I’d meant to cut this one down, and save it for future reference and re-editing, but instead accidentally published the whole thing at Jonathan Bernstein’s (great) “plain blog about politics.” It’s kind of embarrassing to be caught depositing long, pretentious comments at other people’s blogs. If I put it here, at least I can re-work the thoughts, possibly with your assistance.
The context is Bernstein’s summary view of Republican House Caucus motivations. Bernstein’s whole post – “Deliver Us From the Elements” – is worth reading for its analysis of the political dynamics we’ve been discussing under the “brace for disaster” headline item, but the key is the concluding two-part statement:
[M]ainstream conservative Republicans now have a lot of votes on their record which put them far to the right of the median voter, perhaps even in their own districts. But that, by now, is an old story; if there’s one thing that’s clear about the 112th Congress, it’s that Republican Members are far more concerned about re-nomination than about the general election.
Adds commenter “doc” succinctly: “And far, far more concerned about either of those than about the well-being of the United States”
Yet that’s how the terms ought to translate. General election ought to equal general welfare in a healthy democratic republican polity in which, to paraphrase Andrew Jackson, the whole of the people will not vote perversely against its own good. According to Jackson, they/we might make mistakes, but would always get things right in the end.
If, however, you’re convinced that Satan or some reasonable facsimile is the lord of this world, and that the light of freedom can be lost in a generation unless valiant patriots go against the current, etc., etc., then the true national general interest and the minority view are the same: Getting right with the far right is true patriot love American-style. It’s the rightwing version of the old joke about revolutionary Marxists–ahem: All power to the people, all power to the party of the people, all power to the vanguard of the party of the people, all power to the elite of the people’s vanguard, all power to me.
The symmetry is not random accident, but, before we dismiss the Tea Partiers as fanatics, lunatics, power-hungry hypocrites, and admitted enemies of the state, if we want to understand them rather than just deride them, we have to acknowledge that, as marble-mouthed, reality-distant, and downright dumb as many of them seem, there is an alternative, internally consistent political-economic praxis that they are seeking to implement, that many of them believe has been historically tested and proved, that squares with a version of common sense, and that may appeal to even more fundamental, possibly even unconscious needs. Their economics and their psyches both tell them that punishment must come before progress, indeed before progress itself can be anything other than a false promise, a temporary palliative at best, much more likely vice on the road to the Gulag/perdition.
The final acceptance of necessary punishment is what they believe really happened in, for instance, the Reagan-Volcker Recession, which the historically inclined among them understand as the cathartic end to more than a decade of social-political-economic-moral failure, a great overdue bill finally being paid – if not in full. Full payment, if “we” can bear it, is what the