TAP’s Paul Waldman, whose views I esteem greatly, made an interesting confession yesterday:
Back in what if memory serves was early 2011, I ran into a former Prospect writer and now semi-famous person in the lobby of a building near the Capitol where a bunch of TV stations have studios. We began chatting about the Tea Party, and I suggested that once the Republican presidential primary campaign got underway in earnest in a few months time, all those tricorner hats would be put away as the Republican activists who made up the movement turned their attention to the race to pick their party’s standard-bearer, and the Tea Party would peter out. He agreed, and we parted ways, satisfied with our sage prediction that all that unpleasantness would soon be over and the country would return to its prior, more manageable level of political silliness.
OK, so it didn’t exactly work out that way.
Waldman goes on to make his peace with, and even celebrate, the idea of the Tea Folk as a continuing but diminished part of the landscape that keeps Republicans from doing the right and smart things.
Now my position has consistently been to disagree with both the argument from the Right that the Tea Party Movement was some sort of unique and original citizens’ uprising and the argument from the Left that it was an astroturfed flash-in-the-pan. It is, rather, a radicalized expression of political demands from a large element of the conservative activist “base” that has existed more or less without interruption since the Goldwater campaign, and in embryo form long before that. In medical terms, you could call the Tea Party Movement a flare-up of a preexisting condition. But it’s not new, and it’s not going away, any more than it did in far more difficult circumstances over the past 50 years.
It represents an alarmingly large minority grouping of people who more or less believe in an eternal political agenda blessed by the Founders and the Laws of Nature and perhaps Almighty God that does not essentially change in good times or bad, war or peace, boom or bust, or periods of political fortune or misfortune. The idea that they will go away or surrender to their intra-party and intra-movement opponents because Mitt Romney lost an election in 2012 is ridiculous. These folk have survived far greater calamities than that over and over again, and they live in a mental realm where their beloved country is perpetually on or over the brink into fatal, satanic error, and many millions (perhaps even a majority) of their fellow citizens are forever acting unconsciously if not consciously as agents of treason and evil. Just the other day, a leading conservative opinion-leader quoted this line approvingly:
America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.
These are convictions, buttressed by self-interest, that just don’t go away.