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Are Tea Partiers really conservative?

Posted By John Feehery On 12:01 AM 03/08/2010 In | 40 Comments

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.

It is even more fun to follow Glen Beck’s conspiracy theories, to connect the dots in ways that were never meant to be connected, to speak darkly of the Trilateral Commission and to talk about succession and nullification.

And it must be a lot of fun for people to talk about how they are going to arm themselves and resist against the terrible federal government.

But, that isn’t what being a conservative is all about. Conservatives don’t look for ways to undermine civil society. Conservatives respect the Constitutional process as designed by our Founders, and modified on occasion by our forefathers. Conservatives appreciate the democratic process, and seek to make society better, not through revolution or radicalism, but through evolution and incrementalism.

Abby Hoffman once said that sacred cows make for a tasty hamburger. He also said that the first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.

A real conservative doesn’t play that game. A real conservative puts a high value on civil society, stability, and a social contract based on mutual respect and equal opportunity.

A real conservative doesn’t try to “get away with it.”

“The Rules For Radicals” was designed as a guide for the left to use to tear down civil society and build up something utopian in its place. It tactics are not applicable to those of us who value a stable, civil, and prosperous nation.

John Feehery is president of the Feehery Group, a strategic advocacy firm dedicated to helping its clients achieve their legislative and communications objectives in Washington, D.C. He is also a frequent commentator on the political landscape, widely quoted around the country and often seen on such television programs as CNN’s The Situation Room, MSNBC’s Hardball, and Bloomberg Television’s Money and Politics. He is also a contributor to The Hill’s “Pundits Blog.”


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