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Class War For Idiots / March 22, 2010
By Alexander Zaitchik

Wall Mart Hippies

This story was first published on Alternet.

There is a fresh interpretive fad in the young field of Tea Party Studies: The New Right of 2010 as the New Left of the 1960s.

According to this nascent meme, today’s conservative grassroots holds strong echoes of earlier radicalism on the left. The Tea Party movement that worships Sarah Palin and screams for Barack Obama’s birth certificate is, in this view, more than just the latest herpetic outbreak of Richard Hofstadter’s paranoid “pseudo-conservatism.” It is a reincarnation of the New Left and 1960s counterculture. The Tea Partiers, it is becoming fashionable to argue, are the heirs not just of the John Birch Society and the young Barry Goldwater, but also of Students for a Democratic Society and the young Abbie Hoffman.

If this analogy smells suspect, it’s for good reason. Yet it appears to be gaining traction, especially among a certain breed of moderate with confused understandings of Tea Party conservatism, the New Left, and ’60s counterculture. In late February, Michael Lind wrote a Salon piece in which he claimed, “The tea partiers are the hippies of our time…In Glenn Beck, the countercultural right has found its own Abbie Hoffman.”

Although Hoffman was never a hippie (he called flower children “glassy eyed zombies” and passed through the civil rights and antiwar movements on his way to founding the Youth International Party in 1968), and Beck is neither exuberant nor radical (he is a sexually repressed Mormon businessman who exemplifies modern crackpot reaction), Lind’s strange comparison nonetheless found an admirer in David Brooks of the New York Times. Last Friday, March 4, Brooks expanded on Lind’s thesis in a column titled “The Wal-Mart Hippies.” Echoing Lind, Brooks writes that, much like 1960s leftwing radicals, the Tea Partiers want “to take on The Man, return power to the people, upend the elites and lead a revolution.” He called Lind’s comparison of Beck to Hoffman “astute.”

“Obtuse” would be a better description, says Paul Krassner, a founding member of the Yippies and a friend of the late Abbie Hoffman. “Whereas the Yippies saw through the propaganda machine, the Teabaggers are soaked in it,” explains Krassner. “We were active in a time of abundance, they are active in a time of economic catastrophe; so we fought villains and they fight scapegoats. Abbie Hoffman was a seeker of justice; Glenn Beck rationalizes injustice. Abbie was hysterically funny; he made people laugh and think simultaneously. Beck promulgates hysteria; he exploits the fear that he helps create. To link them as part of the same tradition is sixties bashing at worst and sloppy journalism at best.”

Brooks is a particularly sloppy practitioner of ’60s bashing. He opens his piece by declaring, “About 40 years ago, a social movement arose to destroy the establishment [we] call the New Left.”

This chronology places the New Left’s creation in 1970, around the time the movement peaked and imploded in a spasm of factionalist nihilism. The year of the New Left’s birth was actually 1962, when Tom Hayden, then an undergraduate, conceived and coauthored “The Port Huron Statement.” This document and the new generational liberalism it symbolized did not aim, as Brooks claims, to destroy the establishment. It merely asked probing and fundamental questions about American society and the obligations of citizenship in what was then a deeply flawed and incomplete democracy.

No comparable document marks the creation of the Tea Party movement. In place of the “Port Huron Statement” and the proto-New Left works of scholars like C. Wright Mills, Paul Goodman and William Appleman Williams, the Tea Partiers have “Santelli’s Rant,” Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed and Glenn Beck’s “We Surround Them” Fox special costarring Chuck Norris.

In their rush to present a catchy frame for understanding the Tea Party, Lind and Brooks fail to think through the other half of the equation. Most flagrantly, Brooks treats the New Left and the counterculture as interchangeable phenomena. Although they increasingly overlapped as the decade wore on, they represent distinct wings of the 1960s. Listing the differences between the New Left and the Tea Party Right, Brooks writes: “One was motivated by war, and the other is motivated by runaway federal spending. One went to Woodstock, the other is more likely to go to Wal-Mart.”

Leaving aside the fact that the famous concert in upstate New York was not a New Left event, the differences between Woodstock and Wal-Mart are not exactly minor. There is a vast and defining gulf separating the acts of screwing in the mud on acid, and bargain shopping for a new plasma screen on which to watch Fox News. Brooks is clearly proud of his term “Wal-Mart Hippies” (which he recently repeated during an appearance on the “Colbert Report”) but the phrase is oxymoronic. There is little meaningful commonality between a youth movement based on the quest for authenticity, beauty and release, and a largely geriatric one based on anger, ignorance and fear.

