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The Motto of Mad Men

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Posted on May 6, 2010

By David Sirota

For most of us, conjuring concise and cogent catchphrases is nearly impossible. In fact, the skill can seem like the black magic of mystical mad men.

During the 1960s, the most influential of these Svengalis were the executives working in Madison Avenue advertising firms. By contrast, 2010’s most effective mad men come from Main Street and are literally angry men—specifically, the tea party crowd that is, according to new polls, more wealthy, more white, more male, more Republican and more motivated by racial resentment than the general population. And though their jeans and baseball caps are less stylish than Don Draper’s suits and fedoras, these anti-government activists deserve recognition: They have crafted a motto as succinctly expressive and manipulative as the best Sterling Cooper innovation.

“I Want My Country Back”—this ubiquitous tea party mantra belongs next to Nike’s “Just Do It” on Ad Age’s list of the most transcendent idioms. In just five words, it perfectly captures the era’s conservative backlash. Take a moment to ponder the slogan’s phrase-by-phrase etymology:

“I Want”—Humanity’s most atavistic exclamation of selfishness—and thus an appropriate introduction for a tea party motto—this caveman grunt may end up being the epitaph on the nation’s tombstone. America once flourished by valuing what “we”—as in We the People—need (food, shelter, infrastructure, etc.). Conversely, today’s America teeters thanks to a Reagan-infused zeitgeist that reoriented us to worship whatever I the Person wants. High-income tax breaks, smog-belching SUVs, cavernous McMansions carved into pristine wilderness—it doesn’t matter how frivolous the individual craving or how detached it is from necessity. What matters is that the “I” now assumes an entitled right to any desire irrespective of its affront to the allegedly Marxist “we.”

“My Country”—In his quintessentially American ditty, Woody Guthrie said, “This land was made for you and me.” It made sense. In a democracy, the country is We the People’s—i.e., everybody’s. If, over time, our diversifying complexion and changing attitude create political shifts, that’s OK—because it’s not “my country” or “your country”; it’s all of ours. Apparently, though, this principle is no longer sacred. Following two elections that saw conservative ideology rejected, tea party activists have resorted to declaring that there can only be one kind of country—theirs.

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“Back”—To underscore feelings of grievance and nostalgia, the slogan ends with a word deliberately implying both theft and resurrection. In tea party mythology, “back” means taking back a political system that was supposedly pilfered (even though it was taken via legitimate elections) and then going back to a time that seems ideal. As one tea party leader told The New York Times: “Things we had in the ’50s were better.”

To the tea party demographic, this certainly rings true. Yes, in apartheid America circa 1950, rich white males were more socially and economically privileged relative to other groups than they are even now. Of course, for those least likely to support the tea party—read: minorities—the ’50s were, ahem, not so great, considering the decade’s brutal intensification of Jim Crow.

But then, that’s the marketing virtuosity of the “I Want My Country Back” slogan. A motto that would be called treasonous if uttered by throngs of blacks, Latinos or Native Americans has been deftly sculpted by conservatives into an accepted clarion call for white power. Cloaked in the proud patois of patriotism and protest, the refrain has become a dog whistle to a Caucasian population that feels threatened by impending demographic and public policy changes.

As a marketing masterpiece, the slogan would certainly impress the old Madison Avenue mavens. The trouble is that as a larger political ideology, its hateful and divisive message is encouraging ever more misguided madness.

David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at OpenLeft.com. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

© 2010 Creators.com


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By RdV, May 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment

DaveZx3:
  It is possible to be an individual within the group.
  The Founders were a group. The Tea Party is a group, or a collection of groups—the militias are even groups. Benjamin Franklin advocated for libraries where individuals pool resources for the “common good”. The “common good”—remember that—it is from the Constitution.
And actually, it was the deceptive practices of Goldman Sacks that undermined Greece—and now the people are shouldering the “auterity” sacrifice. I saw a woman at a Tea Party gathering with a sign attacking socialism like you do—a poor older woman and I wondered if she survived on Social Security and Medicare or if she knew that they were based in socialism—all pool to benefit the common good.
  Studies determined that it is not survival of the fittest as law of the jungle capitalism free enterprise, but cooperation within the group that actually succeeds—where the greed of the Individual destroys and exploits others rights to individual liberty. Where do you want to draw that line?

