View Full Version : Tea Partiers revolt, but Government still wins

07-01-2010, 05:41 AM
By John Derbyshire

“If there is hope, it lies in the proles,” confided Winston Smith to his diary in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. This turned out to be an optimistic illusion. The low-class proles, the most intelligent or charismatic of them marked down for elimination by the Thought Police, stood no chance against the smart managerial elites of the Inner Party. Easily bamboozled and whipped into a war frenzy, their coarse senses sated by pornographic entertainments, the proles of Orwell’s fictional Oceania had no prospect of anything but, as an Inner Party member explains to Winston, “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

Present-day Oceania—or, as we say, “the West”—isn’t nearly as brutish as Orwell’s dark vision. We have open merit-ocracies in which intelligent prole youngsters, far from being liquidated, are welcomed into the upper classes. Nor are those upper classes a tightly organized Inner Party ruthlessly dedicated to self-preservation. They are only a loose—though increasingly endogamous—stratum, a sort of free-range Inner Party. They do have a common ideology, to be sure, but it is comparatively rational and humane, as state ideologies go, rooted in Enlightenment universalism and disgust at the excesses of industrial-age nationalism, colonialism, and racism.

The Republican Party of today nonetheless displays a shadowy resemblance to Orwell’s dystopia. Listening to conservative intellectual acquaintances gushing over the Tea Party movement, I hear Winston Smith’s diary entry murmured in the background: “If there is hope, it lies in the proles.”

Is there hope for conservatism? And if there is, does it lie in the proles? In the present political configuration, that would mean the Tea Partiers, most of whom belong to the petty bourgeoisie of private-sector worker bees, retirees, and small businessfolk. Do they stand a chance against the alliance of bureaucratic overclass and tax-consuming underclass?

The possibility that they do was raised following the June 8 “mini-Super Tuesday” primaries. The star was Sharron Angle, who won the Republican primary for Harry Reid’s Senate seat in Nevada. Angle has promoted a raft of positions guaranteed to get conservative hearts a-thumping: abolition of the Department of Education, withdrawal from the UN, privatization of Social Security, skepticism about climate change, and so on. With Tea Party support she handily trounced establishment Republican Sue Lowden, who had the endorsements of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

This was a heady triumph, especially since it came so soon after other primary victories against GOP establishment candidates, such as Rand Paul’s win in the Kentucky Senate race. Even where the news was bad on mini-Super Tuesday, it had bright spots. California victors Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, overclass Republicans both, made grudgingly positive noises about enforcing immigration law, a position well outside the establishment consensus but popular among Tea Partiers. Nobody imagines that either candidate would lift a finger to make good on her restrictionist rhetoric, but that Fiorina and Whitman felt obliged to make suitable noises is encouraging evidence for the effect of prole pressure.

But looking at what military strategists call “the correlation of forces,” optimism is hard to sustain.

Foremost among the forces opposing any advance of conservatism is the tenacity with which the legal-academic liberal component of the overclass controls the discourse. Rand Paul found out about this in his famous exchange with Rachel Maddow concerning Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination in “public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce,” interpreted by the courts to mean every small-town bar, diner, and lemonade stand. There are good and interesting arguments to be made here, pro and con, but they lie outside the zone of overclass-approved discourse. In attempting to make them in a public medium, Paul exposed himself to accusations of eccentricity—or worse, of harboring unkind thoughts about colored people.

Sharron Angle will not likely fall into that trap. She is not an intellectual libertarian keen to elucidate knotty points of political philosophy. There are libertarian strands in her rhetoric, but they are of the more folksy Western sort, deftly plaited with religious traditionalism.

Yet there are other traps. “This is going to be like Scott Brown in Massachusetts,” said Amy Kremer, a Tea Party organizer working for Angle. She seemed oblivious to the irony in her words. Brown’s January triumph, seizing Teddy Kennedy’s old Senate seat, had been inspirational to many conservatives. The bloom came off the rose in late February when Brown was one of five GOP senators to vote cloture on Obama’s “jobs bill.” “Without leaning a bit to the left he is not likely to be elected to a second term,” explained The Economist. What could be more important than getting a second term? Conservative principle? Ha!

Brown could serve as a poster boy for the genteel “reform conservatism” promoted by columnists David Brooks and David Frum. Their program is one of Bush-era militarism abroad combined with “sensible” conservatism at home—curtailing affirmative action, attrition of illegal immigrant numbers, etc.—garnished with some social-democratic sprinkles: prison reform, conservation, “improved education.” How many Scott Browns will the grassroots Right elect for every Sharron Angle?

The Tea Partiers themselves seem to be losing support.