Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Tea Party

In an article in Policy Review, Lee Harris manages to convince himself that the Tea Party movement is a genuine uprising of the populace against tyranny, without the guidance of any elite. He celebrates their resistance to ideas, their broad political naivete, and argues that conservative intellectuals despise them because they have been co-opted by the liberal elite. He seems to think they echo the resistance to tyranny of the American Founding Fathers. What he so blithely ignores is the people who stand on the podiums at these gatherings; a conservative media elite heavily funded by a group of the financial and business elite.

All revolutions are the struggle of two elites against each other, with the people as pawns. The populists use their politically naive foot soldiers to tear down their opponents, and then establish themselves as the new rulers. Some of the spoils of war are dealt out to the pawns, but war always leaves the nation poorer, and the brunt of that cost will be borne by the people themselves. The most opportunistic of the old elite will worm their way into favour and power again. The most idealistic of both elites will be purged. The result will be that the worst, most cynical members of both will end up holding power. The government will be worse, and the very people who cheered and fought for the change will find themselves impoverished and besieged after a brief and riotous orgy of violence and revenge.

When revolutions do work, they are a revolt against a recently and largely externally imposed change in the status quo. The cause is not radical change, but resistance to a radical change. This was the nature of the American Revolution. Barack Obama, of course, is not a radical change--he has kept in place so many Bush policies that even his moderate supporters are becoming exasperated with him. It should also be pointed out that the American Revolution was instigated and shepherded by one of the most illustrious elites in history, who applied their brilliant minds to the problem of how to create a state that would resist tyrannical impulses, and they did so by creating one that was gridlocked, ensuring constant oversight by multiple branches. Whatever the Americans have now they voted for. The proof of this lies in a recent poll by libertarian economists, no less, who discovered that none of the American populace is willing to part with their entitlements, and so came to the only possible conclusion for balancing the budget--raise taxes.

The Tea Partiers do not, in any respect, resemble the American Founding Fathers, who were the ultimate liberal elite. They were elite in that they were, by and large, intellectual heavyweights. They were liberals because they fought for liberty--this is what the word liberal means. The word liberal has been much maligned of late, but liberal and liberty are both derived from the same root. Liberals are now equated only with social liberalism. But social liberalism also implies economic liberalism, as social conservatives, given sufficient power, will encourage the most meddlesome, intrusive, and expensive policies possible. It is to them that we owe prohibition, the war on drugs, the denial of gay rights, and a host of other measures which would give the state access and control over the most intimate details of our lives. The legislation of private morality is an extraordinary expansion of state power. The Soviets were very much in the business of legislating private morality, and their state grew to fill every nook and cranny of life.

The Tea Party has a much stronger resemblance to the Bolsheviks, but what it really brings to mind is the French Revolution, and the Terror. The radicalism at work here is not in the status quo, but in the ideology of those leading the movement. Their message appears to be that taxes must be reduced, and the budget balanced by cutting social programs. It is not for reduced government interference, because the social conservatism they espouse calls for more government interference, not less--more prisons, more police, more meddling in personal choices, all of which will cost a great deal of money. They want the state in the bedrooms of the nation. But what the elite behind the Tea Party really want is for themselves to pay less taxes towards programs that they don't need--medicare, medicaid, government pensions, and the like. They don't need these because they are an elite, and very rich. They have far more money than the vast majority of Tea Partiers. In fact, the Tea Party motif was coined by a Wall Street pundit complaining about a proposal to bail people of average or below average income out of predatory loans. The Tea Partiers are lobbying on behalf of the very people who robbed them, and then howled for government funds to cover their losses. Let's not forget that Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox news, also owns the Wall Street Journal.

What the Tea Party represents is not a cry against oppression, but the rise of inarticulate fear and hatred. The Tea Partiers are so oblivious to the realities of politics and finance that they are like a child who hears frightening sounds in the dark, and those sounds are coming from the pundits of the conservative media. This is a firestorm easy to ignite, but very difficult to quench or contain. It burns everything it touches, feeding as it goes, as it did in France, in Russia, in China, in Cambodia, and in so many other ill-fated revolutions. It will even burn the elite who kindled it. Lee Harris may someday find himself facing the equivalent of the Guillotine.