Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Some Late And Unoriginal Thoughts On The Tea Parties

Some thoughts,

1.  The Tea Parties and the well wishers of the Tea Parties are not an uprising of the American people in any majoritarian sense.  Tea Party supporters are conservative Republicans and right-leaning independents who consume more right-leaning media than the average American. 

2.  The Tea Party movement (tendency?) is somewhere between skeptical and hostile to the Republican Party establishment and candidates who are identified with the establishment.  This is mostly a good thing.  We might get Charlie Crist anyway, but I'm glad Florida conservatives stood up to him and his anointers within the Republican establishment.  American needs a decentralized, broadly conservative (as opposed to single issue groups like the NRA) activist movement that is organically tied to neither the Republican Party nor any particular campaign.  There was a big outpouring of center-right activism in Bush's 2004 GOTV operation, but since it was run by the Bush team, it basically disintegrated and McCain had neither the competence nor the personal interest to reconstitute it in 2008.

3.  But the distinctly conservative and antiestablishment tendencies within the Tea Parties can produce political problems.  In his autobiography, Richard Brookhiser uses the term "rightworld" to describe the interlocking network of conservative journalists, activists, thinkers, and politicians.  But there is another rightworld too.  It is one in which you get most of your media from right-leaning sources and never had to compete with sharp liberal opponents for the allegiance of persuadables or thought much about how to do so.  This rightworld is much bigger and many Tea Partiers are part of it.  Rightworld can be a more forgiving place than the broader American political space.  There is the guy who would no more discriminate against an African American customer or job applicant than he would write a check to Bin Laden, but who doesn't want the government telling him who he can or can't hire or serve.  We know what he means and don't get high and mighty about his seeming lack of empathy for the specific situation of pervasive government and private collusion (backed by violence) that African Americans faced.  The problem isn't even that this person is wrong on the merits, it is that they aren't comfortable dealing with the critique, and sure as heck aren't comfortable dealing with it in an environment where the audience is not inclined to take it easy on him because he is one of us.  The saddest part of Rand Paul on the Maddow show was his slow, helpless realization that he wasn't in rightworld anymore. 

4.  Things sound different in rightworld than they do in the rest of America.  Sharron Angle has been getting hit for statements that, in rightworld, sound like common sense, tough-minded realism, and good natured hyperbole.  The first two sentiments have been expressed by guys like Paul Ryan (somewhat) and Reihan Salam, but Angle's mode of expression (which would have drawn cheers from some audiences) was probably a barrier to communication for others. As Ta-Nehisi Coates might say, hers are the kind of expressions you use "when your're talking to people who already have your back."  The problem is that in the modern media environment, a candidate running for high office is accountable to both the people who already have their back and the persuadables.

5.  Hopefully Angle and Paul will manage to win in this seemingly Republican-friendly environment, but longer term, conservatives are going have to find leaders, policies, and messages that can appeal to both right-leaning constituencies, and persuadables who don't consume much right-leaning media - and do it under less favorable circumstances.  It means connecting with the best ideas of conservative policy intellectuals.  It means working hard to imagine how the things you say sound to people who have not yet committed to your worldview. It isn't impossible to talk to both your ideological compatriots and the general public.  Obama started his career in corners of leftworld where Jeremiah Wright's ravings and Bill Ayer's past were not considered toxic.  He managed to break into the mainstream and has moved the country's politics in a leftward direction, but he put a great deal of effort into crafting a message that could appeal outside the borders of leftworld.   

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 9 Comments

This "2nd amendment" stuff from Angle is, I think, a bit more than good-natured hyperbole. Look, if you think that more guns are being bought because people think they might have to employ them against a government sliding towards tyranny, fine, maybe that does account for some of the uptick, but you wouldn't say so as a politician unless to some extent you felt this was a prudent and endorse-able response (citizens buying more guns) to the abuses and follies of the Obama administration. And yes, it's totally tone-deaf to the majority of Americans who have no symbolic LOVE for guns, even if only a minority of these non-lovers of guns approve of 2nd-amendment violating gun control the way 4 members of our Supreme Court do. Talking of tea-parities, revolutions, and fighting back, are all decent rhetorical tropes for stirring up the spirit for a serious, you-crossed-the-lines and we ain't gonna take it, political battle. But getting guns and tyrannical government in there?

Look, had George W. Bush been assasinated some time in 2004-2007, or some other heinous act of life-taking Bush-hating violence had taken place, the left as a whole could have been quite fairly blamed and damned for the types of rhetoric they had used in that period, and which the so-called responsible voices made precious little protest against. Our side will never descend to the point of employing the fascist and murderer tags so casually, but there are certain tempting rhetorical tropes that do need to be resisted. Fire-arm powered resistance to tyrants becoming likely if the Dems get their way on this or that is certainly one of them.

Carl, I don't think it's good natured hyperbole (I also didn't venture a defense), but there are some audiences where such comment will pass without censure.

She deserves the hits she is taking on it, but I also doubt she really meant it. It seemed more like on a barstool, after three drinks stuff, and maybe some populist badass posturing. I can't really defend the comment except to note that most sane people in rightworld who did not recoil at the comment probably didn't think she was advocating or legitimizing violent revolution if Harry Reid was reelected, if single-payer health insurance was instituted, ect.

