American political life has experienced a veritable transformation.
As usually happens when we are in the midst of a radical social change,
we are barely aware that anything is happening, much less its full
scope and dimension. In the words of Bob Dylan taunting the hated
bourgeoisie in the 1960s: "You don't know what's happening, do you,
Mr. Jones?" Except that now the tables have been turned, and "Mr.
Jones" is the comfortably ensconced member of the liberal and Beltway
elite ruling this country.
The great and inspiring new development is that, for the first
time in many a moon, a genuine grassroots right-wing people's movement
is emerging throughout the country. This is a very different story
from the Official Conservative and Libertarian movement that we
have known all too well for many years: a movement where well-funded
periodicals, think tanks, and "public interest" law firms, snugly
(and smugly) established mostly inside the Beltway, set down the
Line unchallenged for the subservient folks in the hinterlands.
Funding for these outfits comes mostly from big foundation and
corporate donors; the role of the masses "out there" throughout
the country is to touch their forelock and kick in with the rest
of the dough. Often these Beltway organizations exist only as direct-mail
fundraising machines with the usual panel of celebrities on their
letterheads; the function of donations is to pay the salaries and
to finance the luxurious housing for these institutions.
Those Beltway organizations that are really active conduct indirect
lobbying on behalf of gradual, marginal reforms hoping to push Congress
or the Executive one centimeter to the right; the more important
function, however, is to grant their major donors one of the great
prizes of Official Washington: access to leading politicians and
The published reports of these outfits are mainly designed not
to advance The Cause, but to demonstrate to their donors the fact
of such access: hence, countless pictures of think-tank executives
shaking hands with Senator Dole, Alan Greenspan, or whomever.
The major purpose of the conferences held by these institutions
is not to advance the truth or the free market in the public arena,
but to demonstrate, once again, to the major donors that they are
capable of bringing in Greenspan or Dole to attend their functions.
The stated excuse of these outfits, many of whom still claim abstract
devotion to high libertarian or conservative principle, is that
the reason for their location inside the Beltway and for devoting
their energies to minor and negligible reforms is that this is the
only way they can gain respectability in Washington.
But that, of course, is precisely the problem: change the word
"respectability" to "access," and the point becomes all too clear.
For a long time, these Washington organizations have not been part
of the solution, however gradual or minor; they have been part of
the problem: the domination of American life by Washington.
This sort of movement has been necessarily top-down, although
many of these outfits like to think of themselves as grassroots:
the grassroots Americans, however, live to serve the power elite,
and the power elite lives to curry favor and access with Leviathan.
That is why Samuel Francis's metaphor is apt about the Beltway conservative
movement meeting inside a phone booth.
But in recent months, something brand new has happened. A grassroots,
right-wing populist movement has been springing up all over the
country, a movement that has no connection whatever to Official
Conservative elites. Having no connection, the Beltway conservatives
can have no control over this new right-wing uprising among the
Since it is a genuine grassroots movement, it is necessarily fragmented,
unsystematic, and a bit chaotic. Also, since the dominant liberal
media don't want to hear about it, and the Official Conservative
movement is frightened of it, we hear very little of its activities.
While at this early stage the movement may be confused and inchoate,
it has one magnificent quality which gives it great intensity and
abiding strength: a deep and bitter hatred of the despotism exerted
over us in so many hundreds of ways by the central government: hatred
of politicians, of bureaucrats, and of Washington, D.C.
Note that this intense hatred, this reaction, this "backlash"
against the drive toward collectivism, is necessarily and totally
out of synch with the Beltway strategy of Official Conservative
and Big-Government Libertarian organizations. Among the growing
ranks of these grassroots rebels, this entire strategy and way of
life is anathema. These heartland rebels are close to the spirit,
not of blow-dried Beltway think-tankers, but of the patriots of
the American Revolution.
They, in contrast even to the Reaganauts, are genuine revolutionaries;
they are ready and willing to tell Washington, in no uncertain terms,
to buzz off. To these new American rebels, the ability to sip martinis
with Bob Dole constitutes a heavy liability, not an asset. To these
great people, having "access" to tyrants means that you are aiding
and abetting tyrants.
The recent revolutionary activities have been manifold and widespread.
Since we lack complete information, none of us knows their full
extent. Probably the first task of right-wing populist intellectuals
is to find out what is going on, to get an idea of the full extent
of this glorious phenomenon.
Some of these activities are as follows: an erupting "county militia"
movement, in which, for example, entire counties are sworn-in as
part of a militia so that they cleverly come under the rubric of
the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms; an associated and
extensive civil disobedience by county sheriffs to the hated and
despotic Brady bill; a Tenth Amendment movement: for example, both
houses of the Colorado legislature have passed a resolution empowering
the governor to call out the National Guard to block federal activities
that violate the Tenth Amendment. What doesn't? And there are similar
efforts in every other state.
The Committee of the 50 States, a states' rights group, has been
resurrected to push the Ultimatum Resolution, proclaiming the dissolution
of the federal government when the national debt reaches 6 trillion.
The Committee is headed by the magnificent and venerable J. Bracken
Lee, former mayor of Salt Lake City and governor of Utah. Lee, who
would now be called a staunch paleo-libertarian, repeatedly through
his career called for abolition of the income tax, an end to the
Federal Reserve, withdrawal from the United Nations, and the elimination
of all foreign aid.
