One of the side-effects of right wing rhetorical excess is the debasement of political language. During the past two years, as the political and media arms of the right wing have attempted to whip up the base, we have seen concepts such as “socialism” and “facism” used in such twisted ways that they no longer have meaning outside the community of political scholars who still share common definitions. Other words, like “racism,” are becoming sadly chipped away as they are up-ended by the right wing effort to feed white racial resentment. Particularly galling is the usurpation of the refrain, “We the people,” once an evocation of our pluralistic democracy, but now devolving into code for Tea Partiers and their sympathizers.
Glenn Beck’s black magic can perhaps be held responsible for helping to spread this aberration although it cropped up earlier among right-wing libertarians. Locally there is now a “We the People” group in Chesterfield, presumably a group organized in response to Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, that pushes Tea Party events and organizes “We the People” meet-ups and discussion groups with the goal of training “citizen leaders.”
If you search the term on google, you will find a myriad of examples that show that Tea Partiers rarely speak of themselves collectively in the first person plural, but with growing frequency as “we the people.” Just a couple of examples: a tea party member from Branson, Missouri talks about attendance at Tea Parties as “When we the people gather together … .” In their Mission statement, the Eureka Tea Party purports to speak for “we, the people of Eureka, Missouri and citizens of the United States.”
Which leaves the rest of “we the people,” the majority that voted for Barack Obama, with our mouths gaping in amazement. How dare they speak for us! A recent CBS poll finds that:
… 29 percent of those asked considered themselves Tea Party supporters and 54 percent did not. Fully 17 percent had no opinion either way.
“We the people” is 29 percent of the people?
It’s the same tactic used by GOP obstructionist pols who claim to be speaking for “the American people” – who, incidentally, voted their party out of the legislative majority in 2006. It reminds me of the way that back country hikers are often told never to run from predators like bears and cougars, but stand their ground and try look bigger than they are. Sometimes, I’m told it actually works. In this case, however, the strategy has had the effect of rendering a venerable phrase risible.