Maureen "Moe" Tucker, drummer for the Velvet Underground,* surprised some people recently when she came out as a Tea Party supporter. She's now conducted an e-mail interview with Riverfront Times explaining her views, and it's quite a document. Here's an excerpt:
No country can provide all things for all citizens. There comes a point where it just isn't possible, and it's proven to be a failure everywhere it's been tried. I am not oblivious to the plight of the poor, but I don't see any reason/sense to the idea that everyone has to have everything, especially when the economy is so bad. I see that philosophy as merely a ploy to control.
My family was damn poor when I was growing up on Long Island. There were no food stamps, no Medicaid, no welfare. If you were poor, you were poor. You didn't have a TV, you didn't have five pairs of shoes, you didn't have Levi's, you didn't have a phone; you ate Spam, hot dogs and spaghetti. We all survived! I am not against food stamps, welfare or Medicaid, if only they would oversee these programs properly!
I am also against the government taking over the student loan program, car companies, bailouts and the White House taking control of the census (what the hell is that all about?); [about] any First Lady telling (I know, I know, "suggesting to") us what to eat, the mayor of New York City declaring "no salt" (screw you, pal!), the mayor/city commissioners of Anytown, U.S.A. declaring you can't fly a flag, can't say the Pledge of Allegiance and can't sing the National Anthem. I'm against a President dismissing any and all who dare to disagree; the water being turned off in (central) California, at [an] area where they've turned off the water because they want to save a one-inch fish -- turning that huge area of farming land into another dustbowl -- the insipid start of food supply control methinks! The government deciding what kind of lightbulbs we can use (all you "think green" people, three objections to this b.s.: 1) Those bulbs give off the light of a candle; 2) They're very expensive; 3) They have mercury in them - how the hell are we supposed to dispose of them?).
I am against the government now thinking about bailing out unions. The unions made the contracts which include insane pensions; the U.S. government didn't.
This is an authentic voice of the Teeps, no? "Screw you, Pal!" Strangely exhilarating. As Peggy Noonan, another Tucker admirer, points out, Tucker's not a Republican. (Tucker:"Anyone who thinks I'm crazy about Sarah Palin, Bush, etc. has made quite the presumption.") She's not reflexively antigovernment. She's patriotic and well-informed, in a barraged-by-one-side kind of way—though she also seems to at least live in the same world as some "think green" neighbors. She's a bit paranoid about, say, government using various programs as a means of control (as if Michael Bloomberg would try to use food stamps to manipulate eating habits! Oh wait.) Earmarks drive her crazier than they should, and she's not completely coherent (complaining abut the cost of the welfare state and also the lack of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security).
But my main thought while reading her rant was—why isn't she an Obama voter?
I'm serious. Was it really necessary to piss people like her off? Tucker's almost a perfect Obama voter. She's a single grandmom. Not rich. Famously worked at Walmart (after being a rock star) and complained about it. A lifelong Democrat—until now. Was what Obama felt he had to do—save Detroit, save Wall Street, jumpstart the economy, pass health-care reform—inevitably incompatible with her world view? Was a huge rebellion of people like her simply what you get when you "impose a liberal agenda" on a "center-right country," as Charles Krauthammer argues? Or did Obama gratuitiously fail to reassure her that her not unreasonable fears (e.g. "How the hell will this utopian dream land be paid for?") were unfounded?
I'm with "gratuitiously failed to reassure." I don't even think it would have been that difficult to keep the Moe Tuckers on board, even with 10 percent unemployment. All it would have taken was a bit of sincere symbolism. Or at least effective symbolism. On at least four fronts:
1) Putinism: Tucker thinks Obama was up to some partisan tricks with the census, and maybe with the auto bailouts. Were they a payoff to his political allies in the UAW? The union did come out of the bankruptcy remarkably well. As Charles Lane points out, it's one thing for the UAW to negotiate wages above what the average taxpayer makes. It's another to make those taxpayers then subsidize your wages when they bankrupt your employer. Why didn't Obama ask for at least a symbolic cut—say $2/hr in wages, from $28 to $26? According to Lane, car czarlet Steve Rattner says in his book that the administration feared a strike—a threat Lane scoffs at. But a strike would have been great! Let the UAW strike, and have Obama face them down over whether $26/hour is a reasonable wage for assembly-line work. They'd cave soon enough—and after that it would have been difficult to see Obama as in the pocket of the unions.
2) Patriotism: A friend of mine says he isn't certain that if you woke Obama up in the middle of the night and told him foreign troops had landed on the beach in Florida, Obama's first reaction would be "Sh--, we're under attack." He might jump right to worrying about the root causes. Well, how hard is that uncertainy to counteract? You pick an America-bashing lefty, or a Hugo Chavez type, and you put him down. Then don't apologize.
3) Cost: Here the crucial mistake was selling the health-care and stimulus packages as if they were not going to require tax increases down the road. Maybe Obama really believes his various cost-cutting boards and nudges will "bend the cost curve" of health care so much that his reform will actually improve the long term deficit. If so, he's one of the few. How would Maureen Tucker have reacted if Obama had said "yes, we're probably going to either have to raise some more revenues or make some benefit cuts down the road"? Certainly there'd be less perceived need to send him a brutal wake-up call. For that matter, how would Tucker have reacted if Obama had dumped his complex three-cornered mandate/subsidy/exchange arrangement and phased in a health-care guarantee by simply lowering the Medicare eligibility age by a year every year? Tucker is 66. You get the impression that, if she's complaining about Social Security COLAs she's probably not the sort of person who has an ideological objection to Medicare. On the contrary, she's a traditionalist. Medicare, like Social Security and central California farming, is familiar and it works. Which brings us to ...
4) Chaos: Banning incandescent bulbs. Eliminating salt. Prioritizing turtle tunnels. Tucker clearly has the sense that things are spinning out of control because various causists—what George Orwell derided as "sandal wearers" and "fruit juice drinkers"—are pushing their agendas and Obama isn't telling them no. Solution: Tell them no! Or tell some of them no—loudly, in public, so voters have a sure indication that the man in charge has enough common sense perspective to set limits.
But this is just theater, you say—staged confrontations designed to sell unchanged substance. First, it's not just theater. A $2/hour wage savings would make it significantly more likely GM won't collapse again, but instead will be able to pay the taxpayers back. It would serve as very real deterrence, making future unions think harder about pushing for concessions that might bankrupt their employers. Second, yes, it's theater. Being an effective president requires theater. Franklin D. Roosevelt used a lot of theater. Jonathan Alter, in his FDR book, argues this was actually Roosevelt's great talent. Obama has used symbolism too—what else was the point of the line in his 2004 keynote address, "We coach Little League in the blue states" if not to demonstrate that he was a regular guy?
Obama could have used a lot more such demonstrations. One of his most effective days in office, I've thought, was the day he got caught on tape calling Kanye West a "jackass" for the Taylor Swift incident. It was a twofer: Obama not only watched MTV—participating in the common, popular culture—but he had some non-PC common sense reactions. Needless to say, there were reports White House officials weren't happy that Obama's "off the record" statement had leaked. They should have been ecstatic (and leaked Rahm Emanuel's "F-- the UAW" the next week).
Yes, Obama may have a special burden to establish his common-sense, regular guy status because he's a strange, slightly enigmatic figure with an exotic, cosmopolitan life story. That's unfair. But he didn't have to run for president, and especially didn't have to be president before he'd worked his way up through the ranks and maybe learned how to assuage the Moe Tuckers in the electorate. (Also what "shovel ready" means.) None of these symbolic bits of theater would have required much political skill to pull off. It's not hard to find the mainstream of American political culture. It's only Obama who looks like he couldn't hit it sideways.**
P.S.: Mark Hemingway makes a similar point.
*-- A Jonathan Richman song nailed part the Velvet Underground's appeal: "Stayed kind of still, looked kinda shy. Kinda far away, kinda dignified. How in the world are they making that sound. . . . With just 4 people there?" Tucker was an androgynous figure, pounding with mallets on what looked like tom toms while standing up. When the band was cranking there was nothing like it—a runaway machine of dense, dark noise. The Ramones sound like a nursery rhyme in comparison. Later, I also realized the hypnotic virtues of Tucker's spare, metronomic beat on quieter songs.
In 1969, the Velvet Underground played at my high school, at a student assembly followed by a comically discordant panel discussion. Three of the four band members were nice! Tucker was one of those. Decades later, I saw her perform in L.A. with the DC band Magnet. She made them sound like the Velvets too. (I recommend Magnet's "Julie.") Halfway through the set, Tucker strapped on a guitar and I wondered what strangeness would come next—this was someone, remember, who'd been condemned for importing insidious, nihilistic European art house influences into wholesome American rock 'n roll. She played a sweet version of "Johnny B. Goode."
**--Yes, this is a cheap allusion to a Velvet Underground lyric. 1:18 p.m.