Culture Wars : ‘Take Our Country Back’

Confederate flag at Tea Party March on Washington, September 12, 2009. Image from Think Progress.

Latest culture war in America:
Nationalism in dangerous form

Many fear that they have lost the country that was bequeathed to them — and to them alone — like an old pocket watch from their grandfather.

By Leonard Zeskind / The Rag Blog / April 12, 2010

At first glance it seems inexplicable: Confederate battle flags waving in Washington state and Washington, D.C., when the issue is health care.

Placards that read, “America is a Christian Nation,” appearing in marches when the stated concern is the federal deficit.

Barack Obama labeled a “Lying African,” when presidents from Democrat Woodrow Wilson to Republican George H.W. Bush have raised taxes without being dubbed aliens.

Where does the anger come from to call congressmen hateful names?

The answer resides inside the tea party anthem — oft-repeated since the protests on Capitol Hill last September — “Take Our Country Back.” Many fear that they have lost the country that was bequeathed to them — and to them alone — like an old pocket watch from their grandfather.

Theirs is a patriotism in which the common good devolves down to the individual privileges of property and wealth. It is a nationalism in which race is implicit, rather than explicit.

The crowds singing “Take It Back” might be all white, but when a black or brown face shows up it is welcomed as a sign of the “non-racial” character of their all-white cause.

From this medium of contradictory beliefs about “real Americans” and inglorious fears of “dispossession” has sprung a movement that is still developing and has not yet reached its final form.

Certainly, there are coldly dispassionate ideologues in this mix:

  • The conservative Republican operatives who train these new activists to become the foot soldiers for the party’s election campaigns.
  • The Ayn Rand libertarians who conflate Keynes with Marx, and a capitalist welfare state with socialism.
  • The old-line segregationists who regard every piece of federal civil rights law as an abrogation of states’ rights.
  • The hard core white nationalists who join the tea party movement hoping to convert its implicit whiteness into an explicit and coherent racism.

By themselves, these highly defined political strands are not strong enough to challenge the status quo. Intertwined with each other and with the chaotic mix of passions described above, however, the tea party movement has proven more powerful than expected.

It has transformed the political discourse and has systematically defied common-sense explanations.

While the tea parties have emerged during a period of economic distress, and unemployed job seekers are certainly in their midst, polling data tells us for the most part these people are not suffering financially themselves. According to a CNN survey in February, a full 66 percent of “tea party activists” said they made more than $50,000 a year.

Neither is this some form of populism, similar to the revolt by 19th century farmers. In this instance, the opposition to political and economic elites is predicated on the supposition that those at the “top” are using their power to serve those at the bottom, at the expense of those in the middle.

This is a form of Middle American nationalism more akin to that expressed by Gov. George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign than to the rarified blue-blood conservatism of William Buckley.

In the end, tea partiers are not engaged in a civil discussion with fellow Americans about public policy. Rather they are fighting a culture war against people they regard as enemies. The questions are whose America is the “real” America, and whether our society will remain open and democratic.

That is a decision all of us must make.

[Leonard Zeskind, author of Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. Zeskind blogs at This article was also published by the Kansas City Star.]

The Rag Blog

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5 Responses to Culture Wars : ‘Take Our Country Back’

  1. same BS different author. Yawn. I could strip off the author’s name, mix up the paragraphs, and the last several articles on this topic would be indistinguishable.

    Thorne, why don’t you just email your contributors one of your old tea party bashing articles and just have them repost with a new author credit? Would save them some time.

    The America they want back is the one that isn’t mortgaged so deeply that it will take generations to pay it off. The one where every problem isn’t met with yet another “federal solution/savior”. I know it shows my barely concealed racism to want to take America back to a time when its survival and prosperity weren’t in question, but screw it, I will just have to live with the shame.

  2. Anonymous says:

    DHS: You don’t get it – you folks are the ones writing these stories. The authors just transcribe them. Dude, wake up.

  3. I am awake and stirring up trouble. This blog only publishes one side of the story because the readers here are only interested in one side of the story. I could fill the pages with kooky things left wingers do, but you wouldnt want to read about that. I am just here for the beer and the laughs.

  4. Let me relate a story to you. I could use this story to say that Medicare/Medicade and by extension OblamaCare is going to be horrible for the country. But I dont.

    Which makes me intellectually more honest than the majority of intellectual whores, including Mr. Zeskind, who write articles about tea parties and publish them in the Rag Blog. They take the fringes, the exceptions, and hold them up as representative of the whole tea party movement.

    Smith had gone through six months of radiation and chemotherapy — one week out of every month. She is in remission and had a donor for a transplant; being in remission is a prerequisite for the transplant.

    But her hopes of receiving the transplant were dashed in March, when she says, the Social Security Administration contacted her –without her soliciting it — and told her that her three year-old son was entitled to receive Social Security disability payments. Even though she didn’t ask for it, she signed the form and received her son’s first check.

    In April, Medicaid canceled her universal health care policy because her income level had risen with her son’s payments – making her ineligible for the insurance program.

    The problem is Jackson Memorial Hospital could not provide the procedure because the risk is too high. The universal policy from Medicaid helps shield the hospital from liability in this kind of case. Without it, they are subject to liability issues.

    Even though Smith offered to cancel her son’s disability benefits, she was told it’s too late.

    Now it turns out, that after intervention by state and federal lawmakers and the Social Security Admin, her surgery will happen. Does this mean that Medicare/Medicade is bad? No, but it makes you wonder what will become of those people who arent lucky enough to be a media story.

    Now you see you whores, that is how you write an article that is intelectually honest. I will send you a bill later.

  5. Richard says:

    How’s this for honesty, you stole the story from Rush Limburgers blog and didn’t credit him.

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