March 23, 2012

The Tea Party and OWS

I have written twice on the Occupy Wall Street movement, registering my distain for the movement’s general lack of coherence or direction. It is time I said a word or two about the Tea Party, another loose association – in this case one with which I myself have been loosely associated.

The first thing one should know about the Tea Party is that they are not the mob of rabid bigots network TV has portrayed. This, at least, is a fiction. I have attended about half a dozen of their meetings and events, and have seen no sign of racism other than a relative (though not complete) lack of non-whites in attendance. They do, as group, hate Obama with a passion – but for reasons of policy rather than reasons of race. The charge of bigotry is an easy one to level these days, and though such sentiments certainly exist, one is not entitled to presume them so easily. One may never know what motives people harbor in their hearts, but it is not valid to ascribe to an entire movement the beliefs expressed by one or two idiotic signs.

My local Tea Party group’s published core principles are admirable enough:

- Respect for the U.S. Constitution
- Limited Size of Government
- Fiscal Responsibility
- Support for the Free Markets

In the present era with its contempt for the rule of law, its ongoing expansion of Government power, its burgeoning debt, and its cavalier lurches toward central economic planning – I can hardly disagree with such a set of guiding principles. Is it better to leave the law to the capricious nature of politicians than to the foundational charter of the republic? Is freedom a meaningful concept if the power of government is without limit? Is an ongoing policy of deficit spending sustainable? Is the policy of Government to favor a few huge companies by manipulating regulations and tax policy likely to produce a healthy economy? In each case, I believe the answer is “no”.

I would like to say that the Tea Party is simply a mass movement of responsible citizens who, though they may not agree on anything else, are bound together by a devotion to this handful of high principles. I would like to – but I can’t. The truth is that, at least at this point in our history, America does not produce many people capable of understanding principled positions of any kind. It produces a few, but they are outnumbered by the various groups of blind partisans of one stripe or another, and those in turn are outnumbered by the apathetic masses who just want someone – anyone – to come and make everything right for them. This state of things has probably always been the norm, so we should not weep too many tears for what is probably, in the end, just the aggregate product of human nature. The deficiency of political foresight possessed by the average individual may be more pronounced in our era than in some others, but I cannot name a single country in any age in which the average citizen has been both well informed and politically responsible.

The Tea Party is both more coherent and more directed in its efforts than the Occupy Wall Street movement, but this is probably because it is dominated by an older, more experienced demographic of the population. It is, like any other mass movement, defined not by the core principles it officially enumerates, but by the core principles that the majority of its members happened to bring with them. Those values are, for the most part, the values of social conservatives. Most meetings begin with a prayer, proceed with various expressions of frustration, and end with exhortations to do one’s best at the polls. And vote the members do, making them politically relevant to the extent that our corrupted form of democracy permits. Even here, they are a force bound by their own inherent lawfulness and devotion to convention. The shouting mob of bigoted haters depicted in the press turns out to be more of an animated PTA meeting in practice. They believe that if they can just gather up all the people who share their relatively narrow worldview they will turn out to be a majority.

I find that I have beliefs in common with the Tea Party, but that those beliefs appear to only be the expedient rallying points for most of its members. I cannot help having the sinking feeling that, for most of them, the desire is not so much to have a government that doesn’t run roughshod over the individual, but simply to have one that upholds and protects their particular values. Most of them would probably not see the introduction of mandated Christian prayer in school as an infringement of anybody’s liberty, though they might haggle bitterly about the denominational leanings of the prayer. I care about the protection of their values from the predations of overreaching social engineers, but I do not think that they would hesitate to support social engineering initiatives that supported a social conservative agenda. The conflict between opposing cultures in America is palpable.

The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party share two important tendencies. The first is the sort of partisan blindness I’ve already outlined. I doubt the average OWS participant would be anything but thrilled to see the wealth of every American millionaire and billionaire summarily confiscated by the government and redistributed to the unemployed. When people get the ends they want, they rarely quibble over the implications of the means. The second point of commonality between the two opposing camps is a growing awareness that the existing political process has abandoned them. Tea Party members may vote for Republicans, but only in the hope that their numbers and organization will be able to hold them to task. The Republican Party, after generations in the pockets of elites, has finally lost their trust. The Occupy Wall Street movement, I think, is beginning to understand that while the Democratic establishment is happy to use them, it is not really their friend. Democracy, as a whole, has become a farce – and ordinary people are beginning to understand that the joke has come at their expense.

I would like to think that a better society will emerge of this rising tide of anger and frustration – but again, I can’t. Reason and stability, historically, do not emerge from such conditions. More likely, we will see an era of liars and demagogues – all, of course, espousing freedom, justice, fairness, decency and the like.

1 comment:

  1. What about the funding of OWS by big labor, the Obama regime, liberal elites and and other loons? OWS is not a spontaneous movement like the Tea Party.