Arnold Kling  

The Sixties and the Tea Party

PRINT
Sloppy Reporting on Greece... De Rugy on VAT...

David Brooks sees similarities, while Jonah Goldberg sees differences.

The similarity between today and the 1960's is that our country seems highly polarized. On the other hand, I think there is one enormous difference between the 1960's and today. In the 1960's, the progressive establishment suffered a loss of confidence. Today the progressive establishment suffers from overconfidence.

In the 1960's, the significant issue was the Vietnam War. The progressive establishment looked at the demonstrators and thought, "Those are our children! And they're right! This is a lousy war." Lyndon Johnson, the erstwhile hero of the progressive establishment, the champion who had won in a landslide in 1964, withdrew from the race in 1968. The Progressive establishment went through a period of self-criticism and self-doubt.

Today, the significant issue is Washington's response to the financial crisis. The progressive establishment looks at the demonstrators and thinks, "Those are ignorant, irrational bumpkins! We passed the TARP and the stimulus to help them! Health care reform is our gift to them! Cap and trade will save the planet for them!"

The Progressive narrative is that the financial crisis demonstrated conclusively that markets do not work and we need technocratic management instead. The Tea Party does not buy that narrative. The Progressive narrative is pro-Washington. The Tea Party narrative is anti-Washington.

If there is a way to resolve the conflict, I am not seeing it.


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (17 to date)
razib writes:

i thought the tea-partiers were at the core older conservative moderately affluent white dues? IOW, they're just traditional conservatives, with a twist of libertarianism thrown in.

anyway, how will this resolve? there are parts of europe, like the dutch bible belt or bavaria, which are conservative. but they're minoritarian in outlook. i think the "problem" with the core tea partiers is that they're not really used to this yet.

Doc Merlin writes:

@razib
"i thought the tea-partiers were at the core older conservative moderately affluent white dues"

You have been watching too much tv. The tea partiers are a diverse lot.

Randy writes:

razib,

Its an interesting mix, but I am most encouraged by that "twist of libertarianism" that you mention. Perhaps a new Reformation lies just over the horizon - by which I mean a time of renewed individualism.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Wow - you have a really jaded view of the "progressive establishment". If we use the third and fourth paragraph to define the "progressive esablishment", then I'm sure we could turn up some people that are in it - but there would be very, very, very few of them.

Not everyone that disagrees with you is that condescending, eager to weild power, and patronizing, Arnold. Sometimes they just disagree with you and that's all. What's funny is how condescending this post that accuses progressives of being condescending comes across.

Les writes:

It seems odd to assume that there is a "progressive establishment." More likely, there are:

A) Politicians seeking money, power and re-election,

B) Special interests offering money for political favors,

C) Many poorly-informed voters, and a very few well-informed voters.

D) Spin merchants, who invent noble names for dirty deeds (such as "Health-care Reform" for government-controlled medical insurance).

Daniel Kuehn writes:

"D) Spin merchants, who invent noble names for dirty deeds (such as "Health-care Reform" for government-controlled medical insurance)."

Or taking a word like "freedom" and using it to describe outrage at the very idea of constitutional self-government.

Snark aside, I generally agree with the point of your post. The us vs. them, suspicious, condescending attitude of Arnold's initial post strikes me as the real legacy of the 60's here. I'm not sure it's quite as air-tight as he supposes.

Noah Yetter writes:

"Not everyone that disagrees with you is that condescending, eager to weild power, and patronizing, Arnold."

Eagerness to wield power defines the very essence of progressivism.

"Or taking a word like "freedom" and using it to describe outrage at the very idea of constitutional self-government."

We no longer have constitutional self-government. The state does as it pleases.

Randy writes:

Well, Daniel, among those "very, very, very few" we'd find Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, who have all seen fit to make public statements dismissive of the tea-partiers, and who can't seem to grasp that, however much good they think they're doing, a whole lot of us don't want it. Do we need to go then to MSNBC, the New York Times, the left blogs, or their followers? If you don't happen to be among these, it seems to me that you are just the exception that proves the rule.

