The Crazy Vote? Freak Power, Rube Power, and the Tea Party


[…] a lot of people are beginning to understand that to be a freak is an honorable way to go. This is the real point: that we are not really freaks at all — not in the literal sense — but the twisted realities of the world we are trying to live in have somehow combined to make us feel like freaks. We argue, we protest, we petition — but nothing changes.

So now […] a handful of ‘freaks’ are running a final, perhaps atavistic experiment with the idea of forcing change by voting. — Campaign wallposter, Hunter S. Thompson for Sheriff (1970)

The times, they have a-changed. Only a fool can deny the deep resonances between Thompson’s Southwestern libertarianism and the Nick-Gillespie-chronicled Tea Party longing to restore America’s honor while keeping America weird. Yes, the hotbed of classical American political activity stirred up by the Tea Party — fanaticism, careerism, opportunism, quixoticism — can make matters confusing. No, the typical tea partier would not huff ether or eat LSD, not even to prove a point about how messed up American priorities have become. But the Tea-centered confluence of ‘freak power’ and ‘rube power’ — to use those terms not much more or less ironically than Thompson would — reflects a momentous, gathering realignment of once-disparate, and even opposed, constituencies.

To date, only one thing stands in the way: the smearing of the tea party as a movement of crazies. Not just freaks, rubes, or weirdos, mind you, but kooks — unjustifiable diehards for unpopular causes, professional losers, fast-talking swindlers, cranks who live off of campaign donations and speak to the press as if reading aloud from The Big Book of Mind-Rotting Catchphrases.

Indeed, anti-tea-party voices are already congealing around the narrative that the Tea Party is powered by these people — that a vote for Tea is a vote for Crazy, and that any decent American freak or rube had better throw in with the liberal sex vote in the first case and follow union orders in the second.

This is clever, in the way that a cornered rat is clever, but it is wrong. The great untold story coming out of the O’Donnell upset is that, right now, a bean and cheese burrito could win a GOP primary by running as a Tea Party candidate. The presence of a few suboptimal candidates reveals the colossal strength and momentum of the tea partiers, not some cankered weakness or ugly truth. It is the natural consequence of any precipitous success — whether in music, sports, or entertainment, whether in national-level politics or the criminal underworld…

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    O’Donnell has got to do something she has not been challenged to do yet, convince a lot of self-identified Independents and even a few Democrats to vote for her, and her conservative, Tea Party bona fides won’t help much. This is where politics gets interesting, and tough.

    She’s going to need local Republicans to help out like crazy, and she will need her Tea Party true believers to cut her some slack when she starts to sound “statesmanlike” and perhaps a bit “squishy”. She’s got six weeks to change a lot of minds.

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  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    James Poulos, Ed.

    The great untold story coming out of the O’Donnell upset is that, right now, a bean and cheese burrito could win a GOP primary by running as a Tea Party candidate.

    Line of the week, right there.

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    We might be the change we’re waiting for.

    to coin a phrase.

    There are alot of us who were gonzo and got older. Some never came down. We know a freak when we see one. Having been to a couple of tea party rallies, I can tell you that the only freaks were the crazed liberals at the fringe of the crowd videotaping as if they were FBI at a klan meeting in Mississippi Burning. they were wildeyed and trying to figure out why they weren’t scared( and then probably how they wouldn’t be able to use the footage of grandmas and families and goofy hats with teabags strung from them by people who don’t know what teabagging is and wouldn’t recognize bill maher )

    Attractive , outspoken women. The New Party. Leaders ? We don’t need no stinking leaders, there’s 536 elections to worry about !

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  4. Profile Photo Member

    The great untold story coming out of the O’Donnell upset is that, right now, a bean and cheese burrito could win a GOP primary by running as a Tea Party candidate. The presence of a few suboptimal candidates reveals the colossal strength and momentum of the tea partiers, not some cankered weakness or ugly truth.

    Amen, amen, amen, James. You nailed it.

    Her victory is a sign of how powerful the movement is, not how weak it is.

    And she wasn’t picked because she was the most stellar of a whole gamut of eager applicants. It’s just that she was willing.

    The Delaware tea party and pro-life types, fed up and feeling their oats, said, “Mike Castle is unacceptable.” Then they looked around for someone who would stand against him. Christine O’Donnell said, “Here I am, send me.”

    They tested her views; they polled her name recognition; they saw she had guts, and they said, “Let’s do it.”

    Now she’s reaping the fruit. More power to her.

    And tough luck to all the better pedigreed Delaware would-be Senators who lacked the imagination and courage and will power to seize the moment.

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  5. Profile Photo Contributor

    What strikes me about the O’Donnell victory is that many people simply want the opportunity to be part of what’s happening in the Tea Party. It’s kind of exciting to tell the establishment you’ve had enough, thank you very much. This is why times are dangerous for many politicians. It won’t translate into Tea Party victories everywhere, but they have certainly shaped the discourse.

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  6. Profile Photo Contributor

    See also Byron York, Mollie:

    focusing only on O’Donnell’s problems, as the Washington establishment is doing, misses the spirit that was unmistakable all around Delaware on Tuesday. For a large group of conservatives, watching Christine O’Donnell come out of nowhere — actually, lifting her up on their shoulders out of nowhere — has been a huge boost after the frustrations of the final years of the Bush administration and the first years of the Obama administration. Those conservatives feel enormously empowered by what they have accomplished, and they are important to the Republican party’s fortunes this November and beyond. The lords of the backroom have got to find a better way of dealing with them than simply dumping on their candidate.

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  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    RINO “hunting” is a fine pastime, but RINO hunters only take credit when everything turns out fine. They’re not so good at taking credit when people like Al Franken take advantage of the local RINO hunt–take advantage of some people’s absolute refusal to support the lesser of two evils. In Minnesota’s Coleman-Franken race, the “two evils” were quite a bit different, and the final result turned on just a few hundred votes.

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  8. Profile Photo Inactive

    It’s a measure of how far we’ve strayed from the 18th and 19th Century ideal of rugged individualism that Tea Partiers are perceived as kooks and oddballs.

    People of previous centuries – probably up to 1910 – would be shocked, frightened, and saddened by the dull conformity of our age. The world is becoming techno- uniform, to coin a phrase. Theodore Roosevelt was so outgoing, full of himself, and opinionated that he could never fit into the Washington D.C. of today. But in 1900 he was recognized as fireball of extraordinary genius.

    Look at the monotony of men’s clothes. Even women’s clothes are minimalist and drab compared to the lavish colors, cuts, and sweeping styles of 1890. Women and men all wore hats, and they were often baroque in their excesses.

    Before films there were tens of thousands of actors and singers making a living in Vaudeville and repertory theater companies. Most people could sing and dance, and they did. We would be very dull company for them if we somehow went back.

    Eccentricity wasn’t punished the way it is now, and Americans especially cultivated home inventors and wild eyed dreamers like Edison, Ford, and Tesla.

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