You are of course right in all your criticisms of her comment.

I used to feel uncomfortable with libertarianism in general...too focused on the individual, too tone-deaf to communal realities. And then I realized that left-radicalism has, through its passion and volume, shifted public policy ever leftward since 1930 (with a few respites, such as Reagan). Reason is not what wins, but passion. That's what politics is all about (I'm afraid).

Ashbrook is full of philosophers who sit up on Mt. Olympus and tut-tut the excesses of American politics. Fair enough, but don't get the idea that this makes this strain of conservativism particularly powerful or relevant. We need the zeal of the Tea Party, it's long past time that we started marching in the streets and demanding justice for those who produce and obey the law.

And no, of course they won't gain their true vision, just as the Left hasn't (yet) turned us into a people's republic. But they WILL pull the country to the Right over time, and that's a good thing.

And as for guns, except for hunting, recreational shooting, and self-defense, what are they good for other than to counterbalance bad government. The Founders certainly understood this as THE major reason for the right to bear arms. If that doesn't "resonate" with Peoria, tough tacos.

Redwald, most of that went over my head. Keeping in mind that Angle almost certainly didn't mean to advocate or legitimize violence in response to electoral defeat (reelection of Reid, Boxer, a House Democratic majority, Obama ect.), does it make sense to give the impression that the choices are maybe politcal victory for conservatives or " Second Amendment" remedies? Would that really be the option that many conservatives turn to if the Democrats continuing winning elections and say institute single-payer healthcare and cap and trade? Does conservatives talking as if they might turn to violence if they don't get their own way within the current set of widely disputed issues make it more or less likey that Democrats will continue to win?

couple of points: 1. the tea party movement started out and still is about people who have lost faith in the american political system as a whole, i wish it were as easy as electing republicans but I know they probaly won't get rid of anything the democrats have enacted and will probably damn liberty even further once in power.
2. I think you raise some very fundamental issues that have no easy answers. If democrats keep winning its hardly worth resorting to arms, but what if the government continues to shred the constitution to the point that liberty according to the founding intent is dead. If it was worth dying for, which we all celebrate, then it was worth killing for. Does that not follow? Would it be worth it today? One could easily argue that the Orwellian police state favored by both right and left will do far more to crush liberty than taxation without representation. I think its perfectly reasonable for someone to simply say that being free is not worth the trouble as long as they are honest about it. If they prefer to be safe or to worship power in hopes of doing some oppressing themselves so be it because while someone may live by uncompromising ideals they will most likely live a shorter life. Mabye Achilles should have went home, not to compare him to the people at Ruby Ridge or something. Although, I don't know who say submission is honorable.

I think the Left routinely threatens violence if they don't get their way, and no one blinks an eye. The sad fact is, revolution, terrorism, and political "theater" work, which is why they persist in this "enlightened" age. Up until now people on the Right have been the frightened sheep, giving up ever more of their liberties (and paychecks) to keep the peace (such as it is -- essentially, slow losing).

If you think about it, Americans today have as much to fight over as our Founding ancestors did, maybe more. I am not advocating violence (yet), but we should never take it off the table. It's just about the only thing that people really listen to. And no, like you, I wish human nature were different, but it ain't, so we better deal with it as it is.

Redwald, the most that can be said for your position is that at certain points, where conservatives were marginal, the threat of left-radical violence either pushed liberals farther left or gave them an excuse to move farther left than public wanted (it also helped fuel the comeback of populist conservatism.) Conservatives rightly condemned this threat of anticontitutional violence and (if seriously made) do say again if the threats come from their own side. On a more utilitarian level, all scaring such threats do in today's political context is maybe scare some peruadables to vote Democratic and leave those making the threats muttering to themselves on the margins of politics. It is telling that Angle, when pressed, wasn't willing to defend the proposition that political violence or the threat of political violence was a legitimate response to the democratic and constitutional reelections of her political opponents (as opposed to the imposition of a tyrannical state rather than making some movements toward social democracy.)

Thought about it. In the context of today's political debates, no. It is both wrong and politically self-destructive - though maybe such fantasies have their place as therapy.

I am not advocating "threats." When the time comes, I am advocating revolt, period. Just as Reagan believed the best guarantor of peace was preparation for war, so I believe that the best guarantor of our rights/property is willingness to fight. You can't hide behind the Constitution or its legitimate process when only one side of the conflict respects the Constitution. What are you thinking?

I do hear what you are saying, but I disagree that we should "turn on our own" in some politically-correct way to assure people that we are not violent people. The NRA folk are our folk, and there is room "under the tent." If not, time to find a new party that CAN represent the real spirit of American freedom. The country was not started by sheepish, disarmed serfs, and it won't be maintained by such people.

Redwald, I'm thinking that candidate shouldnot issue veiled threats of violence i fthey should lose forthcoming elections. Thats just me. I also think that a) Angle's comment should not be conflated with the NRA or anybody else and b) conservatives should stand up against threats of violence against the nomal and constitutional processes of American government whether they come from the left right or center - if they are serious. Angle's case is tougher because I don't think she meant it, but it is als a verbal tic that should be discouraged in candidates - not least because it sounds hysterical, childish, and crazy to people who don't know not to take it seriously, as well as the reasons Carl gave.

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