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By RdV, May 7, 2010 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

Wasn’t that Howard Dean’s line?
Aside from the manipulative forces creating these faux populist gatherings and their constant media exposure as opposed to a million anti-war demonstrators ignored on the street, maybe it isn’t such a wise thing to sneer so. I have witnessed one of these Tea Party demonstrations and it was undoubtably blue color in character. Sometimes liberal elitists have a smug insensitivity to the struggles of the working class. I see it in the town I live in, Democrats lording their class status over the working poor. These people may be poorly-informed, but their suffering and fear are genuine—the elitism of the New Democrats does not include them as potential allies. They are being used because the present Democratic party panders to the same wealth as the Republicans but they are removed and elitist, whereas the Right postures like they connect with the common lug.

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By gerard, May 7, 2010 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Post script:  I should add to my previous post that the headline is entirely inaccurate, “The Motto of Mad Men”.  More than anything else, it is childlike—indicates the naive feeling ov injury and deprivation felt by kids who snatch each others’ toys.
  The madness may come later in the behavior of the true believers, if they go overboard in their tactics. But the slogan itself has a kind of unconscious accuracy. It just happened.  I doubt anybody “thought it up.”

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By LJL, May 7, 2010 at 11:09 am Link to this comment

Teabaggers’ motto, “I want my country back”, is the equivalent of bird droppings which while thinking once we flew high in the sky are pleading, “We want our wings back.”  Teabaggers, likewise, are the trailing edge of history who have been dropped from the future and they’ll never get their wings back.

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By gerard, May 7, 2010 at 10:34 am Link to this comment

Dear Rev. Unruh:  Is it possible you misunderstood Mr. Sirota?  Most people, including Mr. Sirota, have the same feelings as the tea-baggers.  Though our method for achieving these goals are different,  we all feel huge losses due to wars, corruption amd economic amd social problems such as unemployment, widespread drug use, lack of adequate medical care, loss of home mortgages, pollution, etc.
  Many of these disasters were certainly not part of our childhood and youth—at least had not reached a point of crisis.  Our grief is widespread.  I believe Mr. Sirota feels the same.
  I think the point of his article was not to criticize the meaning of “take my country back” but to point out the broad accuracy of its meaning as a slogan.  What he failed to make clear, I think, was that the beauty of “my” America has always been its democracy, its fair legal system for all, its attempts to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and assure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. These are whaat our country used to be about.  We all would like to see a return to those goals.
  The difference comes in what methods would be best to use, and we need to get together and discuss the best methods, not just yell about them in the park somewhere and stir up a ruckus.  A smart government would institute ways to open discussions and learning centers where people could talk and share and speak directly to the government about grievances.

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By - bill, May 7, 2010 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

What a pathetic excuse for commentary - pure personal projection onto a simple and powerful phrase.

I appreciated the phrase more when Howard Dean used it 6 years ago (“I want my party back!”), but that, too, is simply a personal preference.  The fact that he meant it in a completely different sense than you’re imputing to the Tea Partiers strongly suggests that whatever you’re reading into it came from you, not from them.

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By DaveZx3, May 7, 2010 at 8:00 am Link to this comment

By Eugenio Costa, May 7 at 8:51 am #

“Individuum est ineffabile.  No “individual” exists except symbolically. “Ego” consciousness is a simple-minded illusion of language, which language is collective. Even Marx, misled by Hegel and the conventions of his day, erred in this respect.”

Consciousness and mind are not an illusion of language, but language is an ineffective, primitive tool of the lesser evolved mind, which requires the inputs of other lesser evolved minds to establish itself. 

This is why socialism/tribalism and group-think are so important to the animal-like, mentality of man.  They must huddle together, constantly exercising their vocal chords in an effort to convince themselves and others that they are O.K. 

And the groups constantly bash each other trying to establish who is the most O.K.  Prehistoric tribalism at work, except there have been some rules established in the latter era to prevent some of the excessive murdering which goes on in the process. 

Everyone did not stop evolving at that animal mentality.  All monkeys do not turn into men.
Some minds perceive truth, and are not subject to the floundering, warring, murdering, stealing and general incompetence that you see from the societies of man. 

There are individuals, who have been freed of the need to huddle together for protection and power.  They have relationships, but not for the purpose of sucking each others blood.

The conscious, individual mind exists, absent of all matter, space and time.  Collective consciousness is nothing more than advanced, individual minds networked.  A mind which is not constrained to the 4 dimensions of materialism, does not have to labor with mistruths.  It is the dimension of time, which makes important truths unknowable to societal man, and thus language becomes critical to survival and well being. 

So, quit believing every pseudo-intellectual quack who puts words on paper.  Most important things science does not have a clue about, because they are too busy studying the illusion of time/space/matter. 

