Quote of the Day

“Did you watch the debate with Christine O’Donnell, you know, the anti-self pleasuring, witchy candidate in Delaware? She wasn’t that good though. She’s not really a master debater.'” —Craig Ferguson

The Tea Party Is Typical Right Wing Extremism, Not Anything New

Frank Rich has a column today on the rage from the right, tracing it largely, but not entirely, to the economic collapse:

That wave of anger began with the parallel 2008 cataclysms of the economy’s collapse and Barack Obama’s ascension. The mood has not subsided since. But in the final stretch of 2010, the radical right’s anger is becoming less focused, more free-floating — more likely to be aimed at “government” in general, whatever the location or officials in charge. The anger is also more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage. This is a significant and understandable shift, if hardly a salutary one. The mad-as-hell crowd in America, still not seeing any solid economic recovery on the horizon, will lash out at any convenient scapegoat.

The rage was easier to parse at the Tea Party’s birth, when, a month after Obama’s inauguration, its founding father, CNBC’s Rick Santelli, directed his rant at the ordinary American “losers” (as he called them) defaulting on their mortgages, and at those in Washington who proposed bailing the losers out. (Funny how the Bush-initiated bank bailouts went unmentioned.) Soon enough, the anger tilted toward Washington in general and the new president in particular. And it kept getting hotter. In June 2009, still just six months into the Obama presidency, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith broke with his own network’s party line to lament a rise in “amped up” Americans “taking the extra step and getting the gun out.” He viewed the killing of a guard by a neo-Nazi Obama hater at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as the apotheosis of the “more and more frightening” post-election e-mail surging into Fox.

He argues that the rage from the Tea Party will continue regardless of the results of the election:

Don’t expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day — no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they’ll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history — and not just American history — fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial “elites.”

While a  bad economy, along with a black president, does contribute to this rage, Blue Texan makes a point which I’ve also made many times in the past: The Tea Party is just the most recent expression of the same right wing rage which we’ve had for decades and which becomes nosier whenever there is a Democrat in the White House. Multiple polls have shown that demographically the Tea Party is primarily made up of affluent older white male Republicans. They are just recycling many of the old beliefs spread by the John Birch Society and every other right wing movement of the past several decades. Blue Texan wrote:

Anyone who thinks the Teabaggers’ unhinged “anger and bitterness” will subside in the face of an improving economy really needs to take a closer look at objective polling on the Teabaggers and review the 1990s.

The ’90s was a time of economic prosperity, but because there was a Democrat in the White House, the far-right was in full freakout mode. Back then, Clinton/Gore’s black helicopters were coming for their guns and right-wing “patriots” like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph roamed the countryside.

But they weren’t called the “Tea Party.” They were the Angry White Men.

“These angry white men are one legion in a grassroots movement that has rewritten the political equation of the 1990s, and in the process helped to transform the Republican Party … An army of conservative grassroots groups has mobilised middle-class discontent with government into a militant political force, reaching for an idealised past with the tools of the onrushing future: fax machines, computer bulletin boards, and the shrill buzz of talk radio. They have forged alliances with the Gingrich generation of conservatives and strengthened their hand as the dominant voice within the GOP family.”

Sounds familiar, yes? It’s the same crowd.

Polls have shown that Teabaggers are lilly white and well off. They’re not the people getting kicked out of their houses by the banksters. They’re not unemployed. They’re not bearing the brunt of the Great Recession. They’re just doing what they do when Democrats are in charge. Obama’s death panels and FEMA camps have replaced Clinton’s black helicopters.

And of course, the fact that this president’s middle name is Hussein and he’s Muslim and black, well, that’s just a few extra scoops of nuts on the wingnut sundae.

These are John Birch Society types, and the crashing of the global economy — a direct result of the plutocratic “free market” [sic] orgy they helped usher in — is just a convenient excuse to act out.

That’s all it is.

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who Immortal, But Could Have Been a Woman; Next Season To Begin In US; Sherlock To Air In US

Tom Baker Doctor Who

This week I’m taking a break from the currently airing shows and will catch up on some Doctor Who news, extending to another work by current Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat. Incidentally, note how much of the Doctor Who news comes from leading newspapers in Great Britain, where events on the series often is big news.

Doctor Who has been able to continue since 1963 by having the lead character be able to regenerate should he die, paving the way for another actor to play the role. In a 1976 episode, The Deadly Assassin. the fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker) revealed that he can only regenerate twelve times. The writers never suspected that he could use up all thirteen lives. Now that we are up to the eleventh Doctor and it appears the show will continue for several years, most fans have probably assumed that they would work in a way around this limitation.

