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Tea for the Tiller, Man: A Review of Will Bunch's "The Backlash" | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Tea for the Tiller, Man: A Review of Will Bunch's "The Backlash"

Will Bunch’s excellent new book The Backlash couldn’t be more timely, given the primary election results this week and the recent Beck rallies, anti-Muslim protests, Palin tweets, and Tea Party wackiness. Consider the subtitle: “Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.”

Bunch calls this backlash “a gathering force that came out of nowhere, seemingly before the echoes of Obama’s inauguration address had even stopped reverberating against the granite boundaries of the National Mall.” At first many considered the growing mob little more than “dead enders,” but how times have changed—yes, they are dead enders but there are so many more of them. 

A longtime reporter and Attytood blogger at the Philadelphia Daily News, Bunch was well-positioned to comment this week on the surprising primary results in neighboring Delaware, with the Palin lite (if that is possible) candidate, Christine O’Donnell, winning the GOP Senate nod—therefore dooming the party to defeat in November, allegedly.

His book is so prescient it opens with a lengthy look at Castle getting harassed in 2009 by an elderly Birther. It turned into a YouTube classic, but Bunch gives us much more than the play-by-play. Poor Castle never imagined he’d  lose to an anti-jacko wacko in a Senate primary.

Bunch, author most recently of a fine Reagan biography titled Tear Down This Myth, spent months tracking conservative reactions to the Obama win, not just staying at his computer but (being an old shoe leather reporter) also attending meetings and rallies, from Kentucky to Orlando to Phoenix—and, of course, Delaware. So we get up-close looks at Birthers, gun nuts, Tea Partiers of various stripes and levels of sanity, Oath Keepers, Ayn Randers, Ditto Heads, Ron Paulists, a paranoid cop-killer (Richard Poplawski), and even a far-right congressman (Paul Broun).

And, of course, a good deal of Beckism, including a handy mini-history, plus profiles of “Beck zombies” (paging Woody Harrelson!). Somehow Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds also figures prominently in the Beck narrative.

Helpfully, we also follow the (right-wing) money, and the ties that bind are fascinating. One outlet has the almost endearing url, Hugewadsofmoney.com.

Beck and Palin, Bunch charges, “are merely at the top of a broad pyramid of entrepreneurs—an ever-swelling list that ranges from emailed-crazed peddlers of ‘Impeach Obama’ T-shirts and bumper stickers or ‘tea bag’ jewelry, to televangelists and conspiracy DVD merchants, to the sellers of a growing list of survivalists products like ‘heirloom seeds’ in indestructible canisters and backpacks full of freeze-dried foodstuffs.”

Along the way, Bunch steps away from the grassroots activists to rip “media superstars whose ratings grew in proportion to their ability to scare regular Americans, the other hucksters making a quick buck on that fear, and the political opportunists quick to embrace radical and often bogus ideas to keep their elected positions.” So read this book now, but know that it will remain relevant well into the next election cycle.

Next up: A look at another profile of the New New Right, Markos Moulitsas’ controversial American Taliban.

  

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