Randy writes:

Les,

I'd say the term "Progressive Establishment" is both useful and accurate. The Progressive principles, centralized command and control, the belief that "America" must "play a role" in world affairs, the idea that the population must be indoctrinated (educated), the idea that the desires of those who speak for society take precedence over the desires of individuals, etc., practiced by the current political class, were developed and implemented by the Progressives in the first half of the 20th Century. And is there any question that they constitute an "establishment"? Seriously, try getting a job without following their path of indoctrination, without getting a license from them, or without paying them a significant percentage of your earnings.

Billy writes:

I think the Tea Party Movement is just anti-Democrat.

Tristan Band writes:

I think that the "Tea Party" (which is different from the Paulies rallies) is a red herring. In the long run, it isn't important.

What's really interesting is going on in libertarianism itself. The libertarian establishment has lost the confidence of renewed "New Left-libertarian" alliance. A few examples:

-The establishment of Fr33 Agents in reaction to CEI putting Lee Doren in charge of Bureaucrash. Far more radical and symphathetic to the anti-state left.

-The increasing attention focus on the collusion between government and business. Once a background issue, it is now at the forefront.

-Finally, an increasing disdain for those "in the Beltway" libertarian.

I count myself in this more radical segment, though I don't have anything against Cato or others "In the Beltway". If there is any establishment that is having a crisis, it is the libertarian establishment.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:
condescending, eager to weild power, and patronizing

Almost a perfect description of Obama, Reid, Pelosi et al, I'd say.

agnostic writes:

Brooks has a point that the Tea Partiers aren't going for small-c conservative tactics.

Still, there's no comparison between the '60s counter-culture and the Tea Partiers. If we had to choose pejorative names, the former were hotheaded, reckless youths; the latter are bitter old farts. Both are angry and impassioned, but that simple demographic difference means all sorts of other things will be different.

More importantly, the late '60s were characterized by a general social hysteria, which we just don't see today, and have not seen since the early '90s (Rodney King, PC, panics about sexual harassment and campus rapes, Reagan created AIDS, etc.).

A more apt comparison would be to the anti-globalization movement of the early 2000s. I was there for that as a clueless college kid, and the Tea Party stuff I've seen and heard about reminded me more of that than what I've seen, heard, and read about SDS, the Weathermen, Days of Rage, locking yourself in front of buildings, shutting down the Pentagon, etc.

The anti-glob thing was pretty limited -- there was no broader resurgence of identity politics or social paranoia like you saw in the late '60s and early '90s. There were protests and meetings, but hardly any propaganda of the deed that would shock society out of its slumber. The whole thing fizzled after a few years, lasting from roughly 2000 to 2003.

I think the same will happen to the Tea Party movement. There's no broader resurgence in paranoia or protest mentality. Contra Brooks, they aren't manning the barricades. And little more socially disrupting tactics than "street theater."

Chris Koresko writes:

@agnostic: There's no broader resurgence in paranoia or protest mentality. Contra Brooks, they aren't manning the barricades. And little more socially disrupting tactics than "street theater."

Ordinarily I'd agree, but I think the circumstances are special now. The federal government is headed for a fiscal crash, probably soon enough that the tea party movement won't have lost momentum yet. At that point they're going to be awfully hard to dismiss as a bunch of paranoid nuts. If they manage to come up with a coherent program and good leadership, they might be able to offer us a way forward.

MernaMoose writes:

Chris,

I agree. But good leadership is a really big if.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Randy -
"Well, Daniel, among those "very, very, very few" we'd find Obama, Pelosi, and Reid, who have all seen fit to make public statements dismissive of the tea-partiers"

Well sure. Hell, I am "dismissive" of the Tea Partiers, but that's because I disagree with them. Not because I'm patronizing or condescending or think they don't know anything. It's because I think they're wrong. Just like the Tea Partiers are dismissive of Obama and Pelosi.

So? Who cares?

Kevin Campbell writes:

I feel like I should raise a very important question regarding this issue. Did we as a nation and an economy not thrive during the sixties? The Obama administration is worried about stimulating, providing "relief" through TARP and health care reform when they should be concentrating on getting the real "stimulators", the people, back into a state where they can stimulate the economy themselves (the way it's supposed to work). I know the may sound a little republican minded but, wouldn't a better use of funds be decreasing taxes and not spending money internally. While focusing more on exporting so that more $$'s are being spent into are economy from the outside. Because last year alone the US spent about $500 billion more dollars on imports than we made on exports. Just food for thought.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top