Tea Party

Frank Rich Chides Liberals for Self-Delusion About the Tea Party and Goldwaterite Conservatism


Strange new respect!

In a startling and interesting departure from the types of things he was writing in 2009, 2010, and 2011, commentator Frank Rich of New York magazine, last seen around these parts gleaning actual insight from embedding himself into the right-of-center and libertarian mediaverses during the Republican National Convention, writes a sort of open letter to his fellow progressives, with the headline: "The Tea Party Will Win in the End: This is a nation that loathes government and always has. Liberals should not be deluded: The Goldwater revolution will ultimately triumph, regardless of what happens in November." Excerpt:

"Where did these people come from?" asked a liberal friend of mine in Los Angeles this summer as we reminisced about the freak-show characters, from Bachmann to Mr. "9-9-9," who cycled through the Republican-primary season, sequentially drawing unimaginable throngs of supporters. As [Alan] Brinkley wrote in 1994, it's a default liberal assumption that the right's frontline troops are invariably "poor, provincial folk" or an "isolated, rural fringe" or "rootless, anomic people searching for personal stability," rather than the perfectly conventional middle- and upper-middle-class suburbanites they often are. We don't want to believe they're hiding in plain sight in our own neighborhoods and offices. […]

[T]ake another look at recent polls, including those that augured well for Obama and the Democrats prior to the first debate. The GOP may be a small-tent party, male and mainly white, but Romney was still attracting as much as 48 percent of the vote despite being the most personally unpopular presidential nominee of either party in the history of modern polling. And while polls found Obama ahead of or even with Romney in every policy category, conservative ideology in the abstract fared far better. In the late-September Quinnipiac University–New York Times–CBS News survey of the swing states Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, for instance, the view that government is "doing too many things" easily beat the alternative that government "should do more." The Pew American Values Survey from June is even starker in charting an intrinsic national alienation from a government that has been gridlocked since the turn of the century: By margins that approach or exceed two to one, a majority of Americans believe that government regulation of business "does more harm than good"; that the federal government should only run things "that cannot be run at the local level"; and that the "federal government controls too much of our daily lives."

I certainly don't agree with every word in Rich's piece, but it still illustrates an oft-overlooked point: When you make a real attempt to understand that with which you disagree, you almost always write more interesting things. You may even begin to change your mind.