In Through the Looking-Glass (written in 1871), Lewis Carroll warned readers to beware the Jabberwocky with jaws that bite and claws that catch. There was no such thing as the Jabberwocky at that time. The beast appears in what is essentially a nonsense poem. However Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) may have had premonitions about dangerous nonsense beasts lurking in the future. After all, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (written in 1865), Carroll also wrote about a “Mad Hatter” who was fond of tea parties. Mad Hatters and their Tea Parties and sinister Jabberwockies may now be real threats to democracy in the United States.
It is not too hard to identify the contemporary Mad Hatters. Most of them seem to appear regularly on Fox Views (not news) as commentators, hosts, or guests. I’m talking about the Glenn Becks and Sarah Palins. In Lewis Carroll’s version of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, guests keep switching places at the table, making short meaningless remarks (are we talking Tweeter here), asking unanswerable riddles (Grizzly moms?) and reciting nonsensical poetry (Beck’s famous flow charts?). On the verge of going crazy herself, Alice flees from the tea party.
Historically, demagogical Mad Hatters have been dangerous, but I am really worried about the Jabberwockies – the wealthy financiers and industrialists who finance their escapades and try to use them for their own diabolical goals. Mad Hatters can be very effective at stirring up popular resentment and stimulating social movements. But in order to seize power, as they did in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Peron’s Argentina, Trujillo’s Dominican Republic, and Franco’s Spain there must be an alliance of rightwing disposed groups with the Jabberwockies, wealthy capitalists and the military in a movement we now call fascism. In Germany the militarists, industrialists, and bankers thought they could control and use the Mad Hatter Hitler for their own ends. They were unable to do so and Hitler led the world into genocide and war that left 50 million people dead.
American populism comes in many varieties, both rightwing and leftwing. In the United States, in the late nineteenth century grassroots farmers’ movements challenged the power of railroad monopolies that controlled state legislatures. The labor movement of the 1930s, the African American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and woman’s rights movements were all populist. As were racist opposition to Black rights after the Civil War and during the Civil Rights movement, nativist and anti-immigrant campaigns, and religious revivalist movements that challenge the teaching of evolution in the schools. Populism has its roots in broad based democratic participation and is not dangerous in itself. But it can be when the Jabberwockies step in.
The Jabberwockies are now pouring their money into the Tea Party hoping to benefit from public discontent and the ability of Mad Hatters like Beck and Palin to stir up the masses.
The most public of the Jabberwockies is certainly Rupert Murdoch who has a net worth over $6 billion, owns New Corporation, and controls the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, and Fox, among other media outlets, Murdoch reportedly pays Sarah Palin a million dollars a year to be a Fox Views (not news) commentator, but her real job is to gallivant round the country speaking at Tea Party rallies. Glenn Beck receives two million a year from Murdoch, although that is only a fraction (perhaps 10%) of his annual income from his assorted Tea Party projects.
Other Jabberwockies are using their money to run for office themselves. These include Carl Paladino, a real-estate developer from Buffalo, New York worth $150 million who won the New York State Republican Party gubernatorial primary as the Tea Party candidate. Paladino campaigned against the Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan and proposed among other things using empty prison space as dormitories for people on public assistance. While Paladino might not garner much support in the general election, so far he has succeeded in shifting debate in the primary and general election considerably to the right.
Probably the most frightening are the stealth Jabberwockies. On August 30, 2010, The New York Times reported that Wall Street (U.S. finance capital) was abandoning Barack Obama, whom they supported for President in 2008 and siding with rightwing candidates of various stripes. “Less than two years ago, Democrats received 70 percent of the donations from Wall Street; since June, when the financial regulation bill was nearing passage, Republicans were receiving 68 percent of the donations, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.”
One of the most powerful stealth Jabberwockies is Daniel S. Loeb, a hedge fund manager, who was one of Barack Obama’s biggest backers in 2008. Recently, Loeb sent out a letter to investors filled with rightwing slogans denouncing taxes and government interference with personal liberty.
Times columnist Frank Rich (August 29, 2010) charges that billionaires are bankrolling the Tea Party and he names names. These Jabberwockies include David and Charles Koch, brothers whose combined wealth is exceeded in the United States by only Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. David Koch is the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which funds the Tea Party movement. Another major sponsor of the Tea Party movement is the misnamed FreedomWorks, which started up with a $12 million donation from Koch family foundations.
Brothers Koch got their money from Koch Industries (producer of a number of products including Dixie cups and Lycra) founded by their father Fred who was a major funder of the John Birch Society in the 1950s. According to historian Kim Phillips-Fein (Invisible Hands, 2009) wealthy Jabberwockies have financed the far right since the Du Ponts started the American Liberty League in the 1930s an effort to defeat Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are Mad Hatters who are growing wealthy promoting what is supposed to be a grassroots populist movement. But they are the side-how. The real danger is the Jabberwockies. They have always been willing to make deals with the Devil in the past, and they are doing it again. Beware the Jabberwockies.
Alan Singer is a professor of secondary education at Hofstra University, Hempstead NY 11549. He is the author of Social Studies for Secondary School (Routledge, 2008) and New York and Slavery, Time to Teach the Truth (SUNY Press, 2008).