But back to the New Left. Unlike Tea Party conservatism, the New Left from its earliest stirrings to its final crack-up was an intellectual movement, based not just on deeds and street protest, but also on books and ideas. It incubated during the late 1950s and early ’60s on the state campuses of Wisconsin, Michigan and California, inspired by historians, social scientists and activists-theorists on the non-Communist left.

The same was true across the pond, where the British New Left coalesced around the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the journal Studies and Left Review. This transatlantic movement may have spawned Little Red Book-waving posers and slogan screamers, but it also nurtured a new generation of serious critics and scholars, from the philosopher Michael Walzer to the historian Gabriel Kolko.

No comparable firmament exists within 100 miles of the Tea Party movement. Even the late New Left at its most anti-intellectual constituted a veritable Enlightenment compared to what passes for political discourse in the Tea Party scene. The new conservative grassroots was born into the arms of Roger Ailes and nursed on Dick Armey-scripted email alerts. In place of pioneering history, social science and investigative journalism, Tea Partiers consume endless quantities of religious pseudo-history and warmed-over conspiracy theories spooned out by baby-food sites like NewsMax and FreeRepublic. If the Tea Party movement has a Bible, it is not Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, but Cleon Skousen’s illustrated work of Mormon Dispensationalism, The 5,000 Year Leap; if it has an in-movement journal, it is nothing on the level of the New Left’s Ramparts, or even National Review, the guiding publication of an earlier conservative insurgency; rather, it’s whatever is on AM talk-radio.

But for Brooks, both movements are similarly delusional and quixotic. He writes:

Members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.

No one who has spent any time with the Tea Party crowd or read a book by Noam Chomsky in the last 20 years could have written this sentence. Whatever one thinks of Chomsky, he is no conspiracy theorist. One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Chomsky from the left is that his work is “insufficiently theoretical”—i.e., it does not provide easy, overarching narratives. Chomsky is careful to describe his densely sourced works as “institutional analyses”—analyses that are strikingly devoid of “shadowy networks” or conspiratorial rhetoric. Anyone who doubts the absurdity of Brooks’ comparison is encouraged to read Chomsky’s American Power and the New Mandarins back-to-back with Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.

Still, Brooks remains convinced that “the similarities [between 1960s radicals and the Tea Partiers] are more striking than the differences.” As does Lind, Brooks argues that “Tea Partiers have adopted the tactics of the New Left. They go in for street theater, mass rallies, marches and extreme statements that are designed to shock polite society out of its stupor.”

This comparison, too, depends on having little engagement with either today’s Tea Party protests or 1960s protest culture, particularly its most creative elements in the form of anarchist street theater groups like the Motherfuckers, the Diggers and the Yippies. “[These late ’60s-era groups] were genuinely creative, subversive and radical,” says J.P. Harpignies, author of Political Ecosystems and a veteran of both the New Left and the counterculture. “They also lived in tenement apartments without money or mainstream political or media allies. This is hardly the case with those populating Tea Party protests marked by racist signage and the support of wealthy demagogues, giant corporate-funded think tanks and a conservative media establishment led by Fox News.”

Where the Tea Partiers are ideologically confused to the point of incoherence, the Yippies and Co. were by and large well-read leftists with anti-authoritarian beliefs they could cogently defend. As for their “extreme statements,” the Yippies were trying to shock people. The Tea Partiers, by contrast, don’t understand why eyes widen when they speak of the president’s Kenyan citizenship, the Communist Czars who once ruled Russia or FEMA concentration camps. They just think they’re talking plain Palin-style common sense.

Today’s New Right is not yesterday’s New Left. Glenn Beck is not Abbie Hoffman circa 1970. If anything, he is Hoffman’s Yippie partner turned Yuppie greed head, Jerry Rubin, circa 1980. Nor are the Tea Partiers “Wal-Mart Hippies” or “Wal-Mart New Leftists.” They’re Wal-Mart Birchers. It’s on that side of the 1960s their forerunners stood on at the time, and it’s on that side they remain.


Alexander Zaitchik is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and former editor of The eXile. His book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance, will be published by Wiley in June. Pre-order it today!

Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance --Alexander Zaitchik

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Add your own

  • 1. matt  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 10:22 am

    That was a good article, gotta buy the book when it comes out. I had no idea anyone would try and compare the Tea Party movement with the New Left, mostly because it’s obviously absurd to do so.

  • 2. John  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 10:54 am

    This is the kind of stuff I used to expect from the exile. Good show. Brooks is a pretty funny guy.

  • 3. nampa1  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 11:15 am

    The only thing the Left has is social justice and grass roots groups. The Right can’t champion social justice, but it can co-opt Left grass roots tactics like rallies, protests, etc. They can steal the “thunder” of the Left.
    Since the Left fights for social justice, and the vast majority of any population face social injustice, the Left, by definition, is a mass movement. What we are observing here is a society so deluded from decades of red baiting, yellow journalism and lack of reading, that a right-wing movement can actually coalesce, with the help of billionaire funded puppeteers.

  • 4. FrankMcG  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Tea Party philosophy begins and ends at bumper sticker slogans (which explains their obsession with constantly using the “Change” 2008 campaign slogan to mock those that don’t agree with them; they are projecting their own thought process onto others).

    That book cover probably put the stick on Beck’s forehead instead. This will give plenty of fuel to all the martyr whiners saying THE LEFT is out to silence them.

  • 5. Eric  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for posting this, because I don’t get over to Alternet very often, and I was desperately willing someone to tee off on Brooks, as he should be beaten down on a routine basis.

    That piece of garbage column exemplifies Brooks’ writing: obsessed with the Baby Boomers, predicated on a false premise and false equivalencies, and loaded with shallow, sweeping generalizations.

    The man’s entire worldview is based on a war between the Sharper Image and Sears catalogues that goes on somewhere in that howling void he calls a head.

  • 6. Graham C  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    “Abbie was hysterically funny [said Paul Kassner]…”

    The funniest moment of Abbie Hoffman’s career:

  • 7. Doctor Doomlove  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Fuck Glenn Beck and the sad sack Tea Party liberals. There is a real radical right wing out here, but these angry soccer moms ain’t it. The real right is a force of nature, it never dies, it just retreats into the backwoods and waits for the cities to burn and the socialists to self-destruct.

    As a card-carrying knuckle-dragger who lives way out in the sticks after growing up in liberal latte-land, let me explain something to you city slicker jew fucks: your time is ending. The 21st century is about survival, it’s not about gay ass protests, socialist boondoggles, liberals vs. conservatives, or whether your fat fuck aunt can buy Chinese plastic pumpkins at Wal-Mart. It’s about knowing how to kill a squirrel, heat and cook with firewood, catch fish, get water when the grid goes down, grow your own food and kill anyone who looks like they don’t belong. You all need to start thinking like the hillbillies in “Deliverance”: if you’re not from my tribe, I’ll hunt you down, rape you if I’m so inclined, shoot you and roast you over a fire if you don’t get the fuck out of my territory. That’s the only politics that matters now Exilers, so fuck the talking heads in faraway capitals and the Jew York intelligentsia and the 6 billion useless eaters who never should’ve been born in the first place. Have a nice day, you liberal fucks.

  • 8. unger  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I can’t help but chuckling a bit at the fact that the old New Left may have produced Kolko and Goodman, but it’s today’s right-wing-free-market-radical libertarian anarchists who actually take them seriously, while the metastasized Left has forgotten them and set to pushing Change Megacorporations Can Believe In.

  • 9. Oooltra Violet  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    It’s the revolution, man. We’re still dropping acid, ludes, and waiting. Big expose about The Man coming soon on the KPFK Comedy Hour. Dial there, or be square.

  • 10. RanDomino  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    See, they’re exactly the same because they have nothing in common.

  • 11. mydick  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    You are absolutely correct. David Brooks can eat shit and die, I hate his stupid smug face.

  • 12. Graham C  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    @ Doctor Doomlove

    “As a card-carrying knuckle-dragger who lives way out in the sticks after growing up in liberal latte-land, let me explain something to you city slicker jew fucks: your time is ending. The 21st century is about survival…”

    Are you new to The eXiled? They already published that story:

  • 13. aPeasant  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    @ Doctor Doomlove

    You guys and your homo-erotic, TV induced fantasy world are the most entertaining apocalypsers by far. But you’ve got to drop the survivalist/U.F.C. part.

