, which she is. She’s like the “Log Cabin Republicans,” or ‘African Americans for Bush/McCain/Republicans,’ etc. They get attention because they swim AGAINST the tide of their backgrounds.
    She sounds like any other opportunist. Is she worthy of a NY Times Sunday front page article? I don’t think so. Do any remaining “Log Cabin Republicans” get front page articles? Or African-Americans who are Republican? No? Why? Because they’re either a paid part of that party, or paid to exhibit themselves on FOX News, to show Republican inclusivity.
    Sorry, Keli, but you were not worthy of a NY Times front page article. There are many, many more important things going on in this world than the single-minded purpose of a small mind. Nose ring, and all…
    Cut the article out, put it in your scrapbook, and save if for the children, and granchildren if you have any. Grandma was important for a nano-second.
    I hope you enjoyed your 15 minutes of fame. I didn’t. You weren’t worth the few mintues I spent reading about you. It was a waste of my time. You had nothing new to say. You just looked different from the ones usually saying it.
    I won’t waste any more of my precious time left on this earth on the likes of you!

  3. You raise a good question, what are they pissed off about, really? Because the answer is hidden under layers of BS that they’ve swallowed whole (Obama is a socialist, and all that). Some people fuel their lives via negative passion – being chronically angry against something – but have great difficulty defining what is it exactly that they are for. I know, because I was one of those people for a long time. At best you get vague answers (“Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, Free Markets”) that are mostly cliches or slogans and not very grounded in reality – a good tip-off that a person is fueled by negative passion.

    I actually think that the GOP – Tea Party dichotomy might be the one thing that saves the Dems’ bacon in 2012. I expect a third party run to divide the right. A fun sideshow in all of this is how that right wing vamp, Sarah Palin will play all of this, now that she’s basically on the payroll for the GOP. (Today’s fun fact: “FOX” is numerologically equal to 666).

    As for truthers, I think that spans the political spectrum, or at least it does now (see this recent article at The Agonist (and if you have time, follow the link therein)). I am not sure exactly what you mean by a truther, but I count myself as one who doesn’t believe the government’s conclusions about 9/11. I hestitate to mention it here, not because you can’t take what I just said, but I don’t want to open a whole stream of comments about this that you’ll have to manage.

    I haven’t pursued the Joe Stack story, but it sounds like there is something for everyone in his manifesto. The parts I’ve seen excerpted in lefty blogs sound like a man who shares many of my opinions. But he goes off the deep end with his insistence on the illegality of paying taxes, and it’s just plain nuts to kamikaze a plane into his hated IRS.

  4. Some people fuel their lives via negative passion – being chronically angry against something – but have great difficulty defining what is it exactly that they are for.

    I actually got some good advice from a politician, once, my county supervisor. The county was up in arms over several possible alignments of a new road, and I was assuming the lead of the “hell no!” crowd. We were getting nowhere fast, when my supervisor pulled me aside and said, “think about what you are for.” We chewed on that for a day or two, changed our strategy, and we became very, very effective.

    The problem for the teabaggers, though, is that working for something in government is an almost inherently progressive act. I don’t think they’re capable of doing anything but destroy.

  5. The problem is that when they look for the cause of their problems, they see black helicopters and Big Gubmint, whereas the rest of us see financial sector oligarchy and disaster capitalism. I think I’ve used this analogy before, but they make me think of panicked horses who run back into the burning barn. We laugh at their weird conspiracy theories, but the truth is that the real “conspiracy” is so much bigger and so much scarier than what they imagine.

    Absolutely. Since they can’t see it and don’t understand what it is, they have a wide range of possibilities to choose from…some real and some imagined. No wonder it’s something as mysterious as black helicopters because the cause of their situation is a mystery to them as well.

    It strikes me as funny that they come up with something efficient and malevolent. People did that with Bush too. It can all be explained fairly well when one considers the effects of people in power working for THEIR own best interests and no one else’s in particular.

