Are Tea Partiers really conservative?

I hate it when David Brooks writes a column on a subject that I have been researching on and planning to write about for weeks. And he did it to me Friday morning, with a great column about “The Wal-Mart Hippies.”

His central thesis is that the tea-party crowd is not really conservative at all. “Both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings. That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism. The Tea Partiers will not take over the G.O.P., but it seems as though the ’60s political style will always be with us — first on the left, now the right.”

I think that is spot-on, but I would also take it a step further.

True conservatives value one thing over any thing else: societal stability.

When so-called conservatives adopt tactics of the left—like Alinsky’s “Rule for Radicals”—they help further the cause of the left, which is social instability.

The dictionary definition of conservative is, “Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.” Russell Kirk, the iconic conservative thinker, considered conservatism “the negation of ideology.” Edmund Burke, considered by many the father of conservative thought because of his condemnation of the French Revolution, put it this way, “custom reconciles us to everything.”

But what do the Tea Partiers do?

They march with signs of Barack Obama in a clown face. They spend an inordinate time wondering if Obama was born in America. They attack institutions.

They use Alinsky’s rules against the left, but by doing so they create anarchy.

Dick Armey, the self-proclaimed father of the Tea Party movement, has been unapologetic in his use of these tactics. James O’Keefe, the right-wing provocateur, seems to enjoy channeling his inner Abby Hoffman.

Even the leading lights of so-called conservative talk radio, guys like Rush Limbaugh and especially Glen Beck, use many of these tactics to provoke, to entertain, and to shock the public.

But conservatives should think long and hard about by being right-wing left-wingers.

If conservatives decide to adopt the same tactics of the left, if they decide to be every bit as uncivil as the craziest radical, if they choose to be every bit as rude as the rudest hippy, if they choose to use language meant to abuse and destroy their opposition, who really wins and who really loses?

If we have an uncivil society, doesn’t that serve the interests of those who would prefer anarchy? If we treat the left like they treat us, doesn’t that mean that they win, because everybody loses?

Conservatives should be defending, not deriding, the democratic process. They should be insisting on civility in democratic discourse. They should practice basic politeness, and they should show respect for those who hold office.

It is altogether fun to bash the political class, and to make fun of all politicians. It must be therapeutic to call them all crooks and to march and protest, and read from Abby Hoffman’s playbook.

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  • brutus1776

    The problem with specialed ‘s points is that there is a Neo-Jacobin component to the Tea Party movement. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no animosity towards a majority of the Tea Party people, but I work with Tea Partiers everyday. It bugs me when they tout “limited government” but their lesser talking points include “saving social security and medicare” et cetera. This is not so much a stand for principle (for the MOST part) as it is stand against the status quo (or the current political leadership). Signs that say Kick them All Out and “Boot the Bastards” and so on reek of the hoi polloi marching aristocracy to the guillotine. It IS important to point out that this “movement” has forced a lot of citizens to re-learn about their nation’s history, read the Constitution and Declaration and books about our past. That is a true blessing.

    As per loudog ‘s remarks: very prominent Conservative thinkers have pointed out the Conservative paradox of returning to the Framers who themselves were Revolutionary (Harvey Mansfield has dealt with this at great lengths). Some Conservatives wish to Conserve what is left, others adhere to the old ME BRadford quote “Reaction is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometime to perpetuate what is outrageous.” Your points are scattered and seem to have been collected from light readings of Joseph Ellis’ works. Why can’t a Deist be a Conservative? Don’t we remember the popular “Founder” of Modern Conservatism, Edmund Burke? Why he was very much against the French Revolution, very much an advocate for keeping permanent societal institutions as the author points out very well in this piece, but was a vocal proponent of the American Revolution.

  • specialed

    Feehery misses the point entirely. He presumes that those wanting change are anarchists who want NO societal norms, that if they want “change” they want to ‘undermine civil society.’ His basic assumption is that society as we know it, is the standard by which conservatives should measure themselves, because it’s the norm they want to protect from change. It’s an analysis which couldn’t be farther from reality. The dictionary definition of conservative might be one that resists change from the current standard, but the political definition is very different. Anyone who doesn’t understand that honestly has no business opining on the topic. David Brooks wasn’t much better in his analysis of both sides in the argument, but at least he understood the point he was trying to make.

