Cuz has a habit of latching onto different broad, uncomplicated ideas which are being confidently and enthusiastically propounded as nostrums (nostra?) for various ailments spiritual, psychological, economic or political. While Cuz’s reasoning powers are good, the basis of his reasoning – instead of the complex and contradictory mass of data we call reality – is whatever straight-forward, all-encompassing notion most recently has caught his fancy.
Considering the large number of successful and influential individuals, including a Vice-President of the United States, who have a similar disdain for reality-based thinking, I owe it to Cuz to curb my inclination not to take him seriously and to parlay with him intellectually. This is difficult, since what to me seems perfectly rational has already been dealt with and proven to be wrong-headed in the books and websites which provide Cuz with his vision of the world. In the same way, what to Cuz seems perfectly obvious, given the indisputable truth of X, Y and Z (Cuz’s current X, Y and Z are government-is-too-big, debt-will-destroy-the-country, and Obama-is-a-sneak-leveller), perturbs me deeply as I think to myself, “Does this mean that 49% of the country is certifiably insane?”
Well, there we were, dining at the local Indian restaurant, cheerfully arguing – and no irony is intended by “cheerfully;” Cuz and I love each other dearly, and no matter how heated our discussion, our eyes are always twinkling at each other with the knowledge that none of this makes the slightest difference when it comes to the bonds that unite us – neither of us making any headway, when out of the blue, in a flash of inspiration, I took an entirely different tack.
“Look, Cuz,” I said, “The United States is a great nation, the richest, most dynamic, most powerful country in the world. We’re not like Europe, we’re not like Asia, we’re not some decrepit old culture or some banana republic. We can do anything we put our mind to. This debt? It’s nothing to us. We could have twice this debt and it wouldn’t matter. With American ingenuity, American principles, American spirit, a problem like this?” A dismissive wave of the hand. “It’s nothing.”
Cuz had no reply. What could he say? America is not a great nation? We are so weak that the debt could crush us? We are just another run-of-the-mill country like Greece or France? No. Cuz is a patriot, just as I am. Instead of reasoning with him, I engaged him politically on an emotional level.
While the Tea Party successfully can build convincing rationales for its policies out of a construct of simple-minded historical analogies and various economic and political theories which have been promulgated at one time or another, it is vulnerable on the emotional level. And that is the level on which its appeal is based: a panacea is welcomed not because reason cries out for a simple solution to a problem, but because emotions – anxiety, confusion, uncertainty – do. The Tea Party’s ideology is based on fear – fear of big government, fear of the deficit, fear of Euro-socialism, fear of immigrants, fear of atheism, etc. It's no use trying to counter those fears with Krugman-like analyses. Show that fearfulness up as a lack of faith in our country, as a form of cowardice, and the Tea Party architecture collapses.