Wednesday, May 19, 2010

John Judis on the Tea Party Movement

John Judis supplies a characteristically astute account of what’s driving the Tea Party Movement. He thinks it’s a more robust phenomenon than liberals generally assume because it draws on three durable ideological currents: a reactionary “obsession with decline” relative to a political golden age (in this case the American founding); “anti-statism”; and “producerism” (the idea that the “real” creators of wealth shouldn’t have to share it with unproductive parasites, whether they’re Wall Street speculators or clients of the welfare state). That makes the Tea Party movement the mirror image of modern liberalism which is essentially progressive (believing that things tend to get better with the passage of time), statist and redistributivist.

Reflexive progressivism inclines liberals to presume that if we ignore the Tea Partiers they’ll just go away because they’re living on borrowed historical time. Judis isn’t so sure:

“For all of its similarities to previous insurgencies, the Tea Party movement differs in one key respect from the most prominent conservative movement of recent years, the Christian right: The Tea Parties do not have the same built-in impediments to growth. The Christian right looked like it was going to expand in the early ’90s, but it ran up against the limit of its politics, which were grounded ultimately in an esoteric theology and a network of churches. If it strayed too far from the implications of that theology, it risked splitting its membership. But, if it articulated it—as Pat Robertson and others did at various inopportune moments—then it risked alienating the bulk of Americans. The Tea Parties do not have the same problem. They have their own crazy conspiracy theories, but even the wackiest Tea Partiers wouldn’t demand that a candidate seeking their endorsement agree that ACORN fixed the election or that Obama is foreign-born. And their core appeal on government and spending will continue to resonate as long as the economy sputters. None of this is what liberals want to hear, but we might as well face reality: The Tea Party movement—firmly grounded in a number of durable U.S. political traditions and well-positioned for a time of economic uncertainty—could be around for a while.”

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