The Magazine

Beyond the Tea Party

The broadening of a movement.

Sep 13, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 48 • By LEE HARRIS
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By centering the rally on the defense of “traditional American values,” Beck deftly managed to reach out to those many Americans who, while mildly sympathetic to the Tea Party, were by no means prepared to commit themselves to doctrinaire libertarianism. No doubt these Americans hold liberty to be sacred, but they also regard as sacred precisely the same “traditional American values” that were the subject of the Beck rally—honor, patriotism, and God. The tens of thousands who flocked to the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 are only a small sample of those Americans who are deeply worried that their most cherished values and traditions are under attack by an arrogant elite that wishes to impose its own supposedly more “enlightened” values on the nation.

The Beck rally bore abundant witness to the profound degree of alienation that American traditionalists feel when they look at the mass culture that surrounds them, and which they see as intent on mocking everything they hold to be sacred. Sure, they might want lower taxes and smaller government, too; but they also want to return to an era in which their own traditional values were reflected in the TV shows they watched, the movies they went to, the education that their kids received in the public schools paid for by their tax dollars. They do not want to see what they cherish most in the world held up to ridicule, especially when the ridicule is presented in attractively packaged forms that are designed especially to appeal to their own kids. They resent what they perceive as the indoctrination and brainwashing of the next generation. They feel that their own deeply held “traditional American values” are under attack—and they are right. 

In short, the Beck rally marks a significant turning point in today’s people’s revolt—away from the narrow issues of the Tea Party—while initiating a new stage of the culture war, which is what the great American divide is really all about.

Lee Harris is the author, most recently, of The Next American Civil War:The Populist Revolt Against the Liberal Elite.

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