October 14, 2010
The Tea Party Movement, otherwise known as the Great Peasant Revolt of 2010, has been greeted by the country's ruling class with all the sympathy that Voltaire expressed toward the Catholic Church: "Kill the infamous thing!"
Although the American Revolution provides the inspiration for today's Tea Party Americans (TPAs), their opponents in government, academia, and the media have exhausted their warehouses of invective by reacting to this new challenge to old privileges the way the French Aristocracy regarded the Third Estate. Which means, in the aristocracy's view, that there must a Robespierre or Marat lurking within that rabble, waiting with guillotines raised, screaming the eternal cry of revolutionaries: "Off with their heads!"
But the truth is more humble and less dramatic. TPAs' real motives are better expressed with a banner that proclaims "Off with their tenures!" Members of America's Ruling Class (consult Angelo Codevilla's superb essay on this point) may keep their heads, thank you; indeed, they'll need them to get real jobs if the Tea Party movement succeeds in removing many of them from power, not by the guillotine but by the ballot box.
Now President Obama is not Louis XVI—for one thing, he's a lot better looking—and Tea Party leaders are not the Jacobins. Still, questions remain about exactly what newly elected officials motivated by TPA priorities would do if they gain power. For those bewildered by the flurry of complex legal expressions, such as "First, stop the madness!" the following short list may help:
First, keep your perspective, which means that a few dozen House seats lost or gained doesn't really mean that much in terms of the larger picture, especially for the party out of power. Think of it this way: a trifling 10 percent of the total 435 House seats nets you a grand total of 43.5 seats, an amount that current TPA enthusiasts think is revolutionary. But this rarefied region of mathematics also informs us of the downside, which is that the remaining 90 percent of the seats are still in the same politically geriatric hands that have managed for decades to hire and fire their own constituents using a magical process known as gerrymandering. If the French aristocracy had been so well entrenched, Louis XVI's progeny would still be constructing four-foot hairdos at the Palace of Versailles.
Second, restore the narrative. The larger public needs to be reminded that taking or regulating banks, health insurance, automobile companies, and (if the EPA has its way) nearly every pot, puddle, and breath of air in the country, is not in keeping with America's traditional understanding of constitutional boundaries. And yet, the ruling class, with its fits of labeling, launches into tirades against these Constitution-citing Americans, accusing them of fascism. Go figure.
The problem is that the political left has until recently maintained a unilateral grip on the American narrative and on the country's self-understanding. That perspective has been almost uniformly negative since the 1960s. TPAs need to continue to stress American accomplishments, generosity, self-governance, independence, initiative, and creativity—in short, American greatness—and debunk the Witch's Sabbath of imaginary evils that so obsess the country's elite, such as anthropogenic global warming and a host of supposed phobias and isms that apparently stalk the lesser minds of the great unwashed masses who cling to their guns and religion.
Third, think in the long run. Progressives have wanted to socialize the country since Edward Bellamy projected his utopian fantasies into Looking Backward in 1888; left-wing thought police have wanted to manage if not obliterate dissent since Woodrow Wilson's heavy-handed tactics during the Great War. Progressives have had to settle with the welfare state and political correctness, both accompanied by continuous scolding of what they regard as Americans' selfishness and bigotry. The only part of all this that TPAs should emulate is the perseverance. This means setting a decades-long agenda that includes, for instance, reducing the size of the federal government, abolishing useless programs and departments, and demolishing the IRS and any tax scheme used for social engineering instead of raising revenue. Perhaps above all, excoriate the Reverend Wright-like hatred of America that poisons so many in the ruling elite; exalt American exceptionalism in every breath.
Will any of this work? Yes, if ordinary citizens refuse to ever give up. In the meantime, the next time Speaker Pelosi responds to a question about the constitutionality of an act of Congress by saying, "Are you serious? Are you serious?" TPAs and the vast majority of Americans may shout in unison: "Yes, we are!"