Bagging a piece of semantics that bothers me

You should know up front that I’m certainly no fan of what passes for the right wing of American politics. Never have been.

If you want to place me somewhere in the spectrum of political views — well, by the definitions of the era in which I grew up, the ’60s and ’70s, I would probably be considered a moderate, leaning toward the left. But in the radical paradigm shift that’s taken place since the start of the “Reagan” “Revolution,” I’m practically the caricature of the bomb-throwing anarchist, right down to the little derby, brushy mustache and sparking, globe-shaped bomb in my hand.

And I see American politics, and political discourse, unraveling at a speed short of unnerving right now. And I see the silly signs and the misplaced anger of Tea Party protesters, and I recoil at the possibility of violence from the fringe of the fringe.

And to tell you, I believe many of the people who fly under the Tea Party flag mean just as well for our country as the rest of us — they’re just not smart enough to realize that we’re ALL being screwed by the same cabal of ultra-wealthy up top. These monsters who would dismantle our Constitution piece by subtle piece, as they’ve done the past 30 years, and transform America from a beacon-for-all-the-world democracy into the industrialized version of a medieval serf state — and they’re pitting us against each other, “right” vs. “left,” in a grand version of the divide-and-conquer game that has gone on for generations under different guises (immigrant vs. “native,” black vs. white, gay vs. “straight,” anti-abortion vs. pro-choice, rich vs. poor).

But I’m no knee-jerk with my liberalism. I also see some things on the left that I don’t like.

Like, at the moment, one tiny bit of semantics with a hint of hypocrisy to it. A slur against one group of people that takes a second group of people with it.

What brought this about was a joke that’s gone viral this past week, in the wake of the Wisconsin protests. In the earliest forms, this is how I received it, more or less:

“A CEO, a Tea Bagger and a union member are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The CEO grabs 11 of the cookies and tells the Tea Bagger, “Watch out — he’s trying to steal your cookie.”

OK, the joke is funny — and sharply pointed — but the offensive phrase here is “tea bagger.” And it’s not for any political connotations, nor is it for any dislike of the leafy beverage, either. It’s the context behind it.

Teabagging, if you’re not aware, is a term for a sexual practice involving the scrotum and someone else’s mouth (unless you’re one hell of a contortionist). As I see it, calling someone a “tea bagger” is tantamount to calling someone a “cocksucker.” And when used against a guy, it automatically conjures images of gay sex.

In other words, a new twist on the old “faggot” slur.

I’d like to think that my liberal friends know better, or should. As someone who was on the receiving end of enough “faggot” slurs growing up, and as someone who has worked and played with words my whole life, I guess I’m a little more sensitive to it than most. But let’s cut the “tea bagger” stuff, okay? “Tea Partier” or something along those lines is fine. But the other thing? It makes us look as bad as the other side, if not worse. Because we should know better, or at least we like to think we’re smart enough to know.

Besides, the lower our discourse gets, the farther away we get from the real enemies.


4 Responses to “Bagging a piece of semantics that bothers me”

  1. ed Says:

    great post. well stated. i’ve wondered why so many on the left have been willing to just go to the lowest common denominator, weak little insult to talk about the tea party. i mean, most rational people try to avoid ad hominem attacks, and then jump right in with two feet on the teabagger language.

  2. Adam Says:

    I’ve never liked the term and try my best never to use it. Thanks for this post.

  3. Sandy Says:

    While I agree with the offensive nature of the term, it’s worth noting that in the early days of the Tea Party, they were frequently and naively referring to themsleves as “teabaggers” until they got hipped to the Urban Dictionary. It wasn’t always just an intended smear from the left.

  4. Ron Says:

    Well reasoned, sentient, logical and rooted in reality. Perhaps you are NOT as close to the left as you purport? What used to be the far left (now known simply as “democrats”) are rarely reticent to besmirch those people they herd together, label, and then claim to champion. Justice is perverted into justification: as long as they feel it somehow damages the “opposition” (any who think / feel / pray differently than they) all bets are off. Wounded by the fallout? Tough luck. What are you gonna do, join “the man”?!

    Consider this, gentle writer. As you awaken to your truest self, many if not MOST of us have / are struggling to do the very same in our adult years. Finding truth is never truly difficult. FACING reality- that can be a different kettle of carp. Class warfare and intellectual elitism are hate-driven plagues iI find no different that gay-bashing or race-baiting. I have learned to try very hard not to define “wrong” as “something that happened to me”.

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