*******Is the Tea Party About to Get Knocked Out?
Could the original Tea Partiers have accepted a monarch's promise of halfway reforms in exchange for remaining loyal and obedient subjects
Monday, December 26, 2011
The Tea Party was born of a wit’s-end frustration at the intransigence of the Washington Republican Establishment, and grew up fast on the mean streets of President Obama’s city of broken dreams. For all the movement’s early and extraordinary successes—most remarkably the complete rehabilitation of the Republican Party itself from a shiftless loser on the brink of generational decline to the ascendant force in Washington and in the public imagination—the sheer urgency of action within that movement militated against any serious foundational exegesis.
The Tea Party has no real leadership. Indeed, those who claim to be its leaders are rightly viewed with skepticism, and suspected of being interlopers attempting to corral this perfect grassroots movement into a shady corner of the Republican Establishment.
The problem with the Tea Party’s unabated call to quick and decisive action is that, impressive as it is, the movement’s outward force has taken it to heights that its foundation cannot yet support. The Tea Party is like a young boxer with great skills and a knockout punch, but with skinny legs: a seemingly unstoppable force in the early rounds, if a wily opponent can just survive his initial dynamism, it will be possible to get the better of him in the late rounds, as his tired legs force him to stand flat-footed more often, thus exposing himself to attack.
In the case of the Tea Party, the wily opponent is the Republican Establishment itself; the main event is the presidential primaries. Consider this year’s candidates. Everyone can name the ones who were actively involved in the Tea Party, who attended Tea Party events, and proclaimed their principled alignment with the movement even before the 2010 elections. And everyone knows that the Tea Party is the movement that single-handedly made 2010 possible, leading the charge for radical realignment of congressional priorities, and dragging dozens of hopelessly milquetoast Republican candidates along in its jet stream.
And yet, barely a week away from the Iowa Caucus, the official story of the campaign is that the frontrunners are Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the only two candidates in this race (Jon Huntsman aside) who can be called big government Republicans, and the only ones whom no one could call Tea Party Republicans. (Aside from Gingrich himself, of course, whose history shows that he will proudly call himself whatever the crosswinds of the moment seem to be whistling.) The only other candidate getting any attention from the mainstream attention-providers, at this pivotal stage of the process, is Ron Paul, who, like Donald Trump before him, is primarily a convenient straw man for the anti-Tea Party forces. “See,” they say, “the Tea Party is represented by kooks and ignorant blusterers; so it’s time to get back to the serious Republicans, Romney and Gingrich.”The Republican Establishment, with an extraordinary assist from the mainstream media
The Republican Establishment, with an extraordinary assist from the mainstream media (which includes, in a fellow-traveling way, much of the so-called conservative media), has, at least in its own optics, produced the primary contest it can live with. If things pan out according to this dastardly plan, the “choice” before primary voters will be between the only two candidates who are, by their records, deeply invested in the global warming crusade; the only two candidates who have histories of advocating for greater government regulation of health care; and the only two candidates with records of serial changes of position on important issues, or changes of rhetoric for different times and audiences, that show them to be precisely the kind of professional politicians that Tea Partiers fear and despise.
How has this predicament arisen? Of course, the Republican Party has always had its Gerald Ford wing—the faction that systematically prefers the “safe” choice, the “moderate” choice, the “next-in-line” choice. There is no serious political principle at work among these people; just “Old Boys’ Club” stuff. That faction was for Romney before the candidates were even declared. When it became clear that the Chosen One was not going to steamroller the field and become the presumptive nominee three months ahead of Iowa, the concern became how to minimize the impact of the serious conservative candidates, and to prevent them from rallying the Tea Partiers to their cause. The media—including, once again, portions of the conservative media—ran prolonged and concerted lynching campaigns against any Tea Party favorite who came to the fore, most notably Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. The same media forces, by contrast, have generally pulled their punches against the two alleged frontrunners. Romney has largely been left alone. Gingrich, on the other hand, has been attacked, but primarily by conservatives concerned at the prospect that he, of all people, should become the officially sanctioned conservative choice—and, of course, by commentators pitching for Romney.
Bachmann, the closest thing to an official Tea Party voice in Washington from the outset, and Cain—the Left’s worst nightmare, a charismatic black conservative—were bombs that had to be defused
When one considers the assault levelled against Bachmann, and particularly the personal hit-job on Cain, it is most interesting that Gingrich, against whom there is plenty of political ammunition, not to mention “dirt,” for those interested in such things, has been allowed to ride along with only his debate opponents, and a relative handful of conservative writers, actually taking him to task on anything substantial. The message here is loud and clear: the left-leaning and Obama-sympathizing media understand their mission well. The real threat to the Left’s agenda—to the whole anti-constitutional, globalist, America-demeaning, dependency-producing project of decades, which was underway long before Obama, and can carry on without him—comes not from the Republican Establishment. It comes from constitutional conservatives, which, in the present landscape, means primarily from the Tea Party. Bachmann, the closest thing to an official Tea Party voice in Washington from the outset, and Cain—the Left’s worst nightmare, a charismatic black conservative—were bombs that had to be defused. Furthermore, as anti-Establishment types, they were almost as dangerous to the power brokers in the Republican Party as they were to the Left, so certain so-called conservative voices were only too happy to sit back and watch the demolition of the Bachmann and Cain campaigns, and perhaps even to throw in a few kicks of their own.
