Since they're communicating a simple message to a simple people, these videos -- all consideration of their aesthetic quality aside -- all have a lot in common. They're as overproduced as you can possibly get on a shoestring budget, they're built around themes of thoughtless loyalty and vague menace, and they all consist of maybe a shot or two of the dope who wrote the song, and then a bunch of stock photographs* of patriotic imagery. And this is what I wanted to talk about.
Long before Kurt Vonnegut warned us that we must be careful about who we pretend to be, Roland Barthes issued a similar warning about the symbols we choose to use. Symbols are frequently more effective than words, especially when you are dealing with people who, like the Tea Partiers, have no particular affinity towards the written word. You would think, then, that they would be very careful about the symbols they select to reflect their values. You would think.
And yet, here's some symbols/images that show up in almost every single one of these cut-rate manifestos:
1. MARTIN LUTHER KING. Now, of course, I know why they really put King in these productions: his cultural value to the modern right is to say "Hey, look, we like black people!" This is unconvincing to anyone with a sense of history, since King was literally the most hated man in America to the philosophical predecessors of the modern right; the people who are going to Tea Party rallies today are the people who cheered when King was assassinated in 1968. But since there is no longer any political advantage in hating Dr. King, the right has bizarrely, repulsively, shamelessly embraced him as a way of saying they are not racist. Even beyond the fact that the right opposed King when he was alive, though, and the fact that they still oppose anyone like him today, it's hard to fathom why they'd bother to use him as a symbol when, racial issues aside, he was against everything they stood for then and now. He was a tireless advocate of economic justice, he was pro-affirmative action, he opposed U.S. military adventurism, and he was assassinated the day after speaking before a union rally. Malcolm X was more of a capitalist than King. Even J. Edgar Hoover, when King was still alive, knew he couldn't get away with publicly calling King a nigger; instead, what's the word in which he cloaked his persecution of the powerful black leader? "Socialist". Sound familiar?
2. JOHN F. KENNEDY. Kennedy is another guy that it's no longer politically profitable to despise, so the right has started pretending in recent years that they liked him all along. Of course, it didn't take that much effort to posthumously rehabilitate JFK as retroactively conservative; he was hawkish, he was feverishly anti-communist, and he wasn't nearly as progressive as the watercolored memories of '60s liberals would have him be. Still and all, it's no secret that when he ran for President, conservatives loathed him, and instead embraced the now-anathemic Nixon; and whatever his conservative credentials, Kennedy was pro-civil rights, pro-union, pro-regulation, and got us out of an economic slump by raising taxes and spending shitloads of government money.
3. IMAGES OF SOLDIERS FROM THE SECOND WORLD WAR. These "Greatest Generation" types take a back seat to images of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you have to wonder if the reason why isn't because the armed forces of today are, as a voting bloc, far more conservative than were the armed forces of WWII. They returned home (leaving behind a Europe and Asia ushered into democratic modernism by gigantic infusions of American tax money) to form what was indisputably the longest, and most affluent and successful, period of democratic consensus in American history. Let's not even get into the fact that the war was won under the leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, still the conservative's Public Enemy #1, and Harry S Truman, whose rehabilitation into a conservative is tried every few years but keeps hitting the rocks of history.
4. THE MOON LANDING. A pointless and terribly expensive vanity project undertaken at vast taxpayers expense just to wag our dicks at the Soviets. Nowadays, conservatives call this sort of thing "pork" or "earmarks" and spend endless hours on the internet complaining about it.
5. THE NATIONAL PARKS SYSTEM. Another huge federal project underwritten by taxpayer dollars, and what's worse, undertaken by Teddy Roosevelt, who has recently been de-habilitated into an Enemy of the (Conservative) People. In a particularly loathsome piece of sleight-of-hand, one of the videos even uses Dorthea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photo to express the greatness of America. If the President were to propose today giving a bunch of money to artists to travel the country and document the suffering of poor people who have been failed by the capitalist system, the Tea Partiers would demand his impeachment.
6. THE BALD EAGLE. Symbol of America! Nothing is more beloved by the Tea Party Gang, except maybe the flag. Of course, the bald eagle was once on the brink of extinction, thanks to hunting by rugged Sarah-Palin-style individualists and the unregulated use of DDT by big corporations. But thanks to three separate federal regulations (two of them by hated Democrats FDR and LBJ), the bald eagle was saved! Yes, thanks to government intervention by liberals, this beloved national symbol was saved for the kind of right-wingers who hate liberal government intervention to continue to use as their patriotic stroke material.
There are others (it's curious how much these folks still idolize Ronald Reagan, since they seem to think running up the federal debt is a crime equal to high treason), but these are the most egregious examples of how these folks traffic in symbolism that seems opposed to their very principles. It'd be funny if it wasn't so...well, actually, it's still pretty funny.
*: Now, I know why they all used these same tired images: it's because they don't have any money to create actual content. That speaks in an ironic way to their status as the self-proclaimed 'winners' in a free market of ideas, but it wouldn't be modern conservativism without a huge dose of hypocrisy: almost all of those images are copyright-protected, but they got them free off the internet instead of, you know, paying for them like a real capitalist. Didn't Ayn Rand have something to say about producers and moochers?