Moe Tucker Conservatives?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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UKIP/Tea Party Statists May Be Onto Something: Alex Wickham of Breitbart London picks up an apparently not-very-subtle shift in the ideology of the surging UK Independence Party,  which is trying to extricate Great Britain from the European Union.

“This shift was confirmed at the weekend by the party’s Economic spokesperson, Patrick O’Flynn. In a discussion on the NHS, O’Flynn told the BBC’s Any Questions programme that UKIP opposed moving from the current system of nationalised healthcare towards private healthcare insurance, attacking ‘Right-wing ultra-libertarian think tanks’ who have backed such an idea. …

“UKIP’s increasing need to appeal to Left-wing Labour voters, particularly in the north of England, means the party can no longer risk being seen as anything other than staunch defenders of the NHS. This is evident in the appointment of Louise Bours as its new Health spokesperson. Bours is a UKIP MEP, and has a whole page on the party’s website devoted to “standing up for the NHS”. 

“That is a considerable change from the previous position outlined by UKIP’s deputy leader, Paul Nuttall, who wrote on his website: ‘I would argue that the very existence of the NHS stifles competition, and as competition drives quality and choice, innovation and improvements are restricted. …'”

Wickham focuses on the flip-flop and contradiction angles, but maybe UKIP has backed into an intriguing model for a 21st century First World party, namely fighting against all the modern forces pulling the economy and the culture apart.  The forces: Technology and trade increase income inequality (UKIP’s Nigel Farage: “The country’s got a big, big problem and in the course of the last decade the ‘rich’ have got remarkably richer.”) Uncontrolled immigration brings discordant cultures and lower wages, making it harder for unskilled workers to live traditional, ordinary middle class lives. Even if wages weren’t going down, it would be harder to have social equality when incomes depend increasingly on smarts, skills and knowledge. Income differences take on a nasty new edge. Endless, inconclusive wars — disorienting in themselves — increase the gap between military and civilian culture, between those who serve and those who don’t.

UKIP may recognize that in a society being fractured and degraded (for the majority) even very imperfect but functioning traditional statist programs like the NHS can provide a necessary structure. The obvious parallel is with the U.S. Tea Party’s often-mocked “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare” motif. That may not be ideologically coherent in traditional government vs. individual terms–or “Back to the Constitution” terms —but it is perfectly coherent in “stop all this unpleasant change” terms. Like the U.K., America has been deconstructing, and it sometimes seems as if the New Dealish/Great Society programs Medicare and Social Security are the only familiar structures of support anyone can rely on.

Of course, the Republican establishment rejects the Tea Party as too right wing or “extreme” on some issues. But will they also reject it when, as with Medicare, the movement is positioned the party’s left? For example, will they persist with Paul Ryan’s complex plans to turn Medicare into semi-voucherized Obamacare-like system of exchanges? That may be clever policy but it is also more change and disorientation, knocking out one of the only secure pillars the middle class has — they’d have to scramble, A.C.A.-style, to pick their insurance plans, which might or might not cover everything Medicare does.

I doubt modern (i.e. post-Reagan) Beltway Republicans will get the “hands off” message — too many conservative wonks with too many think tank offices.  It’s probably better to think of the UKIP/Tea Party model as a third rogue tendency outside the Dem/GOP categories — Bucahananites maybe, or Centripetalists. I’d like call them Moe Tucker Conservatives, after the revered non-Republican rock musician who let loose with a memorable Tea Party rant in 2010, though she added a general “stop the madness” riff about bureaucratic meddling (“First Lady telling (I know, I know, ‘suggesting to’) us what to eat, the mayor of New York City declaring ‘no salt’ (screw you, pal!) … “)

I also think that really countering deep, centrifugal economic forces will require more government than many Tea Partiers contemplate (though it’s hard to argue that the most obvious Centripetalist solution, the reinstitution of a draft, is such a break with tradition).

Still, if you’re looking for the sweet spot of American politics right now ….

Mickey Kaus