Taming the Tea Parties
GOP regulars and their movement conservative drones have been sending signals for some time now that they wish to have the Tea Party be nice. While David Frum and David Brooks have generally followed the Left in condemning these extremists, Bill Kristol, George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Rich Lowry have taken a gentler approach to the problem. Goldberg praises Glenn Beck and those who attended his Washington rally for being inspirational by invoking Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Never mind, as Al Sharpton correctly noted, that King held social and economic views that were diametrically opposed to those of his effusive admirers Beck and Sarah Palin. For Goldberg and Geraldo Rivera on Fox, the reaching out at the rally to civil rights images was what counted.
Some of this conciliatory talk was followed in National Review by Rich Lowry on September 3, who seemed to be stroking the monster. Lowry characterizes the Tea Party insurgency in the GOP as a bourgeois revolt. For the most part its activists wish to go back to the pre-Obama American dispensation. They are seeking nothing more cataclysmic than getting the country back to its typical level (of spending) in recent decades, roughly 20% of GDP. These mostly good folks wish to return to the constitutional limits that obtained during most of the country's history, and from which we strayed under the present Democratic administration.
All of this is rank nonsense. Federal power has been exploding for decades under Republican as well as Democratic administrations. And it is not at all clear that what George Washington or even Dwight Eisenhower understood as constitutional limits on federal power were the ones that still existed under George W. Bush. What Lowry and his crew really want is to neutralize the Tea Party. They wish to see it work for Republican elections and then behave in a sober fashion, by allowing the party regulars to take over once the GOP scores big in November. With some luck we may be able to return to that movement conservative-GOP highpoint in human history, the presidency of George W. Bush under the stewardship of Fox-contributor Karl Rove.
Everything will be fine, according to Lowry, if only the bourgeois activists understand what is expected of them. But then things could go wrong, as they did when Newt Gingrich allowed ideological grandeur to get the better of him after the GOP congressional victories in 1994. Lowry also frets about how the Tea Party produces political candidates who are exotic and unexpected. Lest we miss the reference, Rich (if I may be familiar) is sneering for the umpteenth time at such anti-government types as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky. Lowry is not even sure of the rabble-rousing Beck. Although Beck is dandy on civil rights and Martin Luther King, he also exhibits a non-sober style: He's emotionally extravagant and conspiracy-minded, an intellectual enthusiast and rollicking showman.
Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, The Strange Death of Marxism, and Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right. His latest book is Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers.
Copyright © 2010 The American Conservative