Day By Day

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Class Warfare

Well, the "Tea Parties" have come and gone, although there are more being planned for July 4th. They were fun while they lasted and drew something in excess of a quarter million people. Not bad! Now we will see whether they are a base on which a genuine populist movement can be built.

For now the Tea Parties' major significance is that they seem to be an authentic expression of the emerging class warfare that is currently scrambling the institutional structures of American political culture. They roused hostility from the beltway political class, all major media outlets except NewsCorp, and the left blogosphere, were mischaracterized and dismissed as a conservative stunt funded and directed by mysterious billionaires and Republican political operatives, were libeled as racists, gun nuts, madmen, secessionists and religious fanatics, and suffered all manner of public calumny. Even the Department of Homeland Security tried, rather clumsily, to suggest that they represented a dangerous element in American society.

Notably, this hostile reaction included conservative and Republican sources as well as lefties and Dems. The reaction of many Republican politicians and commentators was craven confusion as they flailed about trying to figure out what was the safest way to play the situation. Most office holders lapsed into silence or cheap platitudes, hoping the whole disturbing thing would go away. Others, who did not have to run for office, like David Frum, were openly contempuous [example here].

We have seen similar reactions to other emergent political forces that have a reasonable claim to be the authentic voice of common people. The trashing of Sarah Palin is but the most obvious example.

What is happening here is the breakdown of a stable political order -- a technocratic regime that emerged after World War Two and has steadily increased its control since them. Reactionaries in all parties view this transformation with horror and react violently against it. Revolutionaries, heedless of the consequences, welcome it. Perhaps the most reactionary of all are functionaries and supporters of the current admistration, naive devotees of the cult of credentialed expertise, who openly yearn for a return to mid-twentieth century certainties. Most revolutionary are the insurgents who naively trust in the efficacy of free people, free markets, and free nations. Neither side represents a repository of timeless wisdom, although both pretend to. Victory by either extreme would be disastrous. The old credentialed elite is thoroughly corrupt, probably irredeemably so, and increasingly tyrannical as it extends controls into ever more aspects of American life. But at times the revolutionaries in their quest for freedom verge on anarchism. Neither side sketches what to me seems to be a desirable future.

These, as I have said before, are dark and dangerous times, and the current administration, yearning back toward the Roosevelt and Johnson administration, seeing themselves as the latest incarnation of "The Best and the Brightest" offers nothing in the way of positive leadership. If anything they are making the situation worse..., much worse. But at least these promise to be interesting times, and for an historian that is the best of all possible outcomes.