A Pre-Revolutionary Situation
Once upon a time, there was a nation that had trouble paying its bills. The people were restless. So the king called for his advisors, and they advised a little inflation to stimulate trade. A few months passed, and the people were still restless. So the king called for his advisors once again and asked them what was wrong. It's those extremists and radicals, they said. They are sowing radical ideas and extremism among the people.
Wouldn't you know, the bookstores are groaning these days with pompous titles about the radicalism of the Republican Party. Court pundit E.J. Dionne, Jr. is out with Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent. He argues that Republicans have abandoned any thought of community in a mad crush on individualism. In an interview with Hugh Hewitt, E.J. worried that the Tea Partiers owe too much to the ideas of the John Birch Society and have reneged on the "long consensus" about the role of government in society.
I think they emphasize our individualistic side, which is very much part of us, the individual liberty side, to the exclusion of that side of us which both believes profoundly in community, and sees it as essential to preserving liberty.
Thomas E. Mann from Brookings and Norman J. Ornstein of AEI have written It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Jay Cost tells us what they think has gone wrong.
[T]hey argue that the GOP "has become an insurgent outlier -- ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
When a ruling elite starts to fail, you'd expect this sort of thing. How dare, how dare those peasants challenge our divine right to rule?!
The United States is entering a pre-revolutionary situation, where a significant faction in one of the political parties has said: "We're getting screwed; the deal's off." And that is exactly what James Piereson is arguing in "The fourth revolution" in The New Criterion. We are entering a period of revolutionary upheaval, he writes, caused not just by the Crash of 2008 and budget deficits, but by "the exhaustion of the post-war system of political economy that took shape in the 1930s and 1940s." Cue Margaret Thatcher: "They always run out of other people's money."
There are several strategies open to an elite in a pre-revolutionary situation. It can opt for confrontation. That was the tactic attempted by the progressives of Wisconsin, and it failed. Another approach is co-option. You figure out what the rubes really want and give them just enough to make them go away. That was the strategy of the Clinton years and the Third Way. It almost worked.
Then there is always marginalization: don't listen to those whack-jobs and extremists. This method worked on Ronald Reagan, for a while.
But how about an approach that would appeal to the vast majority of Americans? How about re-energizing the sense of American identity, of America as a community of free men and women, "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility"?
Community? It's not just what E.J. Dionne, Jr. wants; it's what everyone wants.
It is in the definition of community that the difference between liberal ruling class and the conservative extremists arises.
For liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr., community means top-down government programs to advance the common good, helping people and correcting injustices. That's because liberals believe that government can be a force for good, as long as enlightened, educated people are in charge.
For conservatives, community means free men and women joining together responsibly to advance the common good, helping people and preventing injustice. That's because conservatives believe that government can very easily become a force for evil, even when enlightened, educated people are in charge.
Every new dynasty takes power on a moral crusade for justice, and the liberals a century ago were determined to bring justice to the working man, who'd drawn the short straw at the birth of the industrial age. But it always ends in the cesspools of corruption, with all passion spent, trying to stay in power by shoveling loot out to supporters that are only in it for the money.
The private sector is doing fine; what's needed is more money to avoid government employee layoffs. Of course, President Obama feels that way. The private sector, at a pinch, can look after itself. But the president, at any cost to the nation, must hang onto his supporters.
But if the private sector can look after itself, who needs liberals?
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.