With current show runner Steven Moffat being a big fan of the original episodes, I had hoped Moffat would stick to canon here (not that the show has ever been that consistent) and have the Doctor find a way around this limitation. There is precedent for this, as the Time Lords once gave the Master a second set of lives for helping the Doctor. Instead of trying to find a way around the limitation, the show is simply ignoring the old limitation. The Guardian reports:

Fans have always thought that the 13th doctor would be the last, thanks to a 1976 Doctor Who episode, The Deadly Assassin, featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor in his fourth incarnation, and revealing for the first time the regeneration limit. But a passing comment in a children’s television programme later this month is set to rewrite history and cast the Doctor, iconic hero of the world’s most successful and longest-running science fiction series, as immortal.

The moment comes in the CBBC spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which stars former companion Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Matt Smith, who plays the current Doctor Who, guest stars in a two-part episode called The Death of the Doctor, to be screened on October 25 and 26. While the Doctor and Clyde Langer, played by Daniel Anthony, are in the process of outwitting spooky vulture undertakers the Shansheeth, Clyde asks how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor indicates that there is no limit. The action continues.

Fans of the show have been expecting an official moving of the goalposts for some time, but it was anticipated as part of the Christmas special, rather than in an after-school slot on the CBBC channel.

Back in 1976, 12 regenerations must have felt like a safely distant number to pluck from the ether. Now, however, with Smith playing the character in his 11th incarnation, circumventing the rule has begun to feel rather urgent. As JK Rowling hinted last week, once a hero has conquered the world, it is hard to put him away for good: we may also see an extension to the seven-book Harry Potter franchise, despite its very final ending and Nineteen Years Later epilogue.

All of the regenerations have been male, but at one time there actually was consideration of having a female Doctor according to The Telegraph:

Sydney Newman, who devised the long-running science-fiction show when he was head of BBC drama in the 1960s, was asked to help after the show suffered a slump in ratings in the 1980s and was taken off air temporarily.

He told Michael Grade, then the controller of BBC One, that the ailing series could only be saved by regenerating the Time Lord into a Time Lady.

Mr Newman criticised the direction the show had taken, but insisted that it could be revived by turning the lead character into a heroine.

Had the advice been accepted, actresses who could have been considered for the role include Frances de la Tour, Joanna Lumley and Dawn French.

Instead, the BBC played safe and replaced the incumbent Doctor, Colin Baker, with another male actor – Sylvester McCoy, a little-known children’s entertainer.

The idea included a transition period, returning Patrick Troughton to the role.

Mr Newman urged the controller to temporarily reintroduce Patrick Troughton, a former Time Lord, to steady the TARDIS and pave the way for the most radical change in the show’s 23-year history.

He wrote: “At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman.

“This requires some considerable thought – mainly because I want to avoid a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Women because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore.

“Given more time than I have now, I can create such a character.”

He called for the female time traveller to be accompanied by a trumpet playing schoolgirl in “John Lennon-type spectacles” and her graffiti-spraying “yobbo” elder brother.

The plan was not tried, and the full idea wouldn’t have worked as Patrick Troughton died six months after the letter was written.

Matt Smith Doctor Who

The show took years to recover, with Matt Smith being the third Doctor since the show was revived. The duration of Smith’s tenure has been a subject of rumor ever since he started playing the role.  Nobody knows how long he will stick around, but he has expressed interest in doing a movie (although the BBC says this is unlikley for budgetary reasons):

Matt Smith has revealed that he would be thrilled if the BBC decided to make a Doctor Who movie.

The actor, who joined the show at the beginning of the year, admitted that he would love to star in a film adaptation of the BBC One show.

He told the Daily Star Sunday: “I’d definitely be up for staying on if they did a film –
hell yeah. I would be thrilled if there could be a movie version – I want them to do it.

“There is something brilliantly televisual about Doctor Who but I think it could definitely work as a film.”

The sixth season (since the show was revived) will start with a two-part episode taking place in the United States in the 1960’s. It will be written by Steven Moffat and Alex Kingston will be returning as River Song. The BBC reports:

Scenes will be filmed in the Utah desert for a story set in the late 60s in which the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves on a secret summons to the Oval Office.

The episodes have been written by new series boss Steven Moffat and co-produced with BBC America.

Production starts in Cardiff this month with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

Alex Kingston will reprise her role as River Song.

Moffat said: “The Doctor has visited every weird and wonderful planet you can imagine, so he was bound to get round to America eventually.

