Tea and Sympathy
By Arnold Kling
A conservative photo-journalist refers to yesterday’s rally in Washington as The Conservative Woodstock.
I believe that this day could be referred to in the not too distant future as the day that changed America. This was the day the great silent conservative majority finally found its voice.
I’m to put my comments below the fold, because this is an “off-mission” post. If the point of my blogging is to educate people about economics and political economy, it is hard to see how this post relates, although it might.First of all, I don’t see this as the dawn of a new day. More like a last stand. But I’ll come back to that.
I’m probably one of the few people who was on the Mall for a big anti-Vietnam War rally and also for some of this event. However, for this one, I came down on my bike, got there around noon, and left after about 15 minutes. I didn’t see the huge crowd that ultimately assembled. When I passed the Reflecting Pool, there were more tourists than protesters, and I had to get almost to the lawn on the Capitol before I saw a big concentration of protesters.
People were mellow and friendly, like at the giant anti-Vietnam rally. And as with that rally, they tended to mill around, ignore the speakers, and chat among themselves. My joke is that I was waiting for Pete Seeger to come out and sing “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” about the deficits. (“We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy. But the Big Fool says to push on.)
At an anti-war rally, a thrill would run through the crowd if a charismatic politician came to speak. Here, that was not going to happen. Is that because there are no charismatic conservative politicians any more, or because conservatives aren’t so much into charisma?
Do they fit the stereotype of being white, small-town, uneducated racists? Not much racism, but otherwise I would say they fit the stereotype enough to make me skeptical that this is an important political movement. This country is becoming more urban, less white, and more educated. At most, this movement could turn out to be the right-wing equivalent of MoveOn–a mailing list to be tapped when somebody wants to try to mobilize activists. But it may not even achieve that before it splinters and shrivels into insignificance.
I think the long-term significance of what is going on, both at the progressive end and at the Tea Party end of the political spectrum, is an open rupture. In the 1960’s, a Hubert Humphrey or Robert Kennedy could connect with uneducated white voters. The idea of blowing them off was unthinkable, if only because they were such a large majority of the voting population at the time.
Now, the elitism of President Obama and his supporters has reached in-your-face levels. They have utter contempt for the Tea Party-ers, and the Tea-Party-ers know it.
I wouldn’t want the Tea Party-ers at the faculty picnic, either. But my sense of class solidarity with Obama and other educated progressives does not make me want to see them exercise power. If anything, being a member of the educated elite and knowing knowing them as well as I do makes me share the Tea Party-ers’ fears.
I come back to my view that this is white, small-town America making its last stand. However, I think, also, that the progressive elite is making a last stand. My guess is that doubts are mounting among many independent voters about whether they want such a highly-charged politics. I am sticking with my bet that the Democrats will hold onto their House and Senate majorities as well as the Presidency through the elections of 2016, but relative to six months ago I feel that I am depending more on Republican incompetence than overall political trends to win that bet.
One could argue that this country is on the verge of a crisis of legitimacy. The progressive elite is starting to dismiss rural white America as illegitimate, and vice-versa. I see the chances of both sides losing as much greater than the chance of either force winning.