Friday, June 18, 2010

Tea Time

Also amusing were the now knee-jerk efforts by the Right intelligensia to pin all that is bad about America on the Progressive movement, that infestation upon the pristine perfection of the Constitutional order. What went unmentioned in that regard was that at least as many Republicans advanced Progressivism as Democrats. What’s more, Progressives were as prone to praise the Founding Fathers as were members of the panel, and shared a similar set of sympathies, seen in particular in Progressive-era praise concentrated particularly on Alexander Hamilton and his vision of an “American system” (Progressives were also quite often hawks on American imperialism, another interesting family resemblance with members of the panel). As I’ve argued elsewhere, it’s far from clear that the Progressives are antithetical to the Constitutional vision of (some) Founders, and that there’s far more continuity between the Founders’ and Progressivism’s vision of a centralized, powerful state. on the one hand, and Anti-federalist and Populist criticism of public and private power, on the other.

It’s clear that these participants hope that the anger of the Tea Partiers will be the vehicle by which Republicans return to power (in Washington, of course), and by which they can continue to denounce “Gummint” even as they remain cozily ensconced with the corporate interests that it’s clear they were seeking to protect. Before my eyes I was witnessing the Washington establishment’s remarkable facility to absorb all potentially radical movements that could potentially take aim at the heart of centralized power, to defang their threat to the Power Brokers by redirecting the energy of that movement toward an object (Big Government) that will not truly be restrained without corresponding restraint upon the centralization of all power – public and private.

In the absence of a genuine populism, what we are offered instead are efforts directed by so-called conservatives from Washington D.C. to harness the populist anger for electoral ends ensuring their return to power in Washington D.C. What is being forestalled is that this anger be directed at the profane concentration of power today – public and private – and especially the obvious collusion that has come to exist between our Government and Corporate elite. We instead witness efforts to rewrite history, telling us that widespread populism will help to get the Republican party back to its roots (last I recall, William Jennings Bryan ran against William McKinley and Mark Hanna. Those roots have long shown a collusion between the Republican party and big business) and that its angry edge is born exclusively of an anti-government animus.

A genuine populism awaits a genuine populist leader, someone who does not seek to de-claw a more radical critique of the current arrangements, even to show it a path to a better radicalism of more local self-governance – political and economic. The tea party movement – born of righteous indignation about our system of Socialism for the Rich – deserves better than it is getting, though is showing signs of being easily co-opted by the usual DC gang. Let’s hope hotter minds prevail.