GOP regulars and their movement conservative drones have been sending signals for some time now that they wish to have the Tea Party be nice. While David Frum and David Brooks have generally followed the Left in condemning these “extremists,” Bill Kristol, George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Rich Lowry have taken a gentler approach to the problem. Goldberg praises Glenn Beck and those who attended his Washington rally for being inspirational by invoking Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Never mind, as Al Sharpton correctly noted, that King held social and economic views that were diametrically opposed to those of his effusive admirers Beck and Sarah Palin. For Goldberg and Geraldo Rivera on Fox, the reaching out at the rally to civil rights images was what counted.
Some of this conciliatory talk was followed in National Review by Rich Lowry on September 3, who seemed to be stroking the monster. Lowry characterizes the Tea Party insurgency in the GOP as a “bourgeois revolt.” For the most part its activists wish to go back to the pre-Obama American “dispensation.” They are seeking nothing more cataclysmic than getting the country “back to its typical level (of spending) in recent decades, roughly 20% of GDP.” These mostly good folks wish to return to the “constitutional limits that obtained during most of the country’s history,” and from which we strayed under the present Democratic administration.
All of this is rank nonsense. Federal power has been exploding for decades under Republican as well as Democratic administrations. And it is not at all clear that what George Washington or even Dwight Eisenhower understood as “constitutional limits” on federal power were the ones that still existed under George W. Bush. What Lowry and his crew really want is to neutralize the Tea Party. They wish to see it work for Republican elections and then behave in a “sober” fashion, by allowing the party regulars to take over once the GOP scores big in November. With some luck we may be able to return to that movement conservative-GOP highpoint in human history, the presidency of George W. Bush under the stewardship of Fox-contributor Karl Rove.
Everything will be fine, according to Lowry, if only the “bourgeois” activists understand what is expected of them. But then things could go wrong, as they did when Newt Gingrich allowed “ideological grandeur” to get the better of him after the GOP congressional victories in 1994. Lowry also frets about how the Tea Party “produces political candidates who are exotic and unexpected.” Lest we miss the reference, Rich (if I may be familiar) is sneering for the umpteenth time at such anti-government types as Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky. Lowry is not even sure of the rabble-rousing Beck. Although Beck is dandy on civil rights and Martin Luther King, he also exhibits a non-sober style: “He’s emotionally extravagant and conspiracy-minded, an intellectual enthusiast and rollicking showman.”
Now for some background information: Lowry and his companions have achieved fame because of two developments in the American conservative movement. First that movement was taken over during the Reagan years by Cold War liberals, who left the Democratic Party and who then transformed the establishment Right. This takeover helped push the post-World War II conservative movement toward the left on a wide range of socio-economic issues, including civil rights. The same process also pushed the movement toward a militant interventionist foreign policy centered on the Middle East. That transformation is now irrevocable and dissenters from the party line have been periodically ostracized. With few exceptions these dissenters are not allowed to appear on Fox or in movement publications, such as the Wall Street Journal. Then the conservative movement underwent a second, equally momentous change. It merged with the Republican Party, in return for having that party take over a neoconservative foreign policy. With this fateful merger, the movement began to front for the GOP, while Republican presidential candidates endorsed an international crusade for democracy.
The Republican politics that the conservative movement now favors is partisan but also middle-of-the-road, as Lowry’s comments would suggest. Quasi-independent forces can be found in the mix, like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, but as long as these personalities come down on the GOP side in elections and favor an activist foreign policy, the movement will not try to displace them. Above all, Lowry and other movement fixtures fear destabilization, including the kind that the neoconservatives associate with the anti-government Right.
The GOP-neocon powerbrokers are intent on keeping entitlements and federal agencies intact as they embark on new democratic crusades abroad. The Tea Party activists generally support these policies despite their protests against the spendthrift Obama administration. Nonetheless, they occasionally put forth “exotic” candidates. And if even a few of these irregulars enter Congress this November, they may be a divisive force on the center-right. It may therefore be best to warn the potential troublemakers before they get into office.