Hating On Sissy Britches
This is an interesting article about how the Republicans have become the party of George Wallace (as opposed to Rockefeller, Goldwater and Reagan.) I agree with almost all of it. But the writer, Jonathan Rausch, perversely insists that race has nothing to do with it, which strikes me a ludicrous considering the fact that Wallace's right wing was based on race resentment and his politics are all the rage just as we have elected our first black president. I suppose that could be unrelated, but I think it's a long shot.
Still, I would grant that many of the tea partiers don't see themselves as racially motivated and don't realize that their anti-government, anti-tax movement is predicated on the belief that it's wrong to take money from good, hard-working Real Americans and give it to the undeserving welfare queens. It's pretty abstract at this point, although there are more than a few who see it exactly for what it is.
But Rausch's observation about Wallace's right wing populism is exactly correct:
[L]ike Wallace and his supporters 40 years ago, today's conservative populists are long on anger and short on coherence. For Wallace, small-government rhetoric was a trope, not a workable agenda. The same is true of his Republican heirs today, who insist that spending cuts alone, without tax increases, will restore fiscal balance but who have not proposed anywhere near enough spending cuts, primarily because they can't.
It does seem serious about pandering to cultural resentment. Speaking to a conservative conference in February, Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota and a possible 2012 Republican presidential contender, denounced "elites" who "hang out at... Chablis-drinking, Brie-eating parties in San Francisco" and who look down on conservatives as "bumpkins." The only substantial difference from Wallace's resentful rhetoric is that Wallace did it much better ("They've called us rednecks.... Well, we're going to show, there sure are a lot of rednecks in this country!"). When Pawlenty called on the crowd to "take a nine iron and smash the window out of Big Government in this country," you knew you were deep into Wallace territory.
I am not saying that today's Republicans are a bunch of Wallace clones. Or that everything Wallace did or said was wrong, or that Republicans should shun all of his themes just because he used them. I am saying three things.
First, with the important exception of race, not one of Wallace's central themes, from his bristling nationalism and his court-bashing to his anti-intellectualism and his aggressive provincialism, would seem out of place at any major Republican gathering today.
Second, and again leaving race aside, any Republican politician who publicly renounced the Wallace playbook would be finished as a national leader.
Third, by becoming George Wallace's party, the GOP is abandoning rather than embracing conservatism, and it is thereby mortgaging both its integrity and its political future. Wallaceism was not sufficiently mainstream or coherent to sustain a national party in 1968, and the same is true today.
Conservatism is wary of extremism and rage and anti-intellectualism, of demagoguery and incoherent revolutionary rhetoric. Wallace was a right-wing populist, not a conservative. The rise of his brand of pseudo-conservatism in Republican circles should alarm anyone who cares about the genuine article.
I'm tempted to point out that this is what happens to pseudo-Straussians who empower the rubes and then come to find out that they can't control them, but that would assume they aren't still controlling them. And, of course, they are.
This is from the article in today's NY Times profiling a tea party leader from Washington:
Ms. Carender’s first rally drew only 120 people. A week later, she had 300, and six weeks later, 1,200 people gathered for a Tax Day Tea Party. Last month, she was among about 60 Tea Party leaders flown to Washington to be trained in election activism by FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House Republican leader.
And, as usual, the story fails to mention the additional "help" provided by corporate owned right wing Fox News and corporate owned right-wing radio.
The tea parties may be a George Wallace phenomenon, but it is a huge mistake to conclude that conservatives are upset by it. They consider them useful idiots, and very useful they are. By concentrating their fire on the anti-government side of the populist critique, they are helping the owners of America get their groove back. The big question is where the anti-business side of the populist critique is?
By the way, the person profiled in that NY Times article perfectly illustrates Rausch's point:
In a video viewed 68,000 times on YouTube, she confronted Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington, at a town-hall-style meeting on health care. “If you believe that it is absolutely moral to take my money and give it to someone else based on their supposed needs,” she said, waving a $20 bill to boos and cheers, “then you come and take this $20 and use it as a down payment on this health care plan.”
Ms. Carender is less certain when it comes to explaining, for instance, how to cut the deficit without cutting Medicaid and Medicare.
“Well,” she said, thinking for a long time and then sighing. “Let’s see. Some days I’m very Randian. I feel like there shouldn’t be any of those programs, that it should all be charitable organizations. Sometimes I think, well, maybe it really should be just state, and there should be no federal part in it at all. I bounce around in my solutions to the problem.”
h/t to bb