in Kulturkampf

The Tea Party is Only as ‘Dead’ as Conservatism

“Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota,” Santorum crowed, at a rally in St. Charles, Mo. “Tonight was a victory for the voices of our party, conservatives and Tea Party people.”

The Daily Beast raised some hopes and hackles the other day by declaring tea parties a “dead” movement. But writer Patricia Murphy doesn’t seem to understand that tea parties were never anything but a new brand name for the same old conservative movement. She quoted the high-flying pyramid schemer behind the local tea party organization where I live:

Mark Meckler, founder of the Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest Tea Party coalition, also says the Tea Party isn’t playing a role in picking the nominee. But that is by choice, not by accident, he says.

“No candidate is perfect,” Meckler says. “Candidates will make mistakes. I don’t want to see the movement associated with those kinds of mistakes. I support ideas, not people.” (Emphasis mine)

Get that? “I support the person, not the party” has devolved into supporting the idea instead of the person. Which would make sense if tea parties offered an original idea, which they don’t. As this blog has documented, the Republican wave of 2010 came to office promising jobs and prosperity but turned immediately to union-busting, abortion legislation, and other right-wing wish-list items.

Remember how tea parties were supposed to be all about conservatives giving up the old culture war wedges and returning to some kind of fiscal probity? Instead, yesterday’s culture warriors marched under the tea party banner, swamped the libertarians, and made the movement their own with a massive infusion of cash from people like Meckler. Now, that movement can’t decide on a candidate:

One possible reason for the lack of consensus: Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum have each committed what most in the movement consider original sins against constitutional freedom or fiscal sanity. Gingrich and Romney both supported the TARP bank bailout in 2008, as well as individual mandates in health insurance years earlier. Santorum, the most socially conservative of the three, voted for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” among other massive earmarks, during his time in the Senate. (Emphasis mine)

This should be a cautionary tale for Occupy and the left: purity is not the ticket to victory, and “holding their feet to the fire” is only effective when it leaves room for all-American compromise. Tea parties have engendered a backlash in public opinion by pushing their elected representatives into national fiscal disaster, among other things.

As I keep saying, the basic problem of modern conservatism is that it cannot answer any challenge of the 21st Century. A bit more than half the GOP would like to stop bleating about gays and abortion, while a narrow minority cannot shut up about gays and abortion. The entire party is in deep capture to this Christian conservative element — and it shows no sign of changing its mind, ever.

Faith-based politics don’t need facts or logic because they have holy writ. By refusing to share the same reality with the rest of us, conservatism preserves itself from all pressure to adapt: “ignorance is strength,” as Orwell put it. Thus the very thing that makes today’s “tea party”-style conservatism unable to answer the challenges of the day is also what keeps it going. So don’t count the religious right out just yet — in fact, assume they will be around for a long time. Culture warriors come for the party, but stay for the jihad.

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  • I was six years old and in parochial school when John Kennedy ran for President. I remember my parents and family being pleased when he won, but I also vaguely remember all the worry about Kennedy leading the US to Rome. Years later, my mom, who was a young girl when Al Smith ran against Herbert Hoover, said anti-Catholic bias was much worse then. Imagine the incongruence of seeing two good Catholic boys fronting as Tea Party candidates or trying to.

    The election of an African-American President drew the racists out like cockroaches coming out of the woodwork. Racism is the new black. And the Tea Party gives credence to those Republicans who want to bring us back to the America of Leave It to Beaver – where black people had no rights, women sought back street abortions and only the rich could afford college.

  • The essence of culture war is a marching-backwards. Glenn Beck made “Leave it to Beaver” noises because his target audience is cognitively stuck in that frame of cultural reference.