I must say this has been the most frustrating and delusional conceit I have seen in principled conservative circles in the last year. You can go here for a good dissembling of this fantasy’s most vociferous advocate.
I was pleased therefore to see Scott’s recent article on the subject. But even he seems to take a misguidedly benighted view of the tea parties, as implied by the notion that they have been merely co-opted by the neocons. I would argue, to the contrary, that the Tea Party movement is in fact fundamentally neocon in its first principles.
This is in evidence by the most frequent complaint heard at Tea Party rallies, about the war against “American exceptionalism” – how this rather obscure Marxist concept became the religion of the American right is a topic for another day and perhaps another author. My long-time readers may recall my invoking this article, the last ever published by Irving Kristol, which I consider a smoking gun in understanding neoconservatism. He laid out frankly his arriving at the conclusion in the 1950s that European welfare states were unfit to destroy communism and extend the global democratic revolution, and therefore it must be done by some sort of military-industrial complex heavy “democratic capitalism”.
It is the deep internalization of this narrative on a mass level that has led to hysterical and even violent opposition to the health care bill and indeed anything that could remotely make America more like a European welfare state. Those who find this far-fetched would do well to consider that this is the why so many neocons became newspaper columnists, reaching all the way into small local papers and thus able to exert tremendous influence on mass consciousness. And to those clinging to the contrary “welfare-warfare state” formula eager to see in the Tea Parties a movement of principle, I will just say that it is no less intellectually lazy to believe that an activist mass movement has altruistically emerged to fight for austerity than it is to reduce it to racist hatred of Obama.
The best way one can understand the Tea Party movement, therefore, is by drawing an analogy to reactionary mass movements that emerged in the twilight of European Imperialism, perhaps most notably the partisans of Algerie Francaise. There may also be something to be said for the argument of Peter Beinart, for all its insipid attacks on the “isolationist” bogey, about the pattern of domestic nativist anxiety that led to the Klan after World War I and McCarthyism after World War II. The former’s relevance to recent anti-Muslim hysteria is obvious enough, but the latter may be the most instructive. The debate about the tea party among principled conservative bears a stunning likeness to the debate on the old right over McCarthy.
In any event, how any of this might possibly be interpreted as the basis of a new antiwar movement requires the maximum of either self-deception or hallucinogens.