Watch Carl Sagan’s video “Flatlanders” (or some such name) and it will show you a little of the reasoning of why primitive, language man can’t know, perceive or even understand anything really important.  He does not have the tools.  Evolution or endowment, I don’t know, but everyone does not have the same tools.

If you are concerned with left/right, republican/democrat, socialism/capitalism, then you are suffering from that primitive, tribal mentality.  Try to get over it, or just ignore it, if you can. 

“The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life”

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By sollipsist, May 7, 2010 at 6:54 am Link to this comment

Quote: David Sirota is the author of the best-selling
books “Hostile Takeover” and “The Uprising.”

Must be a misprint. We wrote those books; we’re sharing
the profits for our common good, and our publishers
certainly wouldn’t sue us for using these works, in
whole or in part, without our permission.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

The US is a predatory Capitalist warfare state.

The US is Communism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor.

The US is from each according to need, to each according to greed.

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By balkas, May 7, 2010 at 6:18 am Link to this comment

“Conservative ideology rejected” in the last two elections.

But what particular policies were rejected by voters?
I see that uncle sam’s domestic-alien policies have remained the same.
Land grab-indirect land or planet control is still here.
Uncle has only one political party. The structure of governance is the same. Warfare is still with us. Now with ‘better’ weapons.
Schooling is the same. Still used to capture hearts and minds of children for benefit of the top 10% of the people.
Means of [dis]info still in same hands. No medical care. Right to life not honored even for US soldieres. They are sacrificed for uncle’s benefit. tnx

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By Sylvia Barksdale, May 7, 2010 at 5:52 am Link to this comment

Sirota had presented us with a cincise and excellent view of the right-wing tea baggers.  Anyone who is not one of them but listens to them concludes that they are as hard as stone and as cold as ice.  It is a total “me” movement.

Led by Sarah Palin, who comes across as highly manic with glassy eyes and a screeching voice and urged on by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, it would be laughable were it not so dangerous.  Not dangerous to those of us with some age, experience and logical thinking but to those youngsters who’re just turning voting age and might think all this hoopla is glamorous and enticing.

Those Reagan and Bush worshipers simply haven’t learned to think, actually know nothing about what the meaning of politics is and that government is there to work for all people.  They’ve learned nothing from the gross damage done to America by leaders like these men.

I very much enjoyed David Sirota’s take on this subject!

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 5:48 am Link to this comment

Capitalism with social welfare is not Socialism.

Most of the West European countries that are called “Socialist” are in fact Capitalism with social welfare, thus not Socialist at all.

One gets a clear picture of this in Du levande, for example, a brilliant Swedish film that is worth watching several times.

Pay close attention to the opening and ending too.

These supposedly Socialist countries, that are actually Capitalism with social welfare, are still imperialist and Fascist, as well as Capitalist.

Bernstein/enough time = Tony Blair

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By Raquer, May 7, 2010 at 5:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sirota’s lack of knowledge about the principles that serve as the foundation of our civilization is clear but not suprising. He comes from a generation never taught civics and the principles that are the foundation of our society. Civilization is a fragile creation and can implode faster than it can be built

He does not realize that his life is a consequence of those who came before him and upheld the principles the West was found on—not perfect to be sure but far better than all the rest.

He is a simply one of the many who substitute mockery for knowledge and do not see the difference between freedom and license.


The Tea Party is not all racist and but neither are they Politically Correct. They understand that tolerance has a limit. It is a movement that wants to maintain the principles that have made our country the Beacon that has been for so many who have come to our country.

It’s clear that Sirota does not understand the mix of good and evil in Man and the importance of maintaining OUR principles. But, soon as our country enters the “point of recognition” that we are in a Deflationary Depression he will, and it is certain few will be entertained by his smug mockery of our principles and for certain no one will pay for it.

If he hasn’t he should read Animal Farm!

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By SoTexGuy, May 7, 2010 at 5:32 am Link to this comment

Excellent article.

Thanks!

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

US Capitalism is institutionalized violence upon the world, upon the environment, and upon its own people.

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By tedmurphy41, May 7, 2010 at 5:05 am Link to this comment

I would suggest that the Native Americans have the most right to make this statement of wanting their Country back!.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

Individuum est ineffabile.  No “individual” exists except symbolically. “Ego” consciousness is a simple-minded illusion of language, which language is collective. Even Marx, misled by Hegel and the conventions of his day, erred in this respect.

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By DaveZx3, May 7, 2010 at 4:26 am Link to this comment

Sirota writes, “What matters is that the “I” now assumes an entitled right to any desire irrespective of its affront to the allegedly Marxist “we.”

