Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tea and Loathing

David Brooks rattles off all the reasons why the tea-baggers are the movement of the new decade — their belief that “big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation” — and that this is bad news for the Democrats and the Obama administration. This in spite of the fact that the aforementioned qualities are all hallmarks of every Republican administration since the end of World War II.

The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country’s problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally.

Then, in typical Brooksian fashion, he comes up with a gross generalization that is supposed to sound like sage wisdom based on historical perspectives.

Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.

If you accept the premise that those movements defined those decades, then you have to accept that they had the desired results that those movements were seeking. Yet the hippies of the 1960’s resulted in the election of Richard Nixon, the feminists of the 1970’s helped elect Ronald Reagan, and the Christian conservatives of the 1980’s got us Bill Clinton. So if we follow Mr. Brooks’ examples, the tea party movement of the 00’s will backfire and leave us with the pragmatism of the Obama administration.

In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.

All of those problems were either caused or exacerbated by Republican leadership in both the White House and the Congress. Laying all of these at the feet of President Obama is a convenient way of of ginning up a rally, but it’s not as if he made them all happen the minute he was inaugurated. To his credit, Mr. Obama has been candid about accepting the fact that he and his administration have to deal with them rather than blow sunshine up our asses with prating about “Morning in America.” And it also tells you a great deal about the people who were responsible for making the mess in the first place; getting all twitterpated about why it’s taking so long for someone else to clean up after them. The tea party movement has been largely created by corporate media interests and the GOP as a ratings booster and a distraction from the devastation that they caused –“Oh, look over there!” — and used the primal instincts of fear and loathing of the “other” and the unknown to make it work. It’s not that hard to do; there’s always a willing audience for the conspiracy theories and the self-indulgent mantra of “what’s in it for me.”

Mr. Brooks is right; the tea-baggers will dominate the GOP and could make life very difficult for them, but he’s whistling past the graveyard if he thinks it’s just for the near term. After all, look what the hippies did for the Democrats in the late 1960’s; to this day, the “dirty f***ing hippies” define the party to some, and the tea-baggers are notoriously proud of their fractious leadership and borderline racism. With any luck, will it take just as long for the GOP to shed the likes of the loons like Michele Bachmann and Dick Armey as it did for the Democrats to go from Abbie Hoffman to Barack Obama.