To lighten things up a bit. I loved this Tom Tomorrow cartoon about the Tea Party’s history.
It actually captures something I’d been thinking but wasn’t quite able to articulate: there is an element to the Tea Party mind which deeply craves historical authority. Even desires to abdicate their own responsibility before that authority. There is an obvious link between how conservatives tend to want their favored interpretation of the Bible to really be the Revealed Word of God, and how they want their favored interpretation of the Constitution to be the Revealed Word of the (God-like) Founding Fathers.
I spend a lot of time reading polemical theological works from the 1830s and 1840s. The liberal Unitarians are normally making some argument along the lines of: its a sign of bad faith and a lack of moral courage to take the words of the Bible so seriously that you miss the overall spirit of it. The more conservative ones are saying: you all are doomed and going to hell for ignoring the literal words of the Bible. (Massive simplification…)
Anyway… the point is, it seems to me those dueling mindsets are alive and well. Those who want to hold blindly to the (supposedly) Unchanging and Revealed Words of some wise old man (and its always the words of a man) versus those who are okay with a little ambiguity and okay with each generation re-making the world to suit their purposes.
Its just that Tea Partiers now are confused about where the religious authority they are supposed to blindly worship ends, and where the political authority they are supposed to blindly worship begins. It all just gets jumbled together in some weird mix of politics as religion.
I think the brilliance of Glenn Beck is that he tapped into a real– if obscene and depending on your religion, heretical– desire that many people have to transplant the impulse to worship onto what had formerly been secular and profane historical characters. If the Founding Fathers had previously been part of our civil religion, he’s now stripped the “civil” aspect out of it, demanding that we worship the stern patriarchal Founding Fathers, like the Ancient Romans did their ancestors, throw away our faculties of critical thought, and sacralize the past.
Update: I’m also digging George Washington’s yellow pants.