    High School dropouts know that any modern city with no public sanitation for a couple of months will have our old Jew friend Yersinia Pestis doing me long before you.

  • 14. Chester  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    David Brooks seems to be pulling to a lead over Thomas Friedman in the Most Retarded Blowhard competition.

  • 15. mr. mike  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    …And that takes a lot of carefully planned stupidity; Friedman claimed the world was “flat”, Brooks had his “BoBos”, but claiming that the Teabaggers are “Walmart Hippies” instead of the proto-Falange takes real fumblefuckery. And the TP is some sort of quasi-fascist outfit in utero; all they need is a true leader or a martyr (or both like Jose Primo of the Spanish Falange) and things will begin to move on very rusty rails.

  • 16. Gustavo Arellano  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Brooks is a baboso!

  • 17. Prince Thun  |  March 22nd, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    @ Doctor Doomlove

    RITE THIS BACKWARDS OVER THE UNIBROW, then read it in front of a mirror –

    Forest Lawn, Glendale, Great Mausoleum, Holly Terrace, Sanctuary of Ascension.

    Michael’s there and waiting.

    What’s that? They don’t give you sharp things like pencils or pens?

    #14 Crayola will do. Sit on it; it’ll go a lot smoother.

  • 18. Nicolai Cesky  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 4:12 am

    @people responding to Dr.Doomlove….

    Have you ever met a redneck from the boonies that had a vocabulary like that? He’s fucking with you.

    Thanks for the article. I’m actually confused by these teabaggers. I have no idea what they stand for, except not wanting what Democrats want. Thats not much of a platform.

    I honestly don’t know why we don’t just give these people their own area in the mid-west and let them possess as many firearms as they want so they can get all right wing on each others asses.

    I’m tired of hearing their nonsensical rants, all of which are just pieces of rhetorical crap spoon fed to them by Fox. It gives me a headache.

    BTW, this is a great example of the Right personified. Lefties protest when GWB starts wars and kills tens of thousands of people. The Right protests when the US gets health care coverage for its citizens. Fantastic stuff.

  • 19. mydick  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 6:14 am

    @14,15 – I don’t know, It’s still hard to beat Friedman’s bizarre claim that the Chinese system of government beats ours because it can get things done. That was an absolutely surreal read.

  • 20. Homer Erotic  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 7:39 am

    The Teabaggers remind me in some ways of the adenoidal know-it-all college-campus left in terms of hysterical attitude and cultural myopia, but the latter are mostly just a bunch of dysfunctional middle-class kids playing a game of “dress-up”. The sheer level of overheated rhetoric coming from those Tea Party folks does make me concerned they might try getting violent. They would certainly get their asses kicked if they got that stupid, but how much damage might they do before they were finally put down?

    A lot of people would probably tell me I’m worried about nothing, and I hope they are right.

    @Dr. Doomlove: Eric? Eric Cartman? Is that you?

  • 21. Brendan  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Could you guys leave Dr Doomlove alone? If you are too rude to him, he’ll stop contributing. Then how will I find out how Mad Max IV ends?

  • 22. Anon  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I love the Right Wing Advertisements on this page – so very hilarious. Because we all know that exiled fans just love Ann Coulter.

    (Note for the stupid ones: Yes, that was sarcasm.)

  • 23. doc bleu  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    fucking a, damn good article. this is why i came to the exliled in the first place!!!! thank you for this! thank you for opening mine eyes to something. this was enlightening and frightening 🙂

  • 24. snairad  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Great article! Loved your NPR Spot this week! You should hire nampa1 (3rd comment); this is an amazing/well put statement!

  • 25. adolphhitler  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    @7 dear dr…so how many squirrels have you eaten lately? not many i bet. i would bet however you are getting foodstamps. since you live so far in the boonies i bet you dont work, but i bet you take welfare to gey by. the world you speak of doesnt exist but i bet you wish it did. thats because you have been unable to compete in the real world. i also bet you’ve just got tons of good pussy out there helping you eat those rodents. chicks really dig eating rodents and i bet they really suck up to a guy like you who can put them on the table….by the way, youlove to bash liberals, can you define the word for me? i bet not

  • 26. Whoopdy Do  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    nampa1’s is a well put statement?

    “What we are observing here is a society so deluded … that a right-wing movement can actually coalesce, with the help of billionaire funded puppeteers.”


