One Tea Party Too Late


Derbyshire in the latest TAC:

[H]ere are the Tea Partiers vowing to “take back America.” Is there any real prospect of their doing so? If the “time left for us to do so” was short in 1998, how much shorter is it now? Why did those Middle American Radicals of 30 years ago—Donald Warren actually coined the phrase in 1976—not fulfill the hopes Sam Francis invested in them? Are the Meatheads now immovably entrenched as a ruling class, the Archies condemned to a permanent impotence relieved only by occasional spasms of semi-organized resistance, easily quashed or co-opted? Is the Tea Party movement merely one of those fits? Will elitism always vanquish populism? …

The MAR phenomenon had emerged from the crash of liberalism in the late 1970s. The busing and ERA wars, stagflation, the gas crises, and the Tehran hostage debacle left liberals chastened and the political Right fired up with indignation. Conservative intellectuals like Sam Francis had good reason to think that with its leadership demoralized, the overclass-underclass alliance might be brought down by concerted action on the part of disgruntled heartland populists.

They failed to appreciate the degree to which ruling-class values, already long dominant in the media and universities, had seeped into Middle America’s soul. … Our intellectuals also overestimated the economic radicalism of the MARs, projecting their own cherished abstractions onto citizens who, however aggrieved they might feel about government’s grosser impositions, had no wish to let go of their Social Security, Medicare, public-school and state-college establishments, or the patriotic satisfactions of having the world’s largest and best-equipped military. …

I see no sign that the liberal establishment is seriously concerned by [the Tea Partiers]. Everyone understands that the Obama administration was reckless, turning up the heat too high under that pot in which the proverbial frog is being boiled. The fire will be turned down so that the boiling can continue at its former barely perceptible pace. The Tea Partiers will be marginalized by appeals to political correctness, a thing easily done as practically all of them are white. The less committed will drift away; the minority that remain will be folded into the Republican Party, after first being subjected to a brief, painless operation to remove the “R” from “MAR.” Peace will descend, and all will be as it was, the elite secure in its power, the underclass secure with its dole, the middle classes back on the treadmill to pay the bills run up by the elites and their clients. Our rulers will say what imperial Chinese generals used to say after laying waste some rebellious prefecture: harmony has been restored. …

Perhaps it is just as simple as this: a meritocratic elite is, by definition, smarter than the rest of us. It can always “control the discourse,” planting shame and doubt in the minds of those who seek to challenge it, manipulating their sensibilities, feeding them a steady diet of soma through media and educational outlets, bewildering and outfoxing them with bogus appeals to the higher emotions. Perhaps it is all an unequal contest.

I largely agree with this, and previously addressed the problems here:

[P]ostwar American conservatives are heirs to the Jeffersonian, anti-Federalist and populist arguments of the 18th and 19th centuries. These decentralists, state’s-righters and agrarian champions presumed a basic level of democratic and economic sturdiness and self-sufficiency in the common man. Left to his own devices, it was thought that the common and working classes – the Minutemen of the Revolution, the pioneers of the West – would not willingly don the yoke of servitude, but would prefer to be free, despite the sacrifices and hardship such a life might entail.

These traditional conservatives would not have seen the rise of a giant, dominant retailer like Wal-Mart as an advance in “consumer sovereignty,” but rather as forced dependence on faraway manufacturers, cultures, money and decision-makers – and with it, a diminishment of political and economic freedom.

In contemporary America, this presumption toward freedom may no longer be valid, as Mr. Will makes clear. The lower middle classes and nearly everyone else, for that matter, really do love Wal-Mart and are quite happy to sell their American birthright of independence and self-sufficiency for a bowl of processed – but cheap! – soup. This is the challenge facing the new populists of the right: how to advocate and promote the free and sturdy democratic qualities of the common man – qualities that made America great – when the common man has apparently turned his back on those virtues?

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