Do you support Republicans or Democrats? I've got a bridge to sell you.

The most interesting take I've read thus far in the mainstream media on Saturday's tea party mobilization in Washington D.C. comes from Gerald Seib at the Wall Street Journal, who sees in the movement a resurgence of the form of populism that helped drive Ross Perot's campaigns for the presidency in the 1990's:
Protesters steamed up about government spending and decrying the advent of "socialism," may appear to represent a rich new vein in American politics. In fact, though, these Tea Party Patriots and like-minded brethren represent the latest resurfacing of a vein that has always been there and that simply goes below ground from time to time. This vein is populist and antiestablishment; it alternates between suspicion of government in general, and anger at the idea that government seems to be doing more to help fat cats or the other guy. In some fashion or another, it has been around since the time George Washington quelled the Whiskey Rebellion. The last big appearance came when Ross Perot tapped into it in the 1990s.
Seib is certainly not alone. At the 2012 Presidential Election, Consti Tution makes a plea for third party opposition to the two-party system and begins: "I miss Ross Perot." Perot's name also came up on Rush Limbaugh's radio show on Monday. A participant in Saturday's rally called in advocating third party activism:
Caller: to a person the Republicans that I spoke with were just fed up with government in general. There was a lot of anger at the Bush administration. They had all the levers of power at their disposal and they did nothing. They did not represent us. There's just real anger out there, and so I really believe that this movement is bigger than the political parties. I really think there's going to be a movement soon to maybe form another party. I've been a Republican my whole life, but those people no longer represent me . . .

Limbaugh: . . . we've gotta be really, really careful here, Dana, about this left versus right government thing. You mentioned third party, and we've been through this with Perot . . . a third party is not going to do anything other but ensure the reelection of Obama and every other Democrat running for office . . . Folks, we need to take the Republican Party back. The Democrat Party was co-opted, has been co-opted by a bunch of communists, socialist, fascists, what have you from the sixties and the seventies and that's what we're up against now. We have allowed our party to be co-opted by a slate of Ivy League elitists and country club, blue-blood Republicans . . . We've gotta address the biggest emergency first, and that is stopping Obama. That has to happen. If that doesn't happen then all the rest of this is academic. The second thing is, Ross Perot gave the White House to the Democrats in two successive elections.
At American Independent Party News, Bob Bailey writes in response:
Limbaugh's argument that there is a difference between the Republican and Democrat party sounds hollow given the two candidates offered in the last election. It sounds hollow given that the last Republican President abandoned the free market system (allegedly to save it). It sounds hollow given the actions taken by the Republican party when they had control of the government.
Indeed, Limbaugh's position is nothing more than a chain of duopolist cliches, and perfectly encapsulates the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of two-party ideology: third party candidates are spoilers, we've got to take our party back, Democrats are the greater of two evils etc. Ironically, with the appropriate substitutions, Limbaugh's "arguments" against third party and independent activism are identical to those put forward by progressive Democrats: Ralph Nader put George Bush in the White House, we've got to take the Democratic Party back, Republicans must be stopped at all costs etc. Duopoly ideology allows Republicans and Democrats to avoid taking any political responsibility for the failure of the two-party system to effectively represent the people of the United States: the election was spoiled, our party has been hijacked, the other guys are evil. Duopolist shills play the victim in a confidence trick aiming to extort support for the reproduction of the political status quo. Everyone's a potential mark.


Samuel Wilson said...

I agree with Seib about the populist content of the tea party movement and the fact that it's nothing new. But populism is almost always a double-edged sword because its vision of "the people" is usually exclusionary. Which Americans, after all, have a right to call others "special interests?" The populist aspect of the tea parties may repel as many people as it attracts for that reason. If it's to amount to anything more than occasional gatherings of anger, somebody will probably have to step up and play the William F. Buckley role to kick birthers, truthers and others out of the movement. That in turn will inevitably provoke complaints about the movement being hijacked just as the major parties are always being "hijacked" or "co-opted" by big-tent electioneers at the expense of true believers like Limbaugh who still consider the parties and their fundraising machines their rightful property.

d.eris said...

I think what is new, at least in recent history, is the fact that this impulse has taken to the streets in mass mobilizations, a tactic which had been monopolized by the left for at least a generation.

It would be quite interesting, and potentially extremely successful, if the activist left, specifically, the groups that together formed the anti-war movement coalition, joined up with the tea party folks in opposition to the global warfare and corporate welfare state.