Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some non-hysterical takes on the Tea Party phenomenon

The elites, left and right, tend increasingly to flip-flop between alarm and condescension toward the Tea Party thing, with a big dollop of bafflement as well, all of which gets churned into a rising mass of anxiety. Well, they've got their status to worry about, after all. For everybody else, here are a few links that have come up recently that look at the phenomenon a little more calmly:
  • First up is Johnathan Rauch's now well-known article in the National Journal, "How Tea Party Organizes Without National Leaders", with the sub-title, "By embracing radical decentralization, Tea Party activists intend to re-write the rule book on political organizing". It's a look, in other words, at exactly the aspect of the Tea Party that so upsets the various political, media, and cultural gatekeepers -- that they're going around the gates, over the walls. And here's the key point:
  • As for the objection that headless groups are bad at negotiating and strategizing and leveraging influence, the Tea Party Patriots' answer underscores the unconventionality of their thinking: We don't care....
    ... tea partiers say, if you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country's political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders' era. 
    Rauch's last paragraph: "Centerless swarms are bad at transactional politics. But they may be pretty good at cultural reform. In any case, the experiment begins." Something to bear in mind when viewing Democrats' delight over O'Donnell, say.
  • Next is a piece by P.J. O'Rourke in World Affairs: "Innocence Abroad: the Tea Party's Search for Foreign Policy". The gist of which is that the movement doesn't really have much of a foreign policy, which is perhaps unsurprising given its decentralized nature described by Rauch and its focus on shrinking government. But O'Rourke's article is nonetheless an interesting portrait of this "centerless swarm" on a more concrete level, and his final words, echoed by Glenn Reynolds, from whom I found the link, are exactly right:
  • If the Tea Party movement, so-called, achieves “small, effective government with low taxes and free enterprise,” America will be a much richer nation. A much richer nation will have a much more powerful foreign policy, whether it means to or wants to or not.

  • And finally a video, with thanks to Dr. Helen, aka the Instawife (and featuring the InstaOne himself, giving a quick history):

In the face of this movement, the left is reduced to bigoted insults and an increasingly hysterical and meaningless "I see racists" refrain, and the establishment right to a confused, bewildered  mix of condescension, mockery, and attempts at co-optation. And, on top of that, there's the usual mix of special-interest, agenda-driven opportunists or genuine nutballs that are attracted like flies to anything with this sort of energy. But all of that seems like a mere buzzing distraction at this point, beneath which lies the simple but difficult aim that O'Rourke quotes from a participant: "small, effective government with low taxes and free enterprise".


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  2. PJ O'Rourke! Sort of like a stoned Pat Buchanan, m--though at least PJ can tell a joke. He doesn't seem that impressed with the T-P.

    Actually I have some modicum of respect for the small-town, anti-bureaucratic, isolationist Tea-party types (that is, as long as they're not ranting from the Book of Mormon...or Revelation). They're ..mercantilists in a sense--Ben Franklinish, even. And like Ben, their thinking well suits the 18th century.

    Many of these people were themselves wiped out by global corporations--Walmart hits town, and nearly all the ma and pa shops close, and if they're lucky they get a blue or orange vest. (that is, unless they work for DoD related firms, and then they love those Big Govt con-tracts...or cops/firemen/teachers with cradle to grave coverage).

    The small town libertarian/TP-er's think that destruction of mercantile America has to do with bureaucracy, unions, and Big Govt. They are mistaken. It was due mainly to Walmart, Microsoft, Apple, Chevy-Ford,Toyota, etc, not to say media corporations--whether Fox or CBS-- selling them a bogus line of goods.


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