Basic, boring Foucault: language is necessary to express points of view, and indeed, its something like the condition of the possibility of points of view existing. Within our political milieu, there are certain discourses that are accessible to us and others that are not. Somewhat tautologically, those that have force or effect are those which are capable of operating differentially within what Foucault in the Archaeology of Knowledge a "discursive formation"--a cluster or cloud of notions, discourses, rhetorics, all of which only meaning in relation to the other. The upshot is: for a discourse to be intelligible it has to "make sense" in a particular discursive formation.
One quick historical example-in a powerful essay on the potential of civic resistance, Ken Cmiel points to the way in which members of the civil rights movement in the 1960's swung public sentiment in their direction by behaving in overwhelmingly civilized ways despite the abject violence directed at them by racist authorities and citizens. The result was a humanizing effect that enabled something like identification between the American public and these victims. To borrow from Kenneth Burke: its quite possible that these scenes transformed the African American victims of violence, previously dehumanized through rhetorical and social techniques into something fundamentally "Other", into fellow citizens by something like a "perspective by incongruity" in which the incompatability of competing frames (traditional notions of race vs. traditional civic belonging) is pointed to and eventually one is discarded in favor of the other. We might say that in this moment, African Americans became intelligible as "civic" actors--that is capable, of asserting themselves and behaving as someone who had the full understanding of what it meant to be a member of a polity was. This occurred in contradistinction to acts of violence on the behalf of police and racist authorities, which also simultaneously demonstrated that mere formal characteristics of citizenship (full access, total officialy recognition) were also not necessary OR sufficient conditions for a person being a citizen; after all, their actions had to be read as indexes of personal/individual/geographical biases rather than an entire national malaise for the frame "America" to persist undisrupted.
Why do I bring this up? In the 1960's the civil rights movement utilized the available means of persuasion within a political system to point to the ways that such a system operated with some measure of arbitrariness. Because the exposure of said arbitariness would threaten the coherence of the system as a whole, the system moved to address these concerns. The point is that the existing "discursive formation" provided the tools/mechanisms for this demand to be produced. When we turn to the Tea Party, I think we are seeing a symptom of a peculiar structural particularity: the tools available within our political system today for the Tea Partiers to produce arguments seem much less rich and ample than those provided to the social movements of the 1960's. Take one of the major arguments the Tea Partiers push on a regular basis--that the president and Congress are a bunch of socialists. Jonah Goldberg pushed this argument pretty hard in a recent Commentary piece titled "What Sort of Socialist is Barack Obama?" He and the rest of the righties aren't wrong that the government is displaying socialistic tendencies--but this is only because they broadened the meaning of the word socialism so far that it ceases to possess any meaningful utility for social critics, referring as it does to basically anything that the government might do that gets in the way of anything approaching a free market. However, rejecting something "because the government is doing it" isn't much of an answer to an awful lot of policy proposals. And it's not particularly persuasive either given that history still has a force--no matter how hard Rush Limbaugh tries we can't just forget about FDR and the New Deal.
It seems like the reductio about any governmental action turning into tyranny, fascism, etc. has been too played out. But the argument is hysterically repeated ad nauseam, in the faint hope that it will somehow make more sense. During the Cold War you at least had an existential threat to connect the fear of socialism too--the elements in the government behaving somewhat "socialist" could at least be linked to an alien force locked in cold combat with the United States. Today, however, its difficult to draw a link between Al Qaeda forces and the "socialist" elements of the Obama administration. So instead of being a socialism that successfully threatens the fiber of America (connecting healthcare policy to an enemy is easier, when you, know that enemy still exists and still seems politically viable) it instead seems like a nettlesome poke from some angry children. So I guess today I'm optimistic--it seems like the available resources in our "discursive formation" don't provide the conservatives with very many intelligible/persuasive arguments. There will need to be a shift that acknowledges that the Cold War is over, to allow for arguments to coalesce broader arguments now that the clarion call of "Terror! Freedom! Liberty!" is becoming less effective.
2 hours ago