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Teabaggers and other poor souls

By Owen Paine on Tuesday February 9, 2010 04:10 PM

The laff-riot cartoon above nicely sums up the Pwog critique of "Teabaggers" and similar fringe right-wing formations and individuals: they're naughty Bad Seed children with unevolved apelike crania -- the very opposite of the Pwog, who in his own mind is thoroughly grown up, polite, well-taught, deeply interested in learning, and plays well with others, not to mention possessing a nice high Cro-Magnon brow. (This Pwog self-image seems rather inaccurate to me on a number of counts, but that's a topic for another post.)

One of my lefty mailing lists has been much preoccupied with the Teabaggers of late. Concern has (of course) been expressed that the Brownshirts are on the march, and Kristallnacht is right around the corner. Other voices have advocated some missionary work among the heathen:

Should we use such [Teabagger] myopia, with all its implications of race and class, as an excuse to avoid meaningfully engaging with the people who are mired in it? And if we do so, in a consistent way across the board, what can we really expect to be left with?
One of the other correspondents on this list, a guy whose contributions I usually like -- call him Helmsby -- responded to the observation above:
There are 300 million people in the United States. There is no organized left. There is not even a loose or unofficial coalition of leftist groups in the U.S.

Therefore [to] say "we" should or should not do this or that are serious nonsense.

...There are more than enough people in the U.S. whose passive opinions are rather far left to make a large public splash, potentially affect some public policy, if they were to achieve any sort of coherence as an actual "we." Why is no one interested in them?

[T]here is and will remain a solid far-right core and there is and will remain a substantial number of close sympathizers on the right... [T]hey can be instantly mobilized because the media will help them....

And if leftists keep agonizing over that core on the right, then leftists will be wasting their time. It is not going to get worse than that core except under extrordinary conditons, and nothing leftists, organized or unorganized, can do will decrease that core or change it. It is simply part of the social landscape you have to live with without going apeshit about it.

This seems like awfully good sense, I'd say.

Teabaggers and Limbaughgers and the like have been a source of interest to me for some time. I sorta think I know what makes them tick. They're pissed off -- as who would not be? -- but they're also compliant and respectful of authority and rules; worshipful of power and secretly afraid of it, in spite of the 1776 iconography.

They feel -- again, as who would not? -- rather powerless, so by the law of opposites they identify with power -- with the very power that keeps them powerless, in fact.

Often enough, because of their compliance and law-abidingness, they feel morally superior to others, but at the same time they're pretty sure that the morally inferior others are laughing at them, and probably having a better time, too -- drinking and catting around and probably living in rental housing, and doing a midnight flit when the landlord becomes exigent.

The crucial problem is that because they're underlyingly so compliant and conformist in their thinking, it's impossible for them to direct their anger at its proper targets -- they're unable even to name those targets, and so all kinds of whimsical scenarios and fantasy foes are dreamed up to expend the anger on -- like Obama the "socialist".

You see this personality type a lot among the sons of a certain type of overbearing father. The son is in fact crushed and cowed and can never get out from under Dad's shadow, but at the same time he worships Dad and would like to be like him, and often enough adopts Dad's bluff Sir Oracle manner, though in a brittle and unconvincing way.

(If this description seems to apply to Pwog Naderbaiters too, there's something to that. Maybe that isn't another post after all.)

Anyway, I conclude that folks who are excited and energized to any great extent by all that talk-radio baying and barking are people with rather badly wounded personalities, people suffering from understandable fury and frustration but also deeply cowed. The contradictory elements of their natures are pulling them in so many different directions that they have to construct an imaginary world to live in, peopled by mythical entities whose outlines match the oddly-shaped mental space that they have left for a foe -- the strange little interstitial spandrel where anger and hatred are not forbidden, and therefore can only be compulsory.

Pwog hatred and fear and overestimation of these poor souls requires some explanation, too, of course.

It's not a mirror-image relationship, though the family resemblances of the two sides are hard to miss. Pwogs too are enamored of the Bad Dad who keeps them in a cage, and pride themselves on the self-emasculation of Crackpot Realism. Pwogs too are under the harrow and pride themselves on their ability to stay there, stoic and uncomplaining.

Pwogs don't generally think that Teabaggers are having a better time than they are, though. And they don't think other people are laughing at them (though some of us are). Pwogs think they're the ones who are laughing, and they're the ones having the better time. Whether they really are or not -- whatever "really" might mean in this context -- is anybody's guess.