In addition, there are various flourishing separatist and secessionist
movements: for example, the desire of southwestern Nebraskans and
northwestern Kansans to get out from under the despotic controllers
and taxers of their "Eastern" big cities, such as Omaha and Wichita.
Staten Island wants to secede from horrible New York City, and Vermont
wants out of the U.S.
Southern secessionists are on the march again, in such new organizations
as the Southern League and Peaceful Secession, and grassroots anti-immigration
groups are booming in California, Texas, Florida, and other states.
The growing and increasingly radical land-rights movement, fighting
the confiscation of private property by federal agencies in cahoots
with environmentalists, is active in the East as well as the West.
Finally, permeating all sectors of this variegated right-wing
movement, there is a healthy and intense abhorrence of the Federal
Reserve. These heartlanders may not know precisely what they want
done in the field of money, but, happily, they are very firm on
what they don't like. In wanting to sweep away the Fed they are
right on the mark. Can you imagine what these folks would think
of a libertarian outfit that glories in its ability to hobnob with
And that, I think, is the major point of this essay. There has
been a radical change in the social and political landscape in this
country, and any person who desires the victory of liberty and the
defeat of the Leviathan must adjust his strategy accordingly. New
times require a rethinking of old and possibly obsolete strategies.
I was always opposed to the marginal reform strategy endemic to
the Beltway think tanks. I always thought that any marginal and
dubious short-run gains would be earned only at the price of a disastrous
long-run abandonment of and therefore defeat for the principles
of liberty. But in the America existing before 1994, such a Beltway
strategy was at least coherent and arguable.
Now, however, the Beltway strategy is absurd in the short as well
as the long run. There is a new mood in America, a lasting change
of heart among the conservative masses. As the Marxists used to
say, "the masses are in motion," and our first task is to stay with
them and try to help their movement be more systematic.
No longer are the conservative masses content to send checks to
the biggies in Washington, who, in return for their donations, will
tell them what to think. No longer are they bowing to their betters
who can assure them access to the Corridors of Power. Bless them,
these heartland rebels don't want access; they want to sweep the
whole Moloch away.
Where does this marvelous and burgeoning new spirit come from?
There was an obvious foreshadowing in the anti-politics and anti-Washington
mood of 1992. An example is the flawed and incoherent Perot movement,
the major virtue of which was not the erratic leader but the spirit
of the rank-and-file militants, who were looking for some sort of
anti-Washington Change. But that doesn't go very far in explaining
the new mass movement, which is far more right-wing, and far more
intensely focused, than anything Perotvian two years ago.
No, it seems clear that the trigger for the emergence of this
brand-new movement has been the total loathing welling up in America
for President and Mrs. Clinton, their persons, their lives, their
Cabinet, their entire rotten crew. In all my life, I have never
seen such a widespread and intense hatred for any president, or
indeed for any politician.
Unlike attacks on poor Joe McCarthy, this is not a hatred whipped
up by the elites. Quite the contrary, the liberal elites are desperately
trying to cover for Clinton, and are bewildered and appalled by
the entire phenomenon. In a recent column, Thomas Sowell noted the
perplexity of the media, and replied, in effect, that the reason
the Clintons are widely "perceived" as power-hungry sleazes is because
they are power-hungry sleazes.
Thus the movement erupted in reaction to all the objectively loathsome
attributes of the Clintons and their associates the stream
of lies, evasions, crookery, sex scandals, and frantic attempts
to run all of our lives. But quickly the hatred of the personal
attributes of Clinton spilled over to his programs, to his ideology.
Thus we had the most powerful "nuclear fusion" in all of politics:
the intense blending of the personal and ideological. The growing
realization of the socialist tyranny involved in all of Clinton's
programs a realization that finally cut through the rhetorical
fog of the "Mr. New Democrat" joined with and was greatly
multiplied by the loathing for Clinton the man.
During the 1992 elections, some of us worried that a Clinton administration,
in addition to being bad for America and for liberty, would also
cripple the right-wing movement strategically. For the usual pattern
has been that Democratic administrations are "good" for Beltway
organizations because the conservative heartland gets scared and
pours money into their coffers. In that way a Clinton administration
would unfortunately strengthen the conservative and libertarian
Beltway elites that have long been dominating and ruining the right-wing
To some extent, this has of course happened; but more important
is a new phenomenon that none of us predicted: that Clinton and
his crew would be so monstrous, so blatant, so objectively hateful,
that it would drive into being from below a new and burgeoning real
right-wing movement that hates all of Washington, whether the actual
rulers or the Official Conservatives and Libertarians who bend the
knee in behalf of access and possible piddling reform.
Given this, what is the proper strategy for liberty? The first
thing is for any conservative or free-market group or institution
to be principled, radical, and fervently anti-Washington, and to
avoid like the plague Beltway-itis, either in form or content. That
is, to denounce rather than cultivate the Corridors of Power, and
to call for principled and radical change rather than marginal reform,
change that is clearly anti-Washington and anti-federal power.
Such proposals and programs should be designed, not for the eyes
and ears of Beltway power, but to educate, inspire, and guide the
extraordinarily sound instincts of the new grassroots movement.
We are entering an era in which, happily, the principled position
is evidently the proper strategy. More than ever before, principle
and strategy are fused, in behalf of the victory of liberty.