The Daily Howler's Tea Party crush Pam Stout - and what she's up to now
Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby went from being an irreverent but perceptive liberal media critic to a cranky "concern troll" scolding liberals for not agreeing with Republicans.
Somerby was bowled over by the charms of a Tea Party activist named Pam Stout quoted in a New York Times article (David Barstow, Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right 02/15/2010). And he scolded George Packer, Kate Zernike and Steve Benen, and Digby for suggesting that the lovely Pam Stout might be anything more complex than an earnest citizen concerned about all the scary things these here libruls in Washington might be doin' to the country.
In the article that began the Howler's crush, Barstow wrote:
Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.
But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House by promising sweeping change on multiple fronts, before her son lost his job and his house. Mrs. Stout said she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated — even manufactured — by both parties to grab power.
She was happily retired, and had never been active politically. But last April, she went to her first Tea Party rally, then to a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots. She did not know a soul, yet when they began electing board members, she stood up, swallowed hard, and nominated herself for president. "I was like, 'Did I really just do that?' " she recalled.
Then she went even further.
Worried about hyperinflation, social unrest or even martial law, she and her Tea Party members joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project, the John Birch Society, and Oath Keepers, a new player in a resurgent militia movement.
When Friends for Liberty held its first public event, Mrs. Stout listened as Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, brought 1,400 people to their feet with a speech about confronting a despotic federal government. Mrs. Stout said she felt as if she had been handed a road map to rebellion. Members of her family, she said, think she has disappeared down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. But Mrs. Stout said she has never felt so engaged.
"I can't go on being the shy, quiet me," she said. "I need to stand up."
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny. [my emphasis]
Barstow - and Somerby - should have known to be a little more reserved at taking Sweet Pam's self-description as a political neophyte when they saw that she was happily affiliating herself politically with the John Birch Society, the mother ship of most paranoid rightwing conspiracy theories for the last 50 years, and the Oath Keepers, a hard right outfit, which Barstow even noticed is part of "a resurgent militia movement." No one not already pretty accustomed to and sympathetic with far-right ideas and attitudes is likely to be instantly swept away by suddenly discovering such fringe groups.
Tea Party leaders say they know their complaints about shredded constitutional principles and excessive spending ring hollow to some, given their relative passivity through the Bush years. In some ways, though, their main answer — strict adherence to the Constitution — would comfort every card-carrying A.C.L.U. member.
But their vision of the federal government is frequently at odds with the one that both parties have constructed. Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A remarkable number say this despite having recently lost jobs or health coverage. Some of the prescriptions they are debating — secession, tax boycotts, states “nullifying” federal laws, forming citizen militias — are outside the mainstream, too.
At a recent meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party, Mrs. Stout presided with brisk efficiency until a member interrupted with urgent news. Because of the stimulus bill, he insisted, private medical records were being shipped to federal bureaucrats. A woman said her doctor had told her the same thing. There were gasps of rage. Everyone already viewed health reform as a ruse to control their medical choices and drive them into the grip of insurance conglomerates. Debate erupted. Could state medical authorities intervene? Should they call Congress?
As the meeting ended, Carolyn L. Whaley, 76, held up her copy of the Constitution. She carries it everywhere, she explained, and she was prepared to lay down her life to protect it from the likes of Mr. Obama.
“I would not hesitate,” she said, perfectly calm.
People in the John Birch Society orbit often describe themselvbes as "constitutionalists" and treat the Constitution as a patriotic icon. That doesn't mean they know or care about anything in it, other than the far right interpretations of the Second and Tenth Amendments. No, their notions of the Constitution would not "comfort every card-carrying A.C.L.U. member."
Barstow continues later in the piece:
Pam Stout wakes each morning, turns on Fox News, grabs coffee and an Atkins bar, and hits the computer. She is the hub of a rapidly expanding and highly viral political network, keeping a running correspondence with her 400 members in Sandpoint, state and national Tea Party leaders and other conservative activists.
Mrs. Stout forwards along petitions to impeach Mr. Obama; petitions to audit the Federal Reserve; petitions to support Sarah Palin; appeals urging defiance of any federal law requiring health insurance; and on and on.
Meanwhile, she and her husband are studying the Constitution line by line. She has the Congressional switchboard programmed into her cellphone. “I just signed up for a Twitter class,” said Mrs. Stout, 66, laughing at the improbability of it all.
Yet for all her efforts, Mrs. Stout is gripped by a sense that it may be too little too late. Yes, there have been victories — including polls showing support for the Tea Party movement — but in her view none of it has diminished the fundamental threat of tyranny, a point underscored by Mr. Obama’s drive to pass a health care overhaul.
She and her members are becoming convinced that rallies alone will not save the Republic. They are searching for some larger answer, she said. They are also waiting for a leader, someone capable of uniting their rebellion, someone like Ms. Palin, who made Sandpoint one of the final stops on her book tour and who has announced plans to attend a series of high-profile Tea Party events in the next few months.
“We need to really decide where we’re going to go,” Mrs. Stout said.
These questions of strategy, direction and leadership were clearly on the minds of Mrs. Stout’s members at a recent monthly meeting.
