Can a Little Radicalism Save America?

I don’t often write in apocalyptic terms about the current administration, largely because America is too big and government too unwieldy to countenance sudden, dramatic change.

However, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have made it quite obvious that they’re willing to give radicalism the old college try because America pre-Obama was not to their liking. Indeed, a look at America on January 20, 2009 would have revealed a country in need of reform in many areas. Few would argue that the previous administration didn’t leave much to be done in health care, the economy, energy, and the twin wars we are fighting against radical Islam.

The question about Obama’s radicalism has never been that the problems he has sought to address aren’t in need of attention; the question has always been does he have to destroy the America that we have always been to accomplish reform?

If Obama and the Democrats had sought incremental, prudent change while keeping an eye on the federal budget deficit, I doubt very much if the tea party movement would have arisen. Every initiative that the president has undertaken had elements within them that would have enjoyed much broader, bi-partisan support if he had reined in the real radicals in Congress who made no bones about what they were trying to accomplish. From taking over one-sixth of the American economy by federalizing the health care system, to the impossibly wrong headed cap and trade idea, to financial reform that will hog tie the financial industry desperately in need of regulation but not the kind of anti-market rules currently stuck in Congress, President Obama has proven the upside down adage more is less, and much more is unmitigated disaster.

There is nothing “moderate” in any of this. The insistence of many commentators who apparently believe that simple repetition of this “moderate Obama” mantra suffices as far as describing reality would be laughable in another context – pitiful it is in our current dilemma. Using language as a beard to hide the true nature of Obama’s reforms – not to mention out and out lies about the consequences of them – is part of the motivation of the tea party movement. They, like the rest of America, are blessed with two eyes, two ears, and a decent passel of common sense. It’s hard to fool citizens who have taken the measure of this administration’s extremism, and have found much to fear.

Is the fear driven by exaggeration and lies by the opposition? To some extent, yes. But that’s politics that goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who ran for president in 1800 accusing the Federalists of trying to set up a monarchy and ratcheting up fear and loathing against the opposition by trying to convince voters that John Adams was going to hand America back to the British. It is not an exaggeration to say that the “Democratic Republicans” of Jefferson tried to portray the election as the choice between liberty and tyranny. Needless to say, it worked. And ever since then, both parties have pushed the boundaries of fair play while stretching the truth to the breaking point in order to win in every single election, and when arguing every issue of import in our nation’s history.

More to the point today, the tea party movement is animated by more than “death panels,” and “Obama is a closet Muslim” prevarications. Millions of ordinary Americans have detected a disconnect between what Obama and the Democrats are trying to accomplish to mold America into what their particular vision of our country they wish to realize, and the words, the spirit, and the tradition of the Constitution. In order to change the subject, obfuscating what the tea party movement is really about, we have witnessed desperate attempts to describe their opposition as a by-product of racism, or far right, paranoid delusions. The people aren’t buying it, as evidenced by a strong plurality of citizens who support at least some of what the tea partiers stand for.

Bill Kristol believes that a sense that America is in crisis coupled with “alarm” is what is driving the tea party toward embracing radical change:

This sense of crisis is what animates the Tea Parties. I had the pleasure of attending the “Proud to be an American July 4th Tea Party” outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It featured patriotic songs and speeches, and expressions of support for our troops and praise for our country. Yet the mood of patriotic gratitude was mixed with expressions of alarm from my fellow Tea Partiers about the administration now in charge of our government. The combination of patriotic gratitude and urgent alarm produces a determination to act and a willingness to deal boldly with the crises in the economy, in foreign policy, and in self-government that the country faces.

In this respect, the Tea Parties are ahead of the two major parties. As established political parties are wont to do, both remain constricted in their views, attached to business as usual, and invested in established modes and orders—too much so to easily come to grips with a moment like the present.

Kristol is advocating radicalism to address what ails us:

But the GOP can be the party of the future as well as the present. It can be the party of fundamental reflection and radical choice as well as the party of day-to-day criticism and opposition. This isn’t easy. It can lead to mistakes and missteps, tensions and confusions. But it’s what the moment requires.

So fear not the Tea Parties. Be open to fundamental reforms. Belt-tightening and program-trimming, more transparency and greater efficiency, are not enough. The danger for Republicans isn’t that they will address the current crisis too boldly. It’s that they won’t be bold enough.

Fight radicalism with radicalism? Kristol, as impatient with the notion of evolutionary change as Obama, would substitute Republican “mistakes and missteps, tensions and confusions” for the Democratic blunders and idiocies that we are living through today. At the final bell, we end up in the same place; ideologically driven politicians and agendas that alienate half the country while failing to address the real, intractable, long term problems that threaten our financial future and our traditions of liberty.

The Tea Party movement has its uses as both the sharp end of Republican politics and as a prod to get politicians of both parties to pay attention to what ordinary people are thinking. Kristol is right in describing the reaction of Democrats and Republicans to the tea partiers as still being “attached to business as usual, and invested in established modes and orders…” In this, the tea partiers are enemies of the status quo, and thus, very dangerous to politics as usual. But is what they are advocating – if it can ever be determined exactly what it is they are seeking – as bad in its own way for America as anything the far left Democrats in the White House and Congress have been pushing on us?

Indeed, many in the tea party movement advocate a radical shrinking of government, which would be as damaging in its own way as the gargantuan expansion of government we are experiencing under the current administration. The abandonment of prudence by conservatives – a virtue by which every conservative should try to live their lives – would mean that the right agrees with Obama in principle; that change should not be governed by incrementalism and contemplation of consequences, but rather by whim and emotionalism. Tearing up the social compact between government and citizen and picking up the pieces later on isn’t going to work for Obama and the Democrats and it surely won’t work for Republicans who wish to do the same, albeit hoping for the opposite outcome.

Those, like Kristol, who are dazzled by the Tea Party Movement’s grass roots appeal should resist the idea of revolution and settle on adapting the spirit and patriotism of the tea partiers as the basis for pragamatic change in Washington. Change can be bold without being radical. If that’s the only lesson we learn from the Obama disaster, it will hold us in good stead as conservatives attempt to reclaim power from the radical leftists who are running this country into the ground.

Cross posted at Right Wing Nuthouse

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