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Two Takes on the Tea Party

Recommended reading.

9:53 AM, Jun 1, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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The "big think" pieces on the Tea Party movement are starting to come out. I've linked to John B. Judis's (subscriber only) analysis of the Tea Party before, but continue to recommend it. I also recommend William Voegeli's essay in the new Claremont Review of Books. Choice cut:

The Tea Party scorn for the president's promises that all his transformative plans won't hurt a bit is about Obama, but also about something bigger. The voters are particularly unreceptive to presidential promises that sound too good to be true, because they have lived to regret listening to other such promises. Those promises were made by leaders of the new meritocracy, the one described by Brooks, in his comic sociology mode, as the "valedictocracy," populated by "Achievatrons" who "got double 800s on their SATs."

Without judging the validity of its complaint, Brooks asserts that the Tea Party movement is made up of people who "are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form a self-serving oligarchy—with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation."

We can be less impartial. The sociological but not very comic reality is that Brooks's Achievatrons wound up being distrusted by millions of their countrymen the old-fashioned way—they earned it. Our new meritocratic masters have been more conspicuously smart than wise. They know a lot, but don't know what they don't know. Their self-regard as the modern Americans who are the "natural aristocrats" Jefferson looked for has left them with an exaggerated sense of their own noblesse, and a deficient awareness of their corresponding oblige. Their expectation that the rest of us will be deferential to their expertise, like citizens of European nations that are social but not especially political democracies, has triggered the Tea Party backlash, and the resurgence of the "Don't Tread on Me" spirit.

As a result, eloquent promises about how government can be expanded to the benefit of all while taxes are increased only for a very few, and how ingenious new programs can make health care simultaneously more extensive and less expensive, are setting off alarms. These assurances—that when common sense tells us that something isn't possible while expert analysis tells us that it is, our common sense is the thing that needs to be adjusted—sound ominously familiar. Wasn't it just the other day that brainiacs with MBAs were telling us that, no, it was not dangerous for people with modest incomes to purchase expensive houses with zero-down, adjustable-rate mortgages? Since we didn't go to Wharton and weren't conversant with the esoteric innovations in financial derivatives and securitization that had taken the risk out of taking risks, we didn't know enough to set aside our unfounded fears that all this highly leveraged borrowing would end badly.

If you pick up the hard copy, you can also read Wilfred M. McClay's excellent essay on the same topic, John J. Pitney's judicious review of Going Rogue, and Charles Murray's reflections on Ayn Rand.

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