The “I” in conservatism NEVER assumes an entitled right to any desire.  Sirota is projecting his liberal mentality onto the Tea Party, and in so doing, completely misreads the statement “I want my country back”.

“I” am a sovereign individual, endowed by my creator with certain inalienable rights, and I inherited a republic, one nation under God, who is the creator mentioned in the founding documents.  This is easily perceived and understood.   

This country has been drifting away from these foundings, towards the Marxist “we”, as Sirota puts it.  This socialist, European concept that the “we” of democracy can rule over the sovereign “I” is anti-American. 

Every American citizen is an “I” who joins with others erroneously to form a “we” for the purpose of having power over other groups of “we’s”  This is called politics, and it tries to suppress the sovereign “I” every chance it gets. 

I, for one, denounce all the little groups of “we’s”, and I denounce all their little squabbles, and big squabbles (wars), and economic squabbles (taxes, corporatism, etc) and racist squabbles, and intellectal squabbles (elitism) and all their little divisions and prejudices.

Forget the “we”.  Treat everyone like the sovereign individual that the constitution calls for, and everyone becomes empowered individually, as it should be, and not empowered by sucking up to their little groups of “we’s” to squabble with other grops.

The “we” entitlement mentality of socialism is unsustainable, as is currently being evidenced in Europe.  Progressivism is a joke, as it has not brought progress in the most important areas of all, individual responsibility, character and education.

I want my country back.  The one populated by individuals.

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By Artful Dodger, May 7, 2010 at 12:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the phrase, “I want my country back,” is not so simply typecasted as Mr. Sirota wants it to be. The Tea Party is more than conservative white men. There are many people are politically atheistic. For a long time the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party has been trying to capture the Tea Party as a creature of the Republican Party. This venture has not wholly successful. As for the word “I” in that phrase, I believe it stands for individuality. Unfortunately individuals and their rights have come under attack heavily in the last 20 years. Most Tea Party members see the insanity of the Patriot Act and many of the unconstitutional laws of the Clinton administration. Obama is not any better than GW Bush, and in many ways he is more dangerous as he is more polished than Bush. The Tea Party has members from many minority groups. It started as a movement from the energy of Ron Paul supporters after 2008. There is a group called the Tea Party Express which is trying to co-opt the Tea Party movement. Members of the original Tea Party have been bullied from Express events for carrying signs that are derogatory to both Bush and Obama. I think Mr. Sirota should do some research on the Tea Party, but I fear by now that most of Tea Party has been co-opted by the Neocon rump of idiots. This editorial, “The Motto of Madmen”, was just an unthinking hit piece.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 12:38 am Link to this comment

Yes, the Nativist Know Nothings do indeed believe they own the whole country, lock, stock, and barrel, and that their own subhuman “Anglo-Saxon” (after H. L. Mencken) retardation is the norm to which everyone else must work down to, thus becoming “superior”.

But then the US Finance Capitalists also believe they own the whole world, do they not—including all its people and lands and seas.

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By Reverend Lauren Unruh, May 6, 2010 at 11:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Mr Sirota,

In looking at the drug war I have been doing research on why our government
can’t problem solve even the simplest of working solutions. What I discovered
was a ring of corruption including CIA sponsored child prostitutes.

As a Girl Scout Leader and mom, I found it shocking and since my own children
are so beautiful, personally threatening.

This was not MY country. My country didn’t do things like THAT, so in my
anguish I cried out, “I want my country back!” and it was heard on the internet
... that was a number of years ago.

Your whole attack falls flat. IF you bothered meet me you would understand
everything, but your job pays you to discredit me instead, so there you go
again.

My above comment to you was just published in AlterNet.
http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/05/06/in-which-david-sirota-
goes-off-half-cocked-about-the-tea-party-and-me/

Will it be published here?

We will all be waiting on pins and needles to find out. PS, I am a real witch, OR I
have exceptional geeky talents, you pick.

Report this

By Reverend Lauren Unruh, May 6, 2010 at 11:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Mr Sirota,

In looking at the drug war I have been doing research on why our government
can’t problem solve even the simplest of working solutions. What I discovered was
a ring of corruption including CIA sponsored child prostitutes.

As a Girl Scout Leader and mom, I found it shocking and since my own children
are so beautiful, personally threatening.

This was not MY country. My country didn’t do things like THAT, so in my anguish
I cried out, “I want my country back!” and it was heard on the internet ... that was
a number of years ago.

Your whole attack falls flat. IF you bothered meet me you would understand
everything, but your job pays you to discredit me instead, so there you go again.

Report this

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