“And of course every Doctor Who fan will be jumping up and down and saying he’s been in America before. But not for real, not on location – and not with a story like this one.”

It has been announced previously that series six has been split into two blocks, with the first airing on BBC One in spring 2011 and the second block showing in autumn 2011.

Sherlock

Another BBC series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss will be premiering in the Unites States this month (although I bet most Doctor Who fans have already found ways to get a hold of the BBC episodes). Masterpiece Mystery on PBS will start airing Sherlock on October 24. Three episodes (and an unaired pilot) were done for the first season, with the show renewed for a second.

The series updates Sherlock Holmes stories to modern times but manages to remain faithful to the originals. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title role, also seems remarkably like Doctor Who, leading to rumors he might be given the role should Matt Smith leave. He lacks a Tardis, but does have a companion. In this case Dr. Watson has a blog instead of a journal. Sherlock especially seems like The Doctor in the first episode, A Study in Pink, which is based upon early story in which Sherlock Holmes was more eccentric. I’ll avoid talking about any specifics of the stories which have not yet aired in the United States.

A Tea Party Insult To the Founding Fathers

There is a common thread in conservative writing which assumes that conservatives possess knowledge which others lack. This ranges from bizarre interpretations of facts leading to the conspiracy theories which are common on the right to a belief they are defending what the Founding Fathers really wanted. Typically they defend a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads and is not what was intended when the nation was formed. Peter Berkowitz argues on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal (long a home for conservative thought which is out of touch with reality) that liberals don’t get the Tea Party movement because of not understanding the debates, including the writings in The Federalist Papers, at the time of the founding of our country.

While Berkowitz’s intent was to insult liberals, it is actually the Founding Fathers who are insulted by such a comparison to the Tea Party movement. Tea Party members who echo the inane sound bites of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are hardly echoing the intelligent arguments posed by the Founding Fathers.

Berkowitz repeats the false claims from the right both that they are trying to restore the government to how it was intended by the Founding Fathers and that modern conservatives support limited government:

In other words, the tea party movement is inspired above all by a commitment to limited government. And that does distinguish it from the competition.

But far from reflecting a recurring pathology in our politics or the losing side in the debate over the Constitution, the devotion to limited government lies at the heart of the American experiment in liberal democracy. The Federalists who won ratification of the Constitution—most notably Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay—shared with their Anti-Federalist opponents the view that centralized power presented a formidable and abiding threat to the individual liberty that it was government’s primary task to secure. They differed over how to deal with the threat.

It is the centralization and abuse of power by the authoritarian right which defines the viewpoint of many liberals. While there is some diversity among its ranks, the Tea Party is dominated by social conservatives who see imposing their religious views upon the nation as a proper role of government. Their view that we were established as a Christian nation is contrary to the view of the Founding Fathers who created a secular government.

When conservatives speak of freedom, they are speaking like the Confederate slave owners who fought for their freedom to own slaves. To conservatives, freedom means the freedom to impose their views upon others. You cannot claim to support a limited government when you support a government which restricts the rights of a woman to control her own body, restricts scientific research such as on embryonic stem cells, or intrudes upon end of life decisions which should be left to the family as in the Terry Schiavo case based upon religious dogma.  A government which invades other countries, practices torture, and restricts civil liberties is not a limited government. The threat of centralized power comes not from liberals but from conservatives who ignore the Constitution with their view of unrestrained presidential power (or the unitary executive theory).

When conservatives speak of a limited government they typically exclude any government actions they support. We’ve even seen Tea Party members protest against cuts in their Medicare or Social Security, failing to understand that cries to cut government spending are meaningless without cuts in entitlement and military spending. They use spending cuts as a mantra but have no idea what could be cut and no understanding of how little discretionary spending there actually is. Nor do they realize the degree to which it has been Republican administrations as opposed to Democrats  which have increased spending, and increased the deficit, in recent years. While they might complain a bit about past Republican administrations, they concentrate their misinformation on Democrats. They act as if Barack Obama is a Marxist due to current tax levels, ignoring the facts that taxes under Obama are significantly lower than under Ronald Reagan and that Obama has cut taxes since taking office.

In any analogy to the founding of our nation, the Tea Party movement and the rest of the conservative movement would be the Tories who opposed the revolution. The Constitution was written due to the failure of the Articles of Confederacy which showed the need for a larger federal government–but one constrained by the types of checks and balances which conservatives regularly ignore when in office. The nation was founded by liberal men who would be appalled that their words would be cherry picked by today’s reactionaries to promote their views.