Monday, 1 November 2010

In which I guard against generalisation and have a pop at the Tea Party, all at the same time

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

(Or, in which I bang on at some length.)

I love almost nothing more than a sweeping generalisation. It's a glorious rhetorical tool. 'Women,' I say, with authority; 'men, dogs, Americans, writers', followed by some definitive statement. Sometimes, even worse, I have been known to use the universal 'we', thus claiming to speak for all humans.

It's a shocking habit and I am going to put myself in the corner with a big old D for Dunce's hat until I learn the error of my ways.

The rock and the hard place is this. If you qualify everything you say then your proposition falls into creaky on one hand on the other hand fence-sitting. You may end up saying nothing. If you barge ahead with the general, then you risk being hated by everyone on Twitter, as poor Stephen Fry discovered when he did (or possibly did not) say that women do not like sex.

Lately, I have been rightly reprimanded for asking if America has gone mad. It was a naughty bit of bomb-throwing. What I should have said is that there are elements of the American body politic which seem a little crazed to me. That is not quite as sexy as claiming that an entire nation has gone nuts. It does have the advantage of being more correct.

The strangeness that has been exercising me lives mostly in the Tea Party. There is a parallel curiosity, which is how many in the media insist that the Tea Party candidates are not oddities, but tremendous representatives of real Americans and real American values.

Here is a selection of representatives from that great grass roots movement. See what you think:

In Delaware, the Tea Party candidate for congress, Glen Urquhart has this to say: ‘Do you know, where does this phrase ‘separation of church and state’ come from? The exact phrase ‘separation of Church and State’ came out of Adolph Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of Church and State, ask them why they’re Nazis.’ Yeah, baby, ask those pesky liberals why they are all devotees of Adolph. Go on, ask them.

Talking of Nazis, there is the lovely Rich Iott of Ohio, whose hobby is dressing up in SS uniform and performing Nazi re-enactments. (Certainly not quite the home life of our own dear queen.) When asked why, he said: 'I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things.’ It was incredible, all that invading Poland and stuff. Iott later said the Nazi soldiers 'were doing what they thought was right for their country.' So that’s all perfectly fine, then.

Joe Miller, the Tea Party favourite son up in Alaska, not only likes getting his own private security guards to handcuff journalists who dare ask questions, but is a big fan of East Germany: ‘The first thing that has to be done is secure the border. East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow. Now, obviously, other things were involved. We have the capacity to, as a great nation, secure the border. If East Germany could, we could.’ I love that ‘obviously other things were involved’ throwaway. Let us pause and wonder what those 'other things' might have been.

John Raese, the Tea Party candidate in West Virginia, wins the prize for unvarnished honesty: ‘I made my money the old-fashioned way. I inherited it. I think that’s a great thing to do. I hope that more people have that opportunity as soon as we abolish inheritance tax in this country.’ Too, too new austerity. And a perfect demonstration of standing up for the little guy against those snobbish Liberal Elites.

And of course, the best for last: the incomparable Sharron Angle, the Tea Party darling tipped to beat Harry Reid in Nevada.

She believes that abortion should be made illegal even in cases of rape and incest. When asked if exceptions for these should be made she said: ‘You know, I’m a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.’ She also said that if girls did get pregnant with their rapist's baby they should 'make lemons into lemonade'.

She would like America to withdraw from the United Nations, which she believes has been ‘captured by the far Left’. She wants to eliminate the Department of Education, which she thinks is ‘unconstitutional’.

She also has a talent for the inexplicable comment. She told a Hispanic student union meeting: ‘some of you look Asian to me’. (Despite vast amounts of parsing, no one has been able to work out what quite what that meant.)

She has famously refused to answer questions from the press, and has been seen actually running away from reporters on several occasions. A few days ago, a couple of members of the press managed to get close enough to shout out some questions on foreign policy. Angle stayed mute for several minutes, until, finally, she stopped, turned, and said the immortal words: ‘The two wars that we are in right now are exactly what we are in.’ It’s genius. It’s Dada. It’s performance art.

Of course America has not gone mad. The enchanting Jon Stewart Rally for Sanity proved the continuing existence of crowds of moderate people of good heart, who are willing to go out in the cold with correctly spelled signs. Only 20% of Americans believe that President Obama is a secret Muslim. (I admit this could be interpreted as a slightly scary number, but I like to think at least 6% of them were joking.) It's just that the nutty people are very, very nutty, and so they suck up all the oxygen in the room. 'Candidate believes in science' is not a headline; 'Christine O'Donnell thinks evolution is a myth' is.