Teabaggers believe in imaginary entities -- like creeping socialism in the United States. Pwogs don't believe in imaginary entities, exactly, but they treat hypotheticals as if they were real: If we could just get a veto-proof Pwog senate! (If pigs could fly, we could have Buffalo pig wings.)

What both sides have in common, perhaps, is an excessive ability to believe what they've been told. Teabaggers believe all that stuff about spending and waste and balancing the budget that they heard from Bad Dad, and Pwogs believe what they were taught in civics class -- by a different, surrogate dad, but no less bad: an institutional rather than a personal Dad.

Pwogs and teabaggers -- a case of two maimed, mutilated, limping Calibans, each seeing his own ravaged face in the mirror of the Other?

There's more to be said on this subject, but maybe this is enough for one evening.

Comments (13)

Dave Kunes:

But Owen, what about BASTARDS?

>> it's impossible for them to direct their anger at its proper targets -- they're unable even to name those targets

A 50-year, multi-billion dollar barrage of pro-business, anti-gummint propaganda paid for by a few right-wing families has done much of the misdirecting.

The left has never tried to counter that barrage in any organized way, thereby digging its own grave.

Carolyn Kay


once again the selfless father of this site has credited me owen smellfungus
-by lapse-

where the post is utterly
beyond my ability to create

this i must guess is the work
of the man himself

the august anti-tully boy

doc smiff of armpit hollow

ps i'll make no claims for
its pellucid hegelian gestures

they speak eloquently
for themselves


"Pwogs think they're the ones who are laughing, and they're the ones having the better time. Whether they really are or not -- whatever "really" might mean in this context -- is anybody's guess."

Are these "think" and "really" in their Pickwickian senses?

Like Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg, pwogs and teabaggers are twin sons from different mothers.


Just wanted to thank you Father Smith (or Owen?????) for a wonderful post!


This one was my doing. Filed in the wrong bin, got attributed to Owen, who I see promptly disclaimed paternity of this particularly rambling Rambler essay.

Counseling sobriety is not a formula for popularity, but it has to be done. Leave it to the Futuristas and Teabaggers to slug it out, and pick an opportunity in this target-rich environment.

Save the Oocytes:

Pwogs don't believe in imaginary entities, exactly...

Not even the justness and greatness of prelapsarian America before the neocons ruined its good name?


Good point about the historical imaginary entities. The other such, of course, is the "progressive" Democratic Party.


i wanna praise this post too. penetrating the thoughts of these characters is one of the most difficult parts of politix for me. i look forward to part 2.


As well-written and entertaining as this post is, I think it's pretty wrong overall. The distasteful emphasis here on the emotional makeup of political creatures -- rather than the social forces acting them -- is almost pwogian and leads to a pwogian place-- that a teabagger is a teabagger, a pwog is a pwog, a leftist a leftist -- and never do the twains meet.

If that's really how it all works - I think leftists probably have the worst relationship with Dad overall -- since most of us really hate official authority-- but must have been brought up in homes where our siblings did our chores, but very badly. This would explain the American leftist tendency to whine ( from a blog or listserv) about what the left 'should' do and the tendency for this in later years to curdle into the Cockburnian (and increasingly MJSmithian) tendency toward nihilism and schadenfreude.

I think the explanation of who is who and why is far simpler:

Most Americans feel powerless and know they are getting screwed up and down from folks who have more power than they do. Teabaggers, pwogs and leftists occupy a continuum of greater-to-lesser ignorance/indoctrination in relation to the causes and the remedies. I think there is definitely an authoritarian personality type but I have yet to see a one-to-one correspondence between that personality and one's political leanings. It's also true that the majority of Americans are not teabagger, pwog or leftist but rather decent, overworked people with very little time for or interest in politics. They're right-wing on some things and left on others and ripe for organizing as things get worse and worse. I think it would be foolish to regard the teabagger right as some immutable core that can't get bigger or smaller depending on what the rest of us do.


I think it would be foolish to regard the teabagger right as some immutable core that can't get bigger or smaller depending on what the rest of us do.

"Immutable" would certainly be too strong. But there was a lot of clear downright mental illness on display in the recent bagfest.

A different kind of society might well produce fewer crazy people. The particular kind of craziness many Teabaggers seem to have is rather easy to situate and unpack in the context of the society we have.

But still, craziness is craziness. Trying to talk sense to crazy people is not a very good use of your time.

Worrying about them is also a waste of time. They're really not a force in themselves -- just cracked shrill voices in a choir recruited by people who are, as Nixon said, "crazy like a fox."

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