    Who the hell does he think George Soros is? Both sides have their billionaire globalist backers.

    I so wish we could get past all this left-right smokescreen. The real struggle is between the top and the bottom. We have more in common with each other than we do with the likes of Soros and the Rockefellers.

  • 27. Whoopdy Do  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Also, as I wait for my comment to be “moderated,” I’m wondering who “moderated” Dr. Doomlove’s comment.

    My compliments for passing it. Sheer poetry!

  • 28. paul cripps  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    once again it comes down to americas awfull public education.someone who never completed highschool in the sixties,is much better read and worldly then over half the current colledge graduates.imagine demonstrating for a bunch of elites who absolutely dispise you.the teabaggers are truley ignorant fuckheads.

  • 29. joe  |  March 24th, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Doctor Doomlove just achieved a one post toast. I give him a golf clap for his superior trolling abilities.

  • 30. FrankMcG  |  March 24th, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I still have no idea what that lady’s sign is trying to convey.

  • 31. Hagfish  |  March 24th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Joe gave Doomlove the clap!

    Joe gave Doomlove the clap!

    Ha ha haaaaa! Eso es más divertido que Ann Coulter conseguir impants de fibra de carbono!

    He gave him the clap.

    Get it? Ann did, sorta.

  • 32. az  |  March 25th, 2010 at 6:04 am

    just take the “culture” part out of the title and it’s about right.

  • 33. Harry Ballsach  |  March 25th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Dr. Doomlove: I love you. From a distance. But I love you.

  • 34. selfhatingbean  |  March 25th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    @DoCToR DooMLoVE, ahh the smell of primal man! the smell of your encrusted carcass,it gets me off! i dont whether its the pheromones or the thought of you raping my dead corpse, but im truly smitten!

  • 35. Doctor Doomlove  |  March 26th, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Of course all you city faggots love me. Everyone loves the tribal primitives, because we are the fact, and you are the fiction! You sorry fucks always have to send country boys to fight for your jew asses, and even they can’t defeat the mountain people of Afghanistan, and never will!

    And guess what, the country boys don’t want to protect your socialist asses any more. They’re looking after their own now and preparing for the hillbilly jihad right here in the lower 48. So get ready for the homegrown holy war, the new Mongol raids on your cities, and the road warrior attacks on your minivans and volvos. This is my first and last warning, which I give only because I have a soft spot for you Exiled Jews: the new Dark Age has begun!

  • 36. jimbo  |  March 26th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Does God actually exist and for some reason love me? I mean goddamn this is the fullfilment of all my dreams. The hypocritical urban pseudo-intelligentsia who were responsible for me being exiled from the metropolitan center where I was born and the sick backwards white trash who abused and incarcerated me when I was stranded in their territory, now they are going to fight eachother to death! Ha Ha Ha, I’m an EU citizen even though I was born in Chicago and I’ve ripped off enough money to retire to Amsterdam, smoke weed, drink beer, fuck whores and watch you stupid bastards kill each other on tv. Problem is they got some new laws here about selling weed and alcohol in the same establishment, hence the only place I can smoke weed and drink beer and watch a wide screen television is filled with Brit tourists. I don’t mind chav types who slug it out with me I’ve already fractured my hand three times and had ten stitches in my face, the ambulance rides are fun and the nurses at the hospital are friendly. But these goddamn green peace type Britishers depress the fuck out of me like when I’m laughing hysterically about some school or work place massacre in the states or combat casualties in Iraq. They want to help and understand me or some fucking thing. Brings me down. I’m the twisted product of a sick system and I like being that way nothing to goddamn understand.

  • 37. BS Artist USA  |  March 28th, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Yo, Doomlove, No.7,
    for a squirrel-hunting conservative rapist, you write too well. Not a single obvious grammar error.What’s up with that? There is not a single man in Montana or Idaho militia who can do that.
    Well, anyway, me thinks you couldn’t survive a day without electricity in your NYC apartment. How else would you browse Internet gay sites without it?

  • 38. RayMadrid  |  April 7th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    @Dr. Doomlove

    Dude. You’re awesome. Enough said.

  • 39. RecoverylessRecovery  |  April 14th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    “Wal-Mart Birchers”


  • 40. учти  |  July 31st, 2010 at 11:44 am

    David Brooks’ head on a platter!

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