When you can just print signs?

Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen are a pair of pollsters who have built nice little side careers out of appearing as talking heads on cable news shows. Together, they have written a new book called Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System. It's an obvious effort to legitimize Teabaggers—funny, in this allegedly postliterate age, that a book is still the fast track to legitimacy—before the November elections, giving Rasmussen and Schoen an opportunity to make the vapid talk-show rounds and promote their "theories" as free ad time for the Republican Party.

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It's a book that is entirely made out of bullshit that has been printed on bullshit, bound in bullshit, and wrapped in a bullshit dust jacket. Rasmussen and Schoen must know this. Dozens of journalists (most recently, Matt Taibbi in a scathing, hilarious essay titled "Tea & Crackers" in Rolling Stone's October 15 issue) have repeatedly refuted the claims made here. Rasmussen and Schoen claim that the Tea Party is culturally diverse (false: The only black people you will see at a Tea Party rally are generally the one or two onstage representing diversity); that it is made up almost equally of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents (false: Though it began as a flock of furious libertarians at Ron Paul rallies, the Tea Party has long since become absorbed by the Republican Party establishment as part of a post-Bush rebranding campaign); that it is a grassroots coalition (false: FreedomWorks and other big-money, corporate Republican think tanks have funded the rallies and stoked the flames with the help of Fox News, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns HarperCollins, whose imprint Harper published Mad as Hell); that the movement is not racist (false: At its very best, it's that lazy, uncritical-thinking "Why isn't there a White History Month?" kind of racism that never bothers to consider the fact that every motherfucking month is White History Month); and that it is a movement that will fundamentally change the direction of America (false: History tells us that a movement that is fueled by anger at the establishment in America can run through only one or two major election cycles before it is ignored to the point of obscurity or before its candidates become the establishment and many of the core values are scattered to the winds).

The truest thing in the shitshow that is Mad as Hell—the kernel of truth—is that Glenn Beck is the ideological leader of the Teabaggers. Beck is mentioned more than anyone except President Obama, George W. Bush, and Nancy Pelosi in Hell, and for good reason: He is the hero (and the preferred 2012 presidential candidate) of the protesters for his willingness to speak out at perceived injustices. He is the pied piper. Even though he offhandedly denies any affiliation—"Not involved with the Tea Party," he says in the October 3 issue of the New York Times Magazine, casually brushing away any responsibility—to understand the Tea Party movement, you have to understand Glenn Beck.

For nine weeks this past summer, I "attended" Glenn Beck University, an online livecast of half-hour-long lectures by three friends of Beck followed by a half-hour live chat. (You can find links to complete recaps of all nine classes to the right of this article.) It was a crash course in Teabagger philosophy, the broader "ideals" that more articulate Tea Party representatives reach for when questioned. (Make no mistake: The only real ideal here is the ignorant fear of the unknown that manifests as rage at seeing the country in the hands of a black Democrat who considers America's broader place in the world. But it's important to understand the "values" they hide behind, because when you understand those values and learn to argue their points, it reveals them to be what they are: craven, gutless, simpering fearmongers.) Turns out, there are only three major Teabagger tenets:

• Deification of the founding fathers as demigods, the way Catholics unofficially worship a pantheon of saints. Just as Bible-thumpers can "win" any argument by returning to the text ("The Bible says that stem cells are Satan's gory seed, right there in black and white in Leviticus"), Teabaggers can interpret the Constitution to represent whatever values they'd like to flog. Rather than a changing dialogue with future generations about the idea of what America is, they envision the Constitution as—literally!—a God-given law. In other words: Welcome to the Psychic Friends Network of American politics, in which we are the Chosen People and God favors the United States of America above all nations and we know this because we are the Chosen People.

• The American economy should be run in exactly the same way a smart person would operate their personal budget. This means that there should be no borrowing money and every arm of the government should always be profitable. This is the small-government dictum, the charge that is easiest to refute: So every road should be a privately owned toll road? The police should charge you before finding the guy who stole your car? Old people should be left to die in the street (presumably for the road-owning private corporations to deal with)?

• Taxes are unequivocally bad. Taxes are worse than cancer. Any tax you have to pay is an abomination. Never mind that taxes pay for all the services we use—many of which, like safety regulations, are invisible until they stop working due to underfunding. The argument that paying taxes is perhaps the most patriotic thing everyday citizens can do, that it helps everybody, will be ignored for a flurry of byzantine arguments about whether the tax code was actually passed via constitutional amendment in 1913 or if it was instead the launch of an elaborate plan to construct a one-world government, a plan that is finally coming to fruition EXACTLY RIGHT NOW.

If you wanted a crash course in the values espoused in Glenn Beck University, you could just read Beck's recent thriller, The Overton Window. The surprising thing about Overton is that it's kind of a fun read, as far as stolid mass-market thrillers go. Beck (with "contributions" from Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler, and Jack Henderson) doesn't fill the book with the kind of right-wing screeds and dunderheaded satire you're expecting. Overton stars a fairly left-­leaning public-relations specialist named Noah Gardner who gets sucked into a libertarian resistance underground that is preparing for the government's impending takeover of our civil liberties.

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Beck (and Balfe, Bestler, and Henderson) tries to seduce the reader by gradually introducing the Three Teabag Tenets listed above, the way an amiable acquaintance will gently try to coax you into a religion. He points out his own movement's flaws (Gardner chastises a right-wing protester for wearing a T-shirt that says "Born in the Jew S A," but it's important to note that Beck doesn't actively refute the anti-Semitism, just the paraphernalia that the left-wing media can focus on in reports about rallies), and he ends the story on the cusp of the Second American Revolution. He could be setting the stage for a sequel, or perhaps he's inspiring his readers to live out the revolution in November, at the polls.

For the Tea Party to last longer than a few months, it needs to pass from the hands of a charismatic firebrand of a TV host to more legitimate political hands. It's ironic that Rasmussen and Schoen, a pair of pollsters, have authored the book that tries to rebrand the Tea Party movement into something lasting. The Tea Party, after all, is less a spontaneous movement than the brainchild of men like these: the pollster, the pundit, the talking-head commentators whom 24-hour news channels are forced to trot out to fill every possible second with controversy for the blogs to froth over for eternity. The Tea Party only exists today because of the mindless TV news impulse to find a mouthpiece for even the most ridiculous dissenting view ("Is the earth really round? We'll talk to a man who says no after the break!"). They claim that this is "good journalism," but it is really an irresponsible sop to our worst impulses, our communal desire to be outraged by something. Smarmy manipulators like Rasmussen and Schoen have created this monster; now they're trying to get it to do their bidding. A certain Mary Shelley novel testifies to the wisdom of that course of action. recommended

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