Obama, the Tea Party, and History: Part II


From April showers to May grey: April came to a Tea Party climax on tax day, and in May, it drizzled and all but fizzled out; however, May brought much more turmoil. After May Day - the real "Labor Day" throughout the rest of the world - events in the U.S. brought us the worst example of dominant class interests, that is, capitalism run amuck over government, with the worst (preventable) oil spill disaster in U.S. history.

Then, of course, came Arizona's SB 1070 Immigration Bill, directed against illegal aliens or "suspected" illegal aliens (Mexicans "without papers"). San Diego Republicans, such as Duncan Hunter, Jr. and Brian Bilbray, wholly supported the Arizona SB 1070 bill, going much further. The former advocated sending legally U.S. born children of undocumented parents back to Mexico, thinking he was evading the criticism that we break up such families. In order to do that, we would have to amend the U.S. Constitution! Bilbray stated that it's easy to identify illegal aliens by their clothes, their shoes. A non-apologetic follow-up upped the ante with Arizona's HB 2281, mandating a total ban on ethnic studies in public schools, outlawing classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," including any courses that would "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." The Tea Party supporters of these highly controversial and insensitive Arizona Senate and House laws claimed that ethnic studies separated people out, identifying them as a group as opposed to individuals (abstract U.S. citizens-per se), teaching hatred for America and fostering civil disobedience, violence, and revolution.

In May, my article appeared in Political Affairs, "President Obama, the Tea Party Opposition Movement, and History Repeating Itself." A right-wing Tea Party group copied the article, adding "(Revisionist history)" to the title. "Revisionist" history is a pejorative code word for, in reality, a real, complete history...the other, an-other side of history from the perspective of the exploited and oppressed. The label had been used in reaction to uncovering and exposing an oppressive history of capital against labor, the Civil Rights Movement(s), the Women's Movement(s), the Anti-war Movement(s), etc.

One of the first times I remember reading a bona fide American history book labeled "revisionist" was Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. It was simply the other side of the story, from the Indians' own perspective. But many books throughout history have been attacked as being revisionist. Philip S. Foner's classic, multi-volume work, History of the Labor Movement in the United States, was deemed to be "revisionist." A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn was, of course, also "revisionist," along with Who Owns History? and The Story of American Freedom by Eric Foner, The American Revolution by Herbert Aptheker, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, and hundreds of thousands of so-called "revisionist history" books. [1]

When I was a young Italian boy growing up in New York, in public, our family was made to feel ashamed of being Italian. There was a self-imposed filial denial of our heritage. There were no ethnic classes in the public schools, no history, no ethnic pride, and no identity of Italian heritage that came without dire prejudicial consequences. That ethnic-racism was even extended and amplified within the Catholic Church, which was actually dominated by the Irish in New York at that time (as well as in the public schools, police department, etc.). My parents fully experienced this before I did. Of course, the funny thing about all of this is that my older brothers, my parents, and I were born in the U.S., and my grandparents had been here since they were about three years old. My parents even denied and faked not knowing how to speak Italian, in public. The idea and ideal back then was to just blend in and hide any cultural identity within the greater non-Italian neighborhood. We led a dual, alienated existence. We were referred to as W.O.P.s, literally, "without papers," which I was called, continuously, during my four years in high school in Southern California, after moving there with my parents.

By the 1970s, when those kinds of prejudicial ideas had changed, for the most part, and cultural pride became "politically correct" (often a pejorative code word for merely "correct"), the general public also accepted, for example, Black Pride, "Black is Beautiful," etc. And critical thinking was now valued, from the history of the struggles in the Labor Movement to the war in Vietnam. Education reflecting what was previously labeled "revisionist history" was now just considered to be history, since it was a much more accurate, complete, and honest history.

For Arizona to ban ethnic studies now, in 2010, is more than just taking "one step forward, two steps back." It is actually an attempt to erase all cultural identity, heritage, and history...albeit a revolutionary one. Historical Latino figures, especially Benito Juarez, and such revolutionaries as Emiliano Zapata, Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, etc., are now considered to be dangerous subversive influences on that particular ethnic group in Arizona, blaming that kind of education for creating "troublemakers" in Arizona and the U.S. in general...fomenting the overthrow of the government. [2] Where would conservative Arizonians ever get that idea? Perhaps too many (or enough) people reading "revisionist" history read the interpretations claiming that President Polk attacked Mexico and then literally stole most of the Southwestern United States from Mexico, even though we threw some money at them to pay for the theft. Is it of any surprise that one La Raza group has reclaimed that original national birthright that Latinos have been deprived of for so many years under the yolk of oppression and discrimination? [3]

The Nazi, Hermann Goering, reiterated, at his Nuremberg trial defense, history is always written by the victors. He finally seemed to get something right. The empires, the oppressors, the ruling class, and basically the rich, mighty, and powerful dictate their account of history, under glowing pedestals of praise and just causes..."Might makes Right," but it really doesn't, does it?

African-Americans and Latinos have always been subject to racial profiling, even though it was always illegal, unconstitutional. Indeed, so are these new Arizona laws, since you cannot realistically implement SB 1070 without racial profiling. Recently in our history people appearing to be Iranian-Arabic/Muslim have suffered the same fate of harassment. I related many of these occurrences in Terrorism as a Political Philosophy. [4] The glaring contradictions of racism under capitalism have sunk to the lowest meta-meta-level. Even the most simplistic, one-sided "traditional" logic (via Aristotle, in contrast to a more comprehensive, "revisionist" dialectical logic) reveals the inherent contradictions. In theory, we do not profile, torture, etc., but in practice...in reality? Theory and practice, the ideal versus the real, ideas vs. matter, form and content, appearance as opposed to substance, etc. have all been hopelessly and artificially bifurcated in our society, but thought cannot really be separated from action.

