David Boaz at Cato discusses the fact that the Tea Party phenomenon—and it is a phenomenon—continues to “freak out” commentators on the Left. He writes (preserving his links and italics):
With a few rare exceptions like [Jonathan] Rauch and John Judis, non-conservative intellectuals are just freaked out by a mass movement against big government. Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, E. J. Dionne, Frank Rich — they just can’t imagine that real middle-class Americans could honestly oppose President Obama’s tax-and-spend agenda and march in the streets against it — just like, you know, they did against the war and stuff. It’s got to be racism, billionaires, extreme libertarianism, extreme authoritarianism, the John Birch Society, something. And so they tell the president that the Tea Party is reminiscent of “the Know-Nothings and Father Coughlin.” Why oh why can’t we have better historians?
As I have had occasion to remark in the past, I don’t think that the Tea Party’s motivations are all that mysterious. Vast and expanding government debt to finance vast and expanding government intrusion into people’s lives: that is pretty much it. So I share Boaz’s bemusement at commentators’ professed inability to comprehend.
One thing I think Boaz might be missing, however, is the possibility that these commentators, or at least some of them, might perfectly well understand what motivates the Tea Partiers—which is precisely why they accuse them instead of uncontrolled and irrational anger, racism, inhumanity toward others, and assorted other moral vices.
Expanding spending and centralized control are necessary parts of and deeply integrated into their political worldviews. They are willing to engage opposition on this or that policy, on this or that spending level increase; but a generalized opposition to debt and control is something that questions their premises, and so something they are far less willing to entertain. Premises are also far more difficult to justify, especially to skeptics. Much easier, then, to demonize one’s opposition by suggesting their views have roots in despicable motives.
Perhaps some of the commentators to whom Boaz links are genuinely flummoxed by the Tea Party phenomenon. But I think it is more likely that they are surprised by its strength and durability, have recognized the size of its threat to what they hold dear, and thus have decided to discredit it as best they can.
Time will tell whether the whether their strategy will work. Indeed, we should know in roughly fourteen days, give or take.