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Posted by on Mar 5, 2010 in Politics | 15 comments

Down with the Man

David Brooks considers what today’s “Tea Party” has in common with the “New Left” of the late 1960s.

… the Tea Partiers have adopted the tactics of the New Left. They go in for street theater, mass rallies, marches and extreme statements that are designed to shock polite society out of its stupor. This mimicry is no accident. Dick Armey, one of the spokesmen for the Tea Party movement, recently praised the methods of Saul Alinsky, the leading tactician of the New Left …

But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures.

But it is the following excerpt, later in Brooks’ column, that is perhaps the most damning of the Tea Partiers who believe their cause is “conservative.” It’s most certainly not, Brooks argues.

… both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.

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  • JSpencer

    Not buying it so much. It’s an interesting stretch, and gives Brooks an opportunity to play with the comparison but I disagree with him about the similarities being more striking than the differences. For one thing the 60’s radicals were younger, and in that sense their idealism was more understandable (some might say forgivable), also they had a certain moral authority that the teaparty folks share only in the sense of their professed concern for debt. The left had much to do with helping to bring the Vietnam war to an end, and while a great many of them traded in their idealistic pursuits for self-serving yuppydom they did have some accomplishments in terms of bringing greater awareness and seriousness to many causes. The teaparty folks have yet to accomplish anything that I can see. Maybe Brooks had a deadline he had to meet – or maybe his knowledge of the 60’s was a little too secondhand.

  • dduck12

    I agree, a stretch.

  • DLS

    Poor analogy. I wonder what moves someone as smug and comfy in his Northeastern-elite-core bubble as Brooks (I still shake my head about having him call himself a “Hamiltonian”) to stretch in that way: is he combining his conceit and contempt for the Tea Party people with creativity?

  • DLS

    “I agree, a stretch.”

    In fact, Brooks is inverting or reversing things. The Tea Parties are traditionalists (social conservatives) reclaiming the country from foreign illegitimate usurping, power-grabbing real New Lefties and radicals — Euro-socialist plotters, etc. in the Obama administration and reemering under their rocks in Congress.

    Of course, Brooks is the kind who likes big government and views that as natural even if he doesn’t write off everything since Ronald Reagan’s election as an aberration the way the true dinosaurs and extremists do. OK with centering power among elites in DC, including “acceptable” Republicans, is Brooks’s style. (He’s a fixture of that place and culture.)

    A Charlie Rose interview with David Brooks (link below) is suitable for those of you who are curious.

    • dduck12

      In fact, Brooks is inverting or reversing things”

      No, DLS, it was just a stretch, you should know you and I sometimes do it. I like Brooks, he is my kind of moderate and I doubt he is a big Gov. exponent.

      • DLS

        “No, DLS, it was just a stretch, you should know you and I sometimes do it.”

        I am wary of Brooks and more to the point, I view him in the light especially of what he said about the Tea Party people in the appearance he made on the Charlie Rose show.

        • dduck12

          I am wary of Brooks and more to the point”

          Okay, point well taken. However, I go by the 80/20 rule and he fits my viewpoint 80% of the time.

          • DLS

            ” I go by the 80/20 rule”

            If you like him, fine. Others on this site do, too, like Pete Abel.  (as opposed to, say, Sarah Palin, whom I don’t believe has made it onto the Charlie Rose show yet)

          • dduck12

            as opposed to, say, Sarah Palin, whom I don’t believe has made it onto the Charlie Rose show yet)”

            I hope Charlie never does.

          • DLS

            “I hope Charlie never does. [have Sarah Palin on her show]”

            Duck, it’s my gut feeling he never will.  (She’d have to become truly “educated and informed” to change that.)

  • patrickglenn

    Typical David Brooks column . . from my elite DC perch, let me divide up the masses into simple two-dimensional stereotypes, which I can rhetorically pit against eachother like cute cartoon characters, in groups of 2,3,4, whatever, depending on my rhetorical needs of the moment.

    If David Brooks really believes the New Left “wanted . . . to return power to the people,” it makes me wonder just how profoundly overrated is the DC/NYC elite’s supposed intellectual superiority. Sure, the New Left wanted to return the power to the people, but in a way not that far removed from how Che Guevara wanted to do it. Heaven forbid if the people didn’t understand what was good for ’em.

    Then he writes that the “Tea Partiers . . . want to destroy the establishment.” My advice to little Davey Brooks: don’t write about things about which you don’t have the first clue.

  • DLS

    “the DC/NYC elite’s supposed intellectual superiority”


    I wonder what they really think of the Obama administration, incidentally. Not just the dress-up but how (and how often so badly) they’re playing. Will any of them stay and become staffers or think tank members or media lapdogs? (Probably.)

  • JSpencer

    OK then, David Brooks is clueless about both the 60’s “radicals” and the “Tea partiers”. 😉

    reclaiming the country from foreign illegitimate usurping, power-grabbing real New Lefties and radicals — Euro-socialist plotters, etc. – DLS

    Not a bad impression of a neo-McCarthyist. I’ll do you the favor of assuming it’s comedy.

  • Leonidas

    It really presents a problem for a populist President, having a populist movement spring up against his policies.

  • New Cat

    Brooks was speaking in generalities not trying to be specific. And in that general way I think he may be on to something. I was once part of the new left and into the antiwar movement. And although I don’t consider myself as a Tea Partier I did attend one of their early protests. I do think the partiers are trying to copy some of the successful tactics of the new left sans the civil disobedience aspects.

    Both movements have causes they are firmly committed too. Passion is a common ingredient in both movements. Both movements feel their positions are absolutely right and are willing to stand up for them. Perhaps one could describe the two as having vastly different politics but with the same fervor and commitment.

    As an aside, it was hard to not notice how awkward the Tea Party people were at protesting. Most of the participants were engaged in talking to others about their families, jobs, and standard small talk. They didn’t have a clue what to do at a protest other than simply show up. The much smaller anti protest group across the street, was for awhile, much louder and animated than the partiers. But the partiers are learning and from what I have seen in the media are getting much better.

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