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Monday, March 8, 2010

That Bedfellows Thing

David Brooks of NYT compares the Tea Partiers to the 1960s anti-establishment "New Left". His argument is that the most salient aspect of the Tea Party movement is its relation to institutional power, to The Man, and in this sense it resembles the New Left. Common to both movements, he writes, is the assumption that the common folk are the good guys and that our leaders and institutions are corrupt. The solution? Start over, tear it down, get the power back to the people.

Brooks' analysis is certainly not anything approaching comprehensive, but it seems right to me as far as it goes.

7 comments:

Rebecca said...

Does that make the tea party left-wing and full of "dirty liberals"? The commonality is that the 2 movements are based in grass movement Populism. Early populists rebelled against the establishment---but also were incredibly racist and wanted tax subsidies on farms. So what group do you want to be compared to? The lesson: be careful of simplifying analogies, you may get mixed up with a message antithetical to yours.
By the way, the new Coffee Party is emerging with rallies taking place all over Seattle this week. They claim their platform is for a government that is "more responsible to the citizenry." The tea party is crying plagiarism. Genius.

Erik J. Larson said...

Rebecca, I should clarify that I think Brooks' piece is right in the sense that the groups' raison d'etre seems to be a challenge to leaders and institutions that they feel are now corrupt. I'm not sure to what extent the 1960s Left couched this in terms of the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers, but it seems a common theme among Lefties (c.f. Chomsky) to couch their arguments about the evil nature of American government in terms of the current government and its departure from the original intent of America, etc. In this sense I agree with Brooks on the similarity. Obviously there's no similarity on the substance of the politics.

Rebecca said...

But there is a problem when you associate the labels with the tactics and not the ideals. The message vs the procedures get muddled.
Brooks discusses the danger that the Tea party could have in just rallying around tossing out the establishment when, as a society, labels of liberal vs. conservative have become so skewed that they mean nothing but remain to be clung to as an identity. He even addresses "true conservatism" aligning with distrust of the general public. But, in the 21 Century, when has someone been a "true conservative?" Does it matter where on the political spectrum the power is? Or does it matter who should actually be distrusted? --Becky

Erik J. Larson said...

I agree that the ideals are probably more important than the tactics. Brooks is obviously aware of the distinction you point out; he seems to think the relation of the two groups with regard to institutions is more important (or at least noteworthy).

If I understand your question correctly (and I understand Brooks correctly), Brooks would argue that some groups seem to see institutional power as inherently suspect, and so in this sense they end up in a strange agreement with each other (hence the "bedfellows" title). But it's true as I think you suggest that the so-called New Left derided a center right administration and an agressive foreign policy culminating in the Vietnam War, and the Tea Party derides the "socialist policies" of the current administration, so the politics, the ideals as you say, are obviously relevant. The Tea Party emerged when a Democrat won the presidency, of course, even while the Bush administration ran up the deficit, and so on. I suppose the members of either movement would insist that politics as such had little or anything to do with their message, but if you're suggesting that this seems dubious, I'd agree.

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