Then came the insidious mechanism of polling and poll-reporting (as I explain here and here) to firm up the preferred storyline. And so, at last, the Tea Party, the only force left in American electoral politics that resembles a soul—not to mention the only voice that is unashamed at declaring itself in support of the American Founding Fathers—has been officially squeezed out of the process of choosing a presidential nominee. The Establishment has, it believes, finally broken this useful but wild horse to its saddle; which means accepting that Washington should remain the battle-ground of those who wish to move quickly towards the disintegration of the American republic, and those who believe that the disintegration can be more or less maintained at current levels for a while.
There can be no doubt of the desirability of defeating Obama in 2012. However, there is, I maintain, a way of defeating him that in the long run may be little better than losing, and that would be to choose one of the Establishment-accepted nominees. In saying this, I know that I will be accused of seeking to undermine the eventual nominee. This lovely mantra is a clever technique for silencing all criticism of the officially-sanctioned “frontrunners,” by implying that to criticize those who seem to be in a position to win is carelessly to provide arguments for the other side to use later. Notice that few used this mantra against the conservatives who joined in the attacks against Bachmann and Cain, although they were indeed “frontrunners” at the time. This argument has only become popular now, when the “frontrunners” are the ones the Establishment wants.
So what exactly is the danger in selecting a moderate Republican, or a “big government conservative”?
The Tea Party, the loose affiliation of Americans who have been awakened to the impending collapse of Western civilization, and to the fact that the politico-moral principles animating the American Founding are the best—indeed, perhaps the only—satisfactory path to societal renewal, gained strength and found their voice in the face of increasingly overt assaults on the notions of individual liberty and U.S. sovereignty. That is to say, their effective activism was animated by an understanding that a penultimate stage of deterioration had been reached, one beyond which their nation would be doomed—not in any metaphorical, hyperbolic sense of that word, but in the bluntest, most literal sense. It followed naturally from this awareness that no ordinary political gamesmanship could solve the “problem.” This was not fundamentally a party politics issue, as, in the process of dismantling constitutional republicanism, both parties were guilty as sin. And yet, to give up on the Republican Party would be to embark on a third party project that would necessarily take longer to develop than the United States, on its current trajectory, could survive in any recognizable form.
The only option was to take over the Republican Party from within, and the most straightforward way to do this was to foster and campaign for the most conservative Republican candidates available. As long as they were fighting this noble fight within a minority (i.e. powerless) Republican Party, the Tea Partiers could foresee only the gains to be made. The pitfalls became apparent after the 2010 midterm elections, as the House majority leadership, granted that new status entirely thanks to the Tea Party, quickly circled the wagons to keep the Tea Party’s favorite congressmen on the periphery of the decision-making process. To fight against the leadership risked looking like obstructionism for its own sake. The lip-service paid to conservative concerns and the occasional legislative bones thrown to the Tea Party by the House leadership are intended in part to set the Tea Partiers back on their heels. To object too strongly is to seem to be undermining any hope of short term gains, by creating a split within the Republican caucus that would be tantamount to a third party insurgency. Thus, to some degree, the Tea Party and its elected representatives must grin and bear the piecemeal betrayal of the principles that won the Republicans a majority.
Imagine, now, that this problem were carried to the next level, by way of a Romney or Gingrich nomination. Tea Partiers, who are only Tea Partiers because they stand on constitutional principles against all obstacles to the twin goals of individual freedom and limited government, would have no choice but to swallow their pride and support a pretender. They would have to convince themselves that their candidate’s occasional conservative-sounding rhetoric was enough to warrant their support, while swallowing hard each time the candidate pandered to the liberals and moderates, as both Romney and Gingrich would be likely to do. They would have to coat their minds with soothing “anything-is-better-than-Obama” talking points. And, should they be successful in getting such a candidate elected President, they would face a difficult choice between fighting hard against a Republican President’s squandering of the last chance, and hoping that somehow, if only this President can resist the ratchet effect of big government for a while, a real constitutionalist (along with a real conservative Congress) might come along later and take the radical steps that are needed—if only it isn’t too late by then.
A movement that was given life precisely by the heady courage of being freedom-fighters would have to make do, and hold out, through a campaign, and potentially a presidency, in which such grandiose hopes would of necessity be muted. Whether they could survive such a prolonged period of restraint and strategic “moderation,” and somehow remain the strong and serious activists that they have been up to now, is highly doubtful.
Could the original Tea Partiers have accepted a monarch’s promise of halfway reforms in exchange for remaining loyal and obedient subjects? If they had done so, would not the Declaration of Independence, approved by the Continental Congress less than three years later, have been delayed, at the least? And do today’s Tea Partiers have three years (or more, in fact) to wait for their chance to declare independence again, this time from a destructive regulatory state? This regulatory state only seems more benign than a monarchy that imposes taxation without representation because it is an enemy within, with whom Americans have lived for as long as any of them can remember. Today’s Tea Partiers are the men and women who woke up to this fact, and refused to go gently into that good night. How long can they be expected to stay awake through yet another soporific Republican Establishment period? How long does anyone have the right to expect them to stay awake?
At a certain point, that great young boxer with the weak legs is just taking an unnecessary beating, and we all start to wish his corner would just throw in the towel. In this case, a lot more than his hometown’s hopes may ride on the kid, but that’s just all the more reason to put him out of his misery, if it comes to that.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s hope the Establishment’s clever strategy is foiled by an official-story-defying uppercut in Iowa.
Daren Jonescu has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He currently teaches English language and philosophy at Changwon National University in South Korea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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