    The fundamental difference between a liberal and conservative in today’s political environment is simple. Liberals believe in centrally managed and controlled societal structures, e.g. strong governmental controls and standards that can be enforced to ensure things work according to said defined standards. Conservatives believe in decentralized societal management and structures where individuals and local entities define and enforce standards that are appropriate for their local needs. The Tea Party wants to do away with powerful centralized government structures and go back to individual and local responsibility models. It’s an argument that goes back to the founding fathers on both sides, and the vitriol was just as bad back then. But Feehery clearly doesn’t understand politics in a current or historical context. *I* could do better than this. I’m disappointed someone wasted space on the internet with this.

  • des1

    “They spend an inordinate time wondering if Obama was born in America.”

    This was my first clue that Mr. Feehery was an idiot (and not someone to be taken seriously since he plays so fast and loose with the facts). The Birthers are a tiny fringe element of the Tea Party, but he smears all Tea Party protesters with that broad brush (but you suspect he doesn’t do the same thing with anti-war nuts and 9/11 Truthers in the Democratic Party).

    Then he lauds David Brooks, which makes me wonder if he has any actual insights into politics, or if he has just managed to carve out a career by hobnobbing with people who will ask his uneducated opinion on issues.

  • robtr

    Feehery is the a typical useful idiot of the left like David Brooks, the left of center networks like to have them on because they are not to bright and enjoy trashing the right.

    Feehery and Brooks know as much about the tea party movement as any New York Times columnist or beltway lobbiest could I guess. Which is nothing.

    I actually went to a tea party protest in Washington and did not see anyone worried about where Obama was born or anyone spending any time attacking institutions. I did see people trying to get their government to listen to them and threating to use that terrible institution of voting them out of office if they don’t. They are worried about lobbiest like John Feehery helping to put us further into to debt with more backroom deals like lobbiest are famous for. Feehery dosen’t case whether his clients are liberal or conservative, he just wants to get them a seat at the trough.

  • loudog

    It’s a laugh everytime the far right claims to be inspired by the founders. Many of the founders were enlightened, progressive free thinkers in their day and the “conservatives” were Tories or those reluctant to join the Union without guarantees of continued slavery. For some reason, Glenn Beck keeps bringing up Thomas Paine, who was a deist and would have rejected anything about him.

    • spr8er

      They opposed a government (king) who would control every aspect of their lives, overtaxing the citizens while restricting their freedoms.Sounds pretty familier to me.

  • spr8er

    I’ve never seen such a failure of pundents and media hounds as i have on this issue.Even politicians have real trouble getting a handle on this movement,partly because (both sides)are too arogant to believe that they are the object of scorn by most who consider themselves tea partiers.The majority of people who consider themselves part of the movement have not been to an event.Most are fiscal conservatives and moderate on social issues.Most do NOT question the citizenship of obama,thats a media driven smear just like the accusations of racism.The signs you refer to are the result of frustration with our leaders, not an attempt to be “radical”.The biggest mistake of all is to assume that this is a far right or republican movement. I’m an indepedent and almost every independent i’ve spoken with agrees with most of the tea party platform.There will be some who would proclaim themselves leaders of this movement army,and o’keefe included,but a leader position is not required.Those in the media really dislike the lack of structure of this movement a more structured entity would present a better target,it was however,structured enough for scott brown in massachusettes.

  • andrewthenoisy

    This argument is preposterous. To ascribe to a conservative political ideology does not shackle one to being a gormless milquetoast when it comes to exercising our right of free assembly. Our political institutions deserve every heaping plateful of scorn they get, because they are no longer democratic, no longer concerned with social stability, no longer concerned with anything save the furtherance of their own budgetary needs. They need a refresher course on the origins of the social contract.

    And honestly, where’s the social disruption concomitant with the Tea Party? Where the violence & violation of mores? It’s not happening. There is a single target: our Leviathan state. We don’t want to overthrow the state. We want to tame it. If we are less cultured than a garden party in the process, well, so was Sam Adams.

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  • loudog

    Rules for Radicals is constantly taken out of context by the right propagandists. It applied at a time when institutional changes were taking place in this country. De-segregation, womens rights, minority rights all came about by changing the rules that white christian men put in place to protect their power in this country. Yeah, I’m sure you’re all very sad that you can’t turn the clock back and regress, but progress can’t be stopped.