Friday, April 16, 2010

Popping Off Against Populism

Peter Beinart, an obvious autodidact, takes issue with the idea that the current Tea Party movement in any way resembles what he understands as populism: "But historically, the standards for what constitutes populism have been a little higher. In American history, populism has a specific meaning: It’s our non-Marxist way of talking about class. Being a populist means standing up for the little guy against ruling elites. Hating Washington isn’t enough, or else J.P. Morgan would have been a populist when he fumed that Theodore Roosevelt was busting his trusts. You have to be angry on behalf of the underdog."

Now keep in mind that the erudite Beinart begins the quote above by chastising the press for labeling as, "populist," anyone who accuses Barack Obama as a Marxist-thereby underscoring the limited parameters and prejudices of his own worldview. What needs to be pointed out is just how predictable the Beinart whine is-and it followed swiftly the main stream media debunking of the previous shallow bias that saw the "teabaggers" as racist homophobes.

So now, with the NY Times/CBS polling observations that the TP folks are a bit richer and better educated than the average American, the line of attack of the herd of independent minds needs to be adjusted: "The Tea Partiers aren’t standing up for the little guy; they’re standing up to the little guy. Which is why we now have scientific proof that Tea Partiers don’t deserve the label. According to a survey in Thursday’s New York Times, Tea Partiers are wealthier and better-educated than average Americans. They’re not today’s version of the Nebraska dirt farmers who rose up against the railroads and the banks more than a century ago."

Now we would agree that the current populist incarnation is quite different from that of the agrarian revolt depicted by Richard Hofstadter-it has been transvaluated to a degree to fit into the current political matrix. But maybe, just maybe, there is a need to bring a more open mind to the way in which the current TP deserves the populist moniker.

Let's start by deconstructing the fallacy of the Beinart premise-that the current movement is somehow standing up to the little guy: "They’re today’s version of the California suburbanites who rose up against their property tax bills in the late 1970s rather than pay for decent schools for the Golden State’s black and Hispanic kids. They’re the second coming of what Robert Kuttner called “the revolt of the haves.”

This is rather breathtaking in its stupidity; especially at the exact moment of California's insolvency-a bankruptcy that has come about by ignoring the wisdom of the original tax revolt in that state. The fact that the Golden State is tapped out derives from the same misguided belief that in order to help the little guy you need to spend the state into the ground. How's that working out for those small folks?

And notice too how Beinart can't miss the opportunity to sneak in a racial motivation for the tax revolters of an earlier era-people who might have been skeptical about the continued spending orgy on a public education system that, in spite of all the dough thrown at it, can't seem to lift up the educational levels of all of those poor kids that Beinart has such faux rachmones for. And are the progressives in the forefront of the DC voucher promotion? Must have missed that.

Which brings us to a crucial point. Beinart truly believes that his progressive philosophy is looking out for the little guy. What he misses in this kind of unreflective and self congratulatory pontificating is that the populist mindset was contrapuntal to that of the progressives-folks who believed, as all good elitists do, that they knew best what was good for the less fortunate among us. And it is precisely this progressive mindset today that has provoked the uprising that Bienart so inaptly derides.

And there's a further fallacy embedded in this progressive elitism. It is the fact that the entire progressive approach-undertaken with the public assertion that the efforts are all for the downtrodden-ends up being not for the little guy, but to the little guy. Its endgame is to create an overweening governmental structure that insures that those little folks will be forever enthralled to their betters.

It is precisely this Leviathan-a monster machine run for the benefit of its over paid public employees, an unaccountable nomenclatura-that the Tea Party organizes against. It is an unrelenting and insatiable structure whose driving imperative is the pursuit of a never ending lebensraum.

But the revolt is, as Bienart says, to some extent an uprising of the haves-but the implications in his sneering sentenceseiaricatures the group as fat cats, when the truth is something quite different. These rebels are the same folks that the Alliance has represented for over twenty five years. They are the hard working home owners fighting for the quality of life in their neighborhoods; and they are the small business men and woman fighting to preserve the unique set of opportunities that allow one to succeed in this country-as they couldn't in any other.

It is this uniqueness, and the liberty that nourishes it, that is under assault by the ObamaNation-and the faithful scriveners like Beinart that look to toady for the New Class. Hence, we get this puerile sarcasm: "Now we learn that what the Tea Partiers dislike about Barack Obama’s economic policies is that they don’t do enough for the rich. According to the Times, Tea Partiers are more likely than other Americans to think Barack Obama’s policies favor the poor, and they’re mad as heck about it. Not exactly William Jennings Bryan stuff."

On the contrary, the disdain for the Obama agenda is that it is an assault on the conditions that have allowed these folks to succeed in this great country-and if that agenda is successfully implemented, it will surely close off opportunities for, not only the children of this productive class, but for all the current little guys who believe that they too can succeed through hard work and ingenuity (and without the crippling "help" that is offered by the statists).

But Beinart's resort to sarcasm is the facile way that the smug always proceed when the wind is at the other guy's sail-and the arguments can't be deconstructed honestly. What makes this country great, Peter, is the opportunities it offers. It is this unique culture, one that generates, "the lion's share of innovation, world-changing entrepreneurship, patents, pharmaceutical drugs, etc.," that progressives have always derided in their persistent effort to take control over the lives of others so that, in the end, they can ascend to their rightful ruling perch-high above all of the dependent little guys.