For weeks now, I have wanted to make a rash prediction. I kept shying away from it, because I have absolutely no empirical evidence to back it up. But here it is:

I think the GOP is going to do less well than predicted. I think they will lose the Senate and win the House, but not with the sixty, seventy, even eighty seats that some people are saying. (Nate Silver's worst case scenario for Dems is a loss of 78 seats, but I have heard some people talk of 90.)My notion goes against all polling evidence. I am almost certainly wrong. Mid-terms always go against the party in power. All reputable commentators are saying it is a wave election. In an acute recession, people get angry and frightened and want to throw the bums out. I just wonder if, in the quiet of the polling booth, the voters might stop and wonder about exactly who it is they are voting in.

After all that, most necessary soothing photographs -

The salvia, still flowering:

1st Nov 2

As is the brave little rose:

1st Nov 3

The sedum and the smokebush are in their pomp:

1st Nov 4

As is the acer:

1st Nov 6

One of my favourite little ferns:

1st Nov 5

The last of the leaves on the apple trees:

1st Nov 8

And the viola, because a Monday is not a Monday without a viola:

1st Nov 11

Finally, two sentient creatures who have not the remotest interest in who wins the mid-terms:

1st Nov 1


  1. Well, I think being a bit shouty about some things is a positive character trait and not a flaw at all. Come out of that D for Dunce corner immediately, I shout. Nicely, of course.

  2. Lillyanne - how very kind you are. I always listen to my readers, so shall come out of the corner immediately.

  3. My mind actually boggles when I read those quotes. Scary stuff.

  4. Love the quotes - they make our lot look almost normal.

    Hope you are right in your prediction but not sure how keen the electorate is on sanity at the moment: "We're as mad as hell and are going to show it, no matter what the consequences" seems to be the tenor of the debate.

  5. I love the quotes but it makes me realize that our politicians are not alone! they are in high company. We have several like Sharron in Sri Lanka - lots really.

    Thank you for the pics as usual gorgeous! and only one of the dogs....

  6. Those of us in America who are horrified by the Tea Party-- particularly its anti-intellectualism and fine refusal to believe in facts-- generalize just as you do. It is a function of despair. We (there I go, "we," when it could just be only the people I know) feel utterly disenfranchised, barred from claiming our share of the values and culture of the nation to which we have always belonged, told that we are not real Americans, that we are second-class citizens at best but Forces of Evil at worst. Since we are not part of America anymore, all we can do is shake our heads and say "America has gone mad," just as you do. I'll vote tomorrow, I always do, but I don't feel like it matters much.

  7. Alex - I thinkg you are right, it IS scary.

    Huw - still keeping my fingers crossed for sanity, although I fear you may be right.

    Mystica - promise more dogs tomorrow. You are so kind to ask.

    Ellie - oh, your lovely comment made me sad. Don't give up hope. I know there is the good, moderate middle. I know your vote counts. Your very own delightful voice proves that there is more to American politics than the crazy Angles and Palins.

  8. For what it's worth, I voted today and walked away feeling like Rocky, for some reason, with the absurd desire to hold my fists in the air and whoop. There are only four votes I cast that will matter, of which only 3 have a chance in hell of winning, but still, ticking my boxes it did feel as if I were still a part of America, so I apologize for making you sad.

    I do not know if I've mentioned how much I appreciate this blog.

  9. Ellie - never apologise. I felt sad because you felt disenfranchised, but now you are Special Voting Rocky Person, and I feel happy again. By the way, I have the exact same reaction to voting that you do. I come out of the booth filled with delight, remembering all the women who fought for me to get the vote. (And some men too. Hat tip to Mr John Stuart Mill.) And thank you so much for saying you appreciate the blog. Don't want to fall into sentimentality, but it does mean a lot to hear that.

  10. Just wondering how you did on your prediction:
    "I think they [Republicans] will lose the Senate and win the House, but not with the sixty, seventy, even eighty seats that some people are saying."

    Looks like you were right about the Senate - apparently the Democrats have clung on. But it looks as thought the Republicans have gained at least 60 seats in the House (not sure how many are Tea-Party activists).

    Look forward to reading your assessment later.

    One bit of good news: California voted for Prop 20, which puts redistricting in the hands of an independent commission (which should prevent blatant gerrymandering) - perhaps in time the rest of the states will follow.


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