  6. Good comment, Dave.

    Regarding a profile of the teabaggers in recent polls, credit Joan:

    CNN poll Feb 15:

    Based on a realtively small sample (124 respondents) –

    60% male
    80% white
    66% – over 50K annual income!!!!!!!!!!!
    (That’s the median family income)
    50% rural – (38% of total poll respondents identified as rural)
    74% some college or college degree
    52% – Independent
    44 – GOP
    40% – age 30 – 49
    29% – age 50 – 64

    geographic concentration above average in West and Midwest
    Below average in South and Northeast

    Way above average – Protestant

  7. Joe Stack wold have fit in with the Teabaggers, because the sole criteria for joining seems to be hatred of anything (not everything) ‘government’. That leaves room for the Ron Paul (youth) faction represented at CPAC. They hate the Federal Reserve Board. The greater part of the Tea Baggers are (IMO) motivated by religion. If someone does a poll, they will find an overwhelming overlap of evangelical protestants (fetus people) and the large rural protestant (Sarah Palin) faction of the Tea Party movement. A portion of the older literate crowd is libertarian in the Ayn Rand mold. What’s wierd is how poorly these factions fit. If ever a conservative writer was agnostic in her books, Ayn Rand was. It’s expecting a lot for that crowd to play nice with the evangelicals, and for either of those wings to embrace Ron Paul and his economic theories.

    Again in defiance of all logic, a bunch of the TPP are opposed to banks, bankers and the bank baliout – and they are certain that Obama is conspiring WITH the banks and multinationals which the TPP are going to tame with state (not federal) regulations!!??? . But Obama has been trying to regulate banks – and the fact is K-street has been effective with Dems in Congress in castrating those rules. So my head spins round and round (Exorcist style) trying to make ANY sense of that crowd.

    Now look at the mainstream GOP. They don’t have a clue what the movement is about, but they are falling all over themsleves trying to appear like they are at the front of the parade. The GOP’s main main guy is Mitt Romney. And Romney is unacceptable to the TPP because he’s 1) Morman and 2) spineless and 3) sold out to Big Business. The GOP primaries will come down to Palin vs Romney.

    I never thought I could make this observation with a straight face. Despite the evidence of the GOP marching in lockstep for the last decade.( cue, drum roll) In the future, I predict the GOP will be LESS united than the democrats who traditionally look like the inmates of an asylum fighting over the last straitjacket.

    The only thing they have in common is that they don’t like progressives.

    The hope of Wall Street and Oil Companies and the Banks is that out of this chaos, they will emerge unregulated and untaxed. That might be the only safe bet in the political future that looks like Armageddon.

  8. There was also an idea (dumb) proposed the other day that the teabaggers are in part disaffected boomers who want to either relive the sixties or make up for their missing out on the old protests. That’s headed in the right direction but needs to take a left at Albuquerque.

    The people (at least the several I’ve met) who are old enough to remember the 1960s were anti-antiwar — they disapproved of hippies, feminism, busing, secularism, and pretty much every other liberal thing they can think of. And we often forget that they were in the majority back then, but they don’t.

    These people have seen their America taken from them, not because they are the oppressed minority they claim to be, but because their sense of being at the top of the hierarchy is gone — and the ones who have replaced them are the same people they disapproved of 40 years ago. It’s personal, and that’s why their rage seems so politically unfocused.

  9. [I]n 1994 [Stack] and his wife did not file tax returns.

    Yeesh… on what planet is that not stupid? And, in Stack’s mind, his mess was the fault of the IRS!

    I’m surprised to learn that Stack is becoming a tea-party hero; early on, the reaction from that side was, “Look at the murderous, leftist anarchist!” The day after the attack, an astute commenter on Wonkette said something to the effect that Left and Right, taken to their absolute extremes, meet up somewhere out in deep space, where Joe Stack had been living.

  10. Pointed out at Pandagon:

    As we all know, the Tea Party has no leaders, which means that everyone in the Tea Party is simultaneously totally fucking awesome and persona non grata. But when Ms. Carender, who is a leader but not a leader, is asked about Sarah Palin, she says the following:

    Sarah Palin? She will have to campaign on Tea Party ideas if she wants Tea Party support, Ms. Carender said, adding, “And if she were elected, she’d have to govern on those principles or be fired.”

    And what, pray tell, are “Tea Party ideas”?

    Ms. Carender is less certain when it comes to explaining, for instance, how to cut the deficit without cutting Medicaid and Medicare.

    “Well,” she said, thinking for a long time and then sighing. “Let’s see. Some days I’m very Randian. I feel like there shouldn’t be any of those programs, that it should all be charitable organizations. Sometimes I think, well, maybe it really should be just state, and there should be no federal part in it at all. I bounce around in my solutions to the problem.”

    I haven’t got the first clue how to run this country, but you better do what I say!

    Regarding Joe Stack, I don’t mean to go all Michelle Malkin-Graeme Frost on him, but, um, he was so put upon by the IRS that he burned down his HOUSE, that he OWNED, and flew his PRIVATE PLANE into an IRS building. Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

    I’m willing to write this guy off as a single mentally ill guy, but if anyone wants to make draw larger political conclusions, bring it the $%&@ on.

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