Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Origin of the Teaparty, Liberalism & Original Sin

Daniel Salomon's advertisement 'Flat out: 's history of American racism is the Internet's best commentary on U.S. shutdown politics: .' made me read the article.

In it Zack Beauchamp makes several claims:
'the Constitution likely plays some role in making Americans more hostile towards government than citizens of other liberal democracies, but that does not explain why the South is so much more conservative than the rest of the nation'
'Progressives tend to think that America’s broadly liberal ideology — individual rights, democracy, the whole kit and kaboodle — is fundamentally opposed to a more sinister ideology that also shaped our founding — the black/white racism that sustained slavery'
'More radical leftists, especially those of a Marxist bent like Ackerman, disagree, believing that emphasizing racial exceptionalism obscures the ways in which the broader structure of American society makes the country’s political institutions intrinsically unfair and unequal.'
Offcourse a great way to frame the teaparty, but does this picture correspond to reality. How do we fit Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, a bunch of talkshow hosts, Iowa's Steve Deace, Van der Plaats, Marvin Olasky and others into this blurred picture of a very diverse movement?

I prefer starting out with a comment on the RedState website by a Tea Party supporter who quoted a statement by the Republican Mainstream Partnership in 2006/2007:
'The pro-active extreme agenda of Senator Rick Santorum and his fellow extreme right cohorts such as Falwell and Robertson were responsible for the loss of this key Senate seat, among others.'
This illustrates the fact that debating what the teaparty stands for, or should stand for, is a debate on the link between faith and politics. It should caution us to equate it immediately or intuitively with 'the south'. The influence of catholics and maybe even some Colson admirers indicates a broad coalition of or a perceived consensus among Christians. Marvin Olasky's praise of Ted Cruz in World Magazine years ago points in that same direction. This is not to say that a certain understanding of early American history plays some role in it as well. A good example is perhaps the popularity of David Barton's  instrumentalization of early American history. At the same time Martin Luther King has some good advice for us in this discussion:
'There is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason. . . . It was . . . the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history, and man's shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin. . . . I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism'
Curiously David Brooks claimed some time ago that the tea party is radically anti-conservative:
'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.'
Linking the tea party to the history of the South is counterproductive while it reinforces stereotypes while obscuring the fact that inside the tea party there are major influences of a diverse origin. We could point to the attempt by neoconservative like Bill Kristol, Tom Cotton and Liz Cheney to coopt the the teaparty. The fact that both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are associated with the tea party should caution us against oversimplification.

Counterproductive far-right populism, both in Europe and the United States, seems to me much more an illustration of what's wrong with communitarism as promoted by people like Michael Gerson, associated with the Dooyeweerd promoting Center for Public Justice. An ideology incapable of engaging a meaningfull dialogue with the grassroots, incompatible with the basics of how traditional whigs see politics and a tendency to pander to anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments by emphasizing 'values'.

However, the leadership demonstrated by Senators Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Alexander Lamar and Rand Paul (the Kentucky/Tennessean 'Quartet') on foreign policy, immigration and concerning Obamacare is aimed obviously at sidelining both the far-right and neoconservatives. It makes me optimistic about the future of the Republican party. It brings the party back to it's historic roots and limits the influence of communitarism.

Classic liberalism is closely related to the brand of Whig politics in the United States developed at Princeton during the 18th century. Also relevant in this context:
'According to William J. Novak, however, liberalism in the United States shifted, "between 1877 and 1937...from laissez-faire constitutionalism to New Deal statism, from classical liberalism to democratic social-welfarism"

And when talking about racism progressives should maybe include it's twentieth century anti-immigration and eugenic legacy. 

Equating the tea party with nostalgic longing for the racist South is the easiest way to easily dismiss someon, as David Frum did recently

'Glenn Beck: Rand Paul is the Charles Sumner of our time. Except for the anti-slavery, save-the-Union bit of course.'

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