Even for those conservatives who are not unreservedly pro-Tea Party, it gets ever easier to be anti-anti-Tea Party. The latest evidence that the Tea Party is fortunate in its detractors comes from Slate
's Jacob Weisberg. The culmination of his Krugmanic argument
that wise and necessary economic policies are being thwarted by troglodytes is the assertion "that there's no point trying to explain complicated matters to the American people." Weisberg doesn't explain how he arrives at this doleful conclusion, apparently feeling he would be wasting keystrokes trying to lay out the bitter truth for readers so dim they haven't already grasped it. The core problem, apparently, is that complicated matters are, well, complicated and the American people are, well, simple.
Given the entire rhetorical cast of his article, which never admits the possibility that the complex choices before our republic are ones about which decent and reasonable people can disagree, there's every reason to believe that what qualifies as successfully explaining complicated matters to the American people, in Weisberg's mind, is getting a large majority of them to assent to Weisberg's policy preferences. The healthy thing for a small-d democrat to do after a political defeat or disappointment is to commit new energies and arguments to the task of persuading his fellow-citizens to adopt his viewpoint. Weisberg is having none of that. If the American people don't agree with him it's because they're stupid, and our experiment in self-government cannot possibly survive such stupidity. We are, instead, doomed to a slow, "excruciating form of self-destruction."
Weisberg's article is the latest attack on the Tea Party that inadvertently clarifies why there is
a Tea Party. As Walter Russell Mead argued
this week, it's "impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one
grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance
of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators.... The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today ... is a
fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe
themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the
nation's affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and
studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political
science in expensive ones."
Or, as another observer wrote
last year, "Our new meritocratic masters have been more conspicuously smart than
wise. They know a lot, but don't know what they don't know.... Their expectation that the rest of us will be deferential to their
expertise, like citizens of European nations that are social but not
especially political democracies, has triggered the Tea Party backlash,
and the resurgence of the 'Don't Tread on Me' spirit."
The problem is not that it's impossible to explain complicated matters to the American people. It's that the people who have been making the explanations don't seem to understand the complexities quite as thoroughly as they imagine: "A leadership class that actually improved ordinary Americans' security
and opportunities would be forgiven condescension ...
It's when the people running the country are both disrespectful and
ineffectual that folks get angry." For example, well-educated and utterly self-confident elected officials told us, over and over, that a key part of their economic recovery plans was for the federal government to devote billions of borrowed dollars to "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, only to admit
a year later that "shovel-ready" is more of a punchline than a program.
The American people can be forgiven for tuning out such leaders. It's not because they use big words or complicated equations. It's because, despite the words and equations, they don't really seem to know what they're talking about. It's not a complicated phenomenon. Perhaps someday even Jacob Weisberg will comprehend it.