Abstract: The values of thrift and self-reliance are deeply etched into the history and memory of America’s pioneers. Today we see them returning with a vengeance in the groundswell called the Tea Party, and reshaping the political landscape. Yet in this dramatic process, much is not as it seems. Not appearances or rhetoric but values trace the significant currents of history.
A handful of representatives who benefited from the first impact of the groundswell on primaries are passed off in the press as the Tea Party itself. The Tea Party influence is relentlessly confused with fiscal conservatism, ignoring the part of Americans for Tax Reform, and The Club for Growth, both Washington lobbies. A frightening gap has opened between the values of the electorate and the images and icons of political rhetoric.
Thrift quietly informed a bipartisan effort to root out numerous duplications and inefficiencies in federal funding, for savings in hundreds of billions, but this is now forgotten for tilting at the large icons of partisan policy, taxes and benefits. Ongoing stimulus to solar energy, in which China is the industrial leader, and biotech, long cultivated by Europe’s distillers and British pharmaceuticals, hardly reaches home-grown inventiveness and initiative in the US.
The image of a bunch of horsefolk riding posse into Washington is true enough to what unfolds there, and places Washington back in the Wild West of the movies, saturated with the spirit of vengeance. Thrift and self-reliance worked for the pioneers, and built homesteads and mills, but also gave us box-guitars and Cajun spice mix. They work now for consumers cutting back on credit spend and conventional health-care, but that provokes a clawback of interest from rising bond rates, and more bluster from big medicine and its allies, while Washington looks the other way.
So we are reminded of Old Media clutching their aging film libraries, and brutally exposed in their rough-cut and extra-legal policing of our behavior. Yet all of this belongs to rhetoric and imagery, while the real historical movement of these times is scarcely noticed. It is hard to grasp for some reasons that are worth probing a little.
Where did the old frontier go? With the Gold Rush to California? So what about California as a frontier, and all that Orange County meant as a refuge for black republicans beyond the old frontier of the Civil War? And the youth now leaving California for the mid-west and even Florida, where they mingle with Cuban exiles, stirring the half-forgotten embers of the Spanish-American War?
Early in this great reversal of the human tide, a remarkable modernization of the pioneer culture gave us the Whole Earth Catalog. It was home-grown and futurist, green before the fashion, and captured the history behind Ayn Rand’s image of a bunch of entrepreneurs set to emerge from the fastness of the Rockies to save the nation. Indeed, the Catalog became a pioneer of Internet publication, and with its offspring seeded awareness of both intermediate technology, technology in the process of development, like the Internet itself; and the vision of appropriate technology, adapted to local resources, skills and needs.
On into the Internet era, the journal Edge became the icon of the new genius of the land, and something like the ultimate authority in the tracery of web-page links that came to mean so much in the quest for high placings in search-engine results, with all they could bring in recognition, fame and fortune. Also a complacently New York institution, and sadly tangled in metaphysical cob-webs reaching all the way to China and Old Europe, for an effect so distinctively Gothic it passed the initiative back to Chicago and Detroit, where Albert Khan’s architecture now achieves immortality with Walter Gropius’ icons of modernism. Oh, its just Great Depression 2.0 then?
And all this while you thought the Wild West was tamed? That was the Injun so-called, or so it seemed before Indie film, but what about the land? The Mississippi has been tamed, just, sort-of, but you saw what the twisters just did, and now the fires, and the drought? All this while we really needed those futuristic Buckminster Fuller domes as seriously tornado-proof structures, but nothing of the kind was built. Back of Gothic, some Norman barrel -vaulting could have helped, from the last great wave of globalism and warming, but that very idea clashes dreadfully with the rhetoric of progress, and now complacency toying at the edge of the possible.
Values remain elusive, for they live between the hard constraints of Nature and our perceptions and pretensions. Values are not images or icons, but they can work for you, and they do take strain in the trials of life, and mark what endures. In the way of life, one can recover endurance through re-valuating one’s process, and in this way an historic mass of Americans have steeled themselves for hard times.
 Budget stalemate: Why America won’t raise taxes, Christian Science Monitor USA Politics, 11 April 2011.
 Desert Fathers: The Religious Right’s real pioneers came not from the South but Southern California. By Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Mar/Apr 2011.