Their task seemed endless, almost overwhelming, especially with only $517 in their Tea Party bank account. There were rallies against illegal immigration to attend. There was a coming lecture about the hoax of global warming. There were shooting classes to schedule, and tips to share about the right survival food.
The group struggled fitfully for direction. Maybe they should start vetting candidates. Someone mentioned boycotting ABC, CBS, NBC and MSNBC. Maybe they should do more recruiting.
“How do you keep on fighting?” Mrs. Stout asked in exasperation.
Lenore Generaux, a local wildlife artist, had an idea: They should raise money for Freedom Force, a group that says it wants to “reclaim America via the Patriot movement.” The group is trying to unite the Tea Parties and other groups to form a powerful “Patriot lobby.” One goal is to build a “Patriot war chest” big enough to take control of the Republican Party.
Not long ago, Mrs. Stout sent an e-mail message to her members under the subject line: “Revolution.” It linked to an article by Greg Evensen, a leader in the militia movement, titled “The Anatomy of an American Revolution,” that listed “grievances” he said “would justify a declaration of war against any criminal enterprise including that which is killing our nation from Washington, D.C.”
Mrs. Stout said she has begun to contemplate the possibility of “another civil war.” It is her deepest fear, she said. Yet she believes the stakes are that high. Basic freedoms are threatened, she said. Economic collapse, food shortages and civil unrest all seem imminent.
“I don’t see us being the ones to start it, but I would give up my life for my country,” Mrs. Stout said.
She paused, considering her next words.
“Peaceful means,” she continued, “are the best way of going about it. But sometimes you are not given a choice.” [my emphasis]
But this did not make her an activist of the far right to Bob Somerby. Somerby was also impressed by her subsequent appearance on Letterman (Nikki Gloudeman, Tea Partier Appears on LettermanMother Jones 03/31/2010; video of the interview is available there.) Here was Somerby's take on that performance:
We said we’d like to hear Stout’s account of the Tea Party movement—her account of her political views.
The silly children on MSNBC failed to jump to our tune. Last night, they played their schoolyard games as Letterman interviewed Stout! You can watch the bulk of the segment here, unless CBS has had the tape taken down. (The last few moments are not included.) We thought Letterman did a good job with the interview in certain ways. In other ways, his lack of political savvy showed.
But then, you’ve already grown accustomed to that if you watch our progressive channel.
Go ahead—take a look at that tape. If you prefer (and many will), you’ll be able to find some ways to insist that Stout is a snarling racist. (Though you’ll have to struggle a bit.) If you’re alternately disposed, you may notice that Stout could play the title role if some producer ever decides to cast Santa Claus as a woman. For our part, we aren't inclined to agree with Stout's views—at least, with the emphases she places. And the interview only ran nine minutes. And, of course, it only involved one member of a large movement.
Question: Can you watch that interview and imagine that Stout is a decent person? By now, many liberals quite likely cannot.
In his blast at Packer, Somerby described Sweet Pam this way:
“Government-run health care!” The sound of those words scares people away. Do you think our side [he means the Democrats, speaking in "concern troll" mode] has asked people why? Do you think our side has busted its keister trying to articulate sounder ideas?
We’re just asking.
In our view, our side rarely asks people about what they’re thinking. This brings us back to recent profiles in the New York Times about those Tea Party adherents. These people lack our sound ideas—but why is that? In a more rational world, it seems that our side might ask.
In his lengthy profile in the Times, David Barstow, for whatever reason, chose to feature Pam Stout, a 66-year-old Idaho woman. It sounded like she has been influenced by Glenn Beck, though Barstow’s profile was sketchy.
How does Pam Stout see the world? What do others around her think? We’d be curious to see her interviewed. But within the aeries of High Manhattan, a high noble lord had a different reaction to Barstow’s report in the Times. At the New Yorker, his highness, the noblest Lord of Packer, condescended to ponder the mind of the hapless commoner Stout.
In a further blast at Digby, Somerby gave her a classic "concern troll" scolding, related to the fact that Sweet Pam professed to take Glenn Beck very seriously:
Digby doesn’t watch Beck a whole lot. Yes, he’s one of the biggest nuts and/or frauds ever seen on TV—but he can’t be dismissed quite that simply. Most of his work comes from fever swamps — but some of his work is quite erudite.
An inside look at a recent Tea Party event organized by Stout shows a very different side of the Tea Parties, and highlights a disturbing direction taken by many local groups.
Little talk of repealing “Obamacare” or of modifying objectionable provisions of healthcare legislation took place at Stout’s “Patriots Unite” event, held March 26. The impending possibility of a government shutdown due to an impasse over the budget was hardly mentioned. Nary a word was spoken about bailouts or taxes. Instead, speakers at this Tea Party event gave the crowd a heavy dose of racist “birther” attacks on President Obama, discussions of the conspiracy behind the problem facing America (complete with anti-Semitic illustration), Christian nationalism, anti-environmentalism, and serious calls for legislation promoting states’ rights and “nullification.”
Stout, the Idaho state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots attracted around seventy Tea Party activists from Idaho, Montana, and Washington to the Coeur D’Alene Inn for the conference. The goal: to bring isolated Tea Party groups together.
Nothing that Burghart reports about that conference sounds erudite. Or pro-democracy.