Why are these Tea Partiers emphatically supporting more government control by defending Arizona's SB 1070 and HB 2281? They contradict themselves. They supposedly argue against more laws, more government, etc. Where are their intelligent, educated leaders? Their most vocal speakers, such as Sarah Palin, and the rest of the modern day "Know-Nothings," seem to be their leaders. They are hardly a vessel for knowledge and a beacon for liberty. The contradictions multiple as we are reminded of the inscription on the pedestal of "Lady Liberty" in the New York harbor, welcoming immigrants to a land of freedom and opportunity: "Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry, your huddled masses..." Ironically, the original French phrase of "laissez-faire," for "hands off/leave alone" capitalism, used and made famous by Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations, also included "laissez-passer," "let pass/hands off borders." The Right seems to have left this second part out of the equation. The contradictions do mount, as does the level of hypocrisy. That is why a good, liberal, well-rounded public education is a prerequisite in the fight against such untruthful, illogical, and a-historical positions taken by the Ignorantsia.

The Tea Party support for laissez-faire capitalism, coupled with their ongoing support for the Arizonian agenda is not at all revolutionary or progressive (nor very American), but is, on the contrary, regressive and reactionary. Nevertheless, the Tea Party Movement, rooted in its anti-government, anti-Obama, and anti-tax crusade has ironically found its ("laissez-faire" free trader) niche in its anti-incumbent electoral victories for libertarians...and yes, over mainstream Republicans. But, make no mistake about it, racism and ethnocentrism have always been a part of the "divide and conquer" strategy by "haves" over "have-nots." Perhaps that is why, in reality, both libertarians and mainstream Republicans have consistently been opposed to an open and equal playing field in economics, politics, and education. They do not see-nor want to admit to-the class struggle...nay, they do not even want to see classes, only "individuals," even though people are oppressed as groups, in spite of the social and economic truth that "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

What, quintessentially, is at stake in the struggle over ethnic studies and cultural pride? It is truth, the whole truth, which calls for one to act. The young Karl Marx stated that freedom and dignity are achieved through fighting back; and when asked by young Hegelians, how people could revolt in the midst of shame, Marx's reply was "shame already is a revolution."

As the dialectician, G.W.F. Hegel said, the truth is the whole, not partial truth, partial history, but the whole truth. Partial truths can become the biggest lies. If one chooses to call the completeness "revisionist history," "political correctness," etc., well...language itself is political, is it not? We need to re-establish the other side to our American tradition, our roots and core values; that which is beyond and in addition to possessive individualism - with its unbridled greed and anarchy of production - with a sense of community, commune, social responsibility, and our indubitable interdependence. "It takes a village." Lest we forget our nation's values stated in the preamble of US Constitution, to "promote the general welfare" and common good, and our cherished heritage of the "common-wealth." Is this also "revisionist" history?

Republicans, libertarians, conservatives, Tea Partiers, and whatever one wants to call them, are hopelessly romantic -in a certain sense; they are unscientific (actually, they are anti-scientific; e.g., from denying global warming and evolution to denying the hazards of offshore drilling), unrealistic idealists from a utopian time that never was...a free open market society with a free open marketplace of ideas, reflecting a rugged individualism and total independence. The revamped "laissez-faire" principles of John Locke and Adam Smith (from the 17th and 18th centuries), in the 20th century form of Ayn Rand has, once again, re-emerged within the Tea Party phenomenon, only to reflect ruling class interests, and only to be deconstructed and reduced into a more hopelessly reactionary (Party of "No") solution to the real, unresolved problems of capitalism. But a true, critical analysis is not merely edifying and didactic; it is not merely theoretical -severed from praxis, but is thoroughly dialectical, connecting the historical and aesthetical with the pragmatic, and paving the way for the future.

"May Grey": the dialectical circle recoils...from Goethe to Hegel, in The Philosophy of Right, and, ultimately, with Marx's critique of it, we have truth, as a poetic, romantic, and yet realistic revolutionary notion concerning the relationship of thought to action...

When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a form of life grown old.

Grey are all theories...and green alone life's golden tree.

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings, but only at the coming of the dusk.

(Marx) The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.


1. Many, many others are included in a comprehensive list and bibliography in Terrorism as a Political Philosophy: A Comprehensive Analysis with a Unique and Controversial Perspective, by Frank T. DeAngelis (iUniverse/Writer's Club Press, 2002).
2. There are many, many others, including "thief-turned revolutionary," Pancho Villa, Salvador Allende, and artists such as Frida (Kahlo) and Diego Rivera.
3. National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is a non-profit and non-partisan advocacy group in the United States, not to be confused with La Raza Unida.
4. Terrorism as a Political Philosophy, ibid, cf. preface and introduction, p. 156, w/fts. #240-1, 364-66, etc.

Photo: Tea Party "activists" try to claim President Obama aims to make fascism, socialism, marxism, communism or any other -ism in America. By HeroicLife, courtesy Flickr, cc by 2.0

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