The Tea Party Explained, or, Memento 2: What Was The First Film About?

If you are a proud member of the Tea Party (or currently standing in a room with more than three American flags on display), it’s vital to the security of this nation that you print out a copy of this page—immediately—and write the word “important” across the top, because in 10 minutes you won’t remember ever having read this article.

Now, while all the Tea Partiers are busy trying to figure out how to load paper into their printers whilst simultaneously firing a gun, the rest of us have a few minutes to discuss a very serious problem. And no, the Tea Party is not the problem. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Tea Partiers are not the insane, spoiled, hate-filled children their behaviors suggest they are.

The real problem is that the rest of us have failed to show the compassion and support these well-meaning, god-fearing patriots will need if they have any hope of ever recovering from their illness.

You see, back in January of 2009, many Americans experienced an intense psychological trauma that damaged their brains so greatly they not only lost large portions of their memory, they also lost the ability to create new memories entirely. This trauma is known in clinical circles as Anterograde Amnesia. Generally brought on by a blunt blow to the head or a profoundly disturbing experience, Anterograde Amnesia traps one’s consciousness within a 10-minute frame of time, in which you can only clearly recall two things: the event that occurred immediately before the trauma, and the last 10 minutes of your life.

In other words: Early on the morning of January 20th, 2009, millions of Americans were watching FOX News’ Sean Hannity scream about birth certificates, socialism, taxes and the core values of America when—tragically—the broadcast was interrupted by images of a black man being inaugurated as President of the United States.

That’s when the trauma occurred, and ever since that moment in time, Tea Partiers have been perpetually wrestling with Hannity’s Rubik’s Cube of patriotism while trapped in a country whose leader is, as most Tea Partiers believe, the artist formerly known as Prince.

Now just imagine the horror of having your mind wiped clean every few minutes, leaving you with nothing to act on other than the memory of Hannity’s impassioned call for patriots to save America. The panic and desperate urgency. The mistrust of everyone and everything. The unspeakable need to know what the hell is causing Hannity’s cheeks to puff out like that.

Seriously, did Dizzy Gillespie have a kid we don’t know about?

Of course Tea Partiers do retain some memories, though they are incomplete and often out of context. For example: while they fully remember what a tea party meant back in 1773, they’ve completely forgotten what it means in the 21st century. (This is not to say they’ve stopped participating in tea-bagging activities, but they now refer to those get-togethers as “Darjeeling Dippers.”)

In other cases, Tea Partiers have a very clear memory of certain words or phrases but ascribe entirely different meanings to them than the rest of us do. So keep in mind that when you say “freedom of religion” it is very likely that they’re hearing “praise be to Allah.”

Truth be told, their many inchoate memories are what drives their every waking moment. If we were more understanding, we would admire, not ridicule, their passion for defending freedom and restoring Democracy—even if it’s only because, in their Dali-like understanding of things, “freedom” refers to their bank accounts and Democracy is not a model of government but, rather, a tax deduction. And how can we judge them poorly when they love the Constitution so much they get weepy and distant-eyed when speaking of it?

And wouldn’t you do the same if you believed, as do many Tea Partiers, the Constitution was that dog from Old Yeller?

Perhaps saddest of all about their amnesia is that most Tea Partiers are at least partially aware of their illness. This is why they leave FOX News on all damn day. Without a constant reminder, they worry they’ll forget about the socialists plotting to take down America. Most Tea Partiers will even take notes, jotting down all the important warnings they’ll need to stay safe as they make their way out into the world.

Must find birth certificate.
Spending is out of control.
Beware of open-border anarchists.
Buy gold.

To most of us, these churlish talking points are viewed as little more than divisive dogma perpetuated by the brainwashed. And, well, yeah.

Still, I wish you would try to view those phrases from a Tea Partier’s point of view: They’re not dogma, but protective talismans—the only reminder of the conspiracy they believe they’re embroiled in.

Well, not the only reminder, as many of them have taken to wearing shirts emblazoned with the U.S. flag which, if I understand things correctly, reminds them that: A, they’re American, B., they’re fighting for freedom, and C., no matter the color, horizontal stripes are really unflattering.

My hope is that, with increased awareness of their disability, we can more easily respect Tea Partiers and offer them the patience they need. You know, instead of mocking John McCain when he says he never claimed to be a maverick, we should cheer him on because we know well that, in his mind, he never made such a claim. Instead of gnashing our teeth when Glenn Beck calls democratically elected officials “self-appointed dictators,” we can encourage him with a big thumbs up because we understand that, in his mind, there never was an election. And when—less than 9 months after posting an image on her Web site of rifle crosshairs over Gabby Giffords’ Congressional District—Sarah Palin attacks President Obama’s decision to invite to the White House a rapper whose lyrics hint at violence towards elected officials, we can refrain from pointing out her hypocrisy. Instead, we’ll give her a firm pat on the head and a hearty “atta girl” because we understand that, in her mind, she’s that dog from Old Yeller.

And since we’re talking about Palin, I can’t stress enough how critical it is for us to show our support for her in particular. Not only is she suffering from Anterograde Amnesia, she’s also still recovering from decades in Alaska where a prolonged exposure to the numbing cold can, apparently, slow down your thought processes so greatly you end up naming your children after household tools.

As such, Palin’s recovery will be particularly difficult. I’m not saying it will be easy to ignore the wild fictions she spreads, but it will help if you constantly remind yourself that words don’t mean the same thing for her as they do for the rest of us. And the same is true for all Tea Partiers. Socialism. Capitalism. Immigration reform. Taxation without representation.

Remember, our understanding of these words and phrases derive from a knowledge of the history of the United States: a history the Tea Party has sadly forgotten, about a nation they have entirely misunderstood. For them, words like “patriotism” and “democracy” are little more than a few loose puzzle pieces, all the flotsam that’s left for them in the wake of Barack Obama’s election. Considering how little Tea Partiers have, can you truly blame them for trying to wedge those pieces together into a picture they feel secure with?

So instead of attacking them, have a little heart. Be understanding. Be patient. And no, I’m not advocating we turn the other cheek because I’m some wimpy, bleeding-heart liberal. I’m encouraging compassion for two reasons:

First, it’s abundantly clear that repeated exposure to the Tea Party’s contradictions and revisionist history is becoming fairly traumatic for liberals—whether this trauma stems from direct contact with all the stupid shit Tea Partiers say, or from bashing your head against a wall in response to said stupid shit, I don’t know. Either way, many of our elected Democrats and Party leaders are also showing signs of Anterograde Amnesia.

And while I have no problem with Democrats forgetting a few things—Ralph Nader, anyone?—it’s more than a bit concerning that so many of them appear to have forgotten that they are Democrats. Seriously, between their ongoing support of the Patriot Act, their complicity in extending Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy, and their year-long tap-dance away from true healthcare reform, the Obama Democrats have done more to advance Republican goals than Reagan. In fact, if the last two years are indicative of the state of liberalism in America, progressive ideas are as out of place in the Democratic Caucus as Snooki would be at a Mensa meeting.

Seriously liberals: The Republicans control the House, not the Democratic Party. Grow some stones, will you?

Because if you can do that, we can collectively talk Tea Partiers down from whatever ledge they think they’re standing on. Which brings me to my second reason for advocating compassion: if we treat them with respect, provide them with a loving network of support, while at the same time validating all their fears, we can, over time, win back their trust.

Once we finally have their trust, it’ll be much easier to discreetly steal all that gold Glenn Beck’s been pushing on them. We won’t call it “theft” but “irony”, as the Tea Party has been bitching about the redistribution of wealth for years. Might do them some good to be right about something, for a change.

Plus, since they won’t remember who robbed them, we can turn around and sell the gold back to them the next day for twice what it’s worth. This is pretty much how the banking industry has worked for years, and the Tea Party calls that capitalism.

And as we all know, capitalism is that dog from Old Yeller.

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