Godfrey Hodgson: America’s mad-hatter politics

Roundup: Media's Take

[Godfrey Hodgson was director of the Reuters' Foundation Programme at Oxford University, and before that the Observer's correspondent in the United States and foreign editor of the Independent.]

"Up above the world you fly / Like a tea-tray in the sky / Twinkle, twinkle"'
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The Boston Tea Party describes the moment on 16 December 1773 when the Sons of Liberty, thinly disguised as Native Americans, tipped tons of East India tea into Boston harbour in protest against the onerous taxes imposed by their colonial masters. The modern Tea Party movement that has seized hold of politics in the United States self-consciously adorns itself in ideological garb borrowed from that founding event in the American revolution. But it is impossible to look closely at the movement without thinking of that other tea party: the surreal feast of illogicality thrown by the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

After all, politicians who in the same breath recommend closing down whole departments of the federal government, denounce masturbation and propose 18th-century solutions to 21st-century problems are seem both absurd and irresistible. It’s understandable, then, that reporting of the mid-term elections in November 2010 has been mesmerised by the Tea Party’s extraordinary rise and range of characters (see Max Blumenthal, "Days of rage: the Tea Party and America's right", 17 September 2010).

The conventional wisdom is that President Obama’s administration - now experiencing a rapid turnover with the departure of some key figures - has failed to meet the hopes invested in it. True, it can claim some significant legislative successes, but these are outweighed by strategic misjudgments (such as the priority choice to focus on healthcare rather than fixing the economy). The expected outcome is that the Democrats will be punished in November by losing control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even of the Senate (or at least, in the latter case, of the “super-majority” of sixty that can enforce cloture); though the president is still given an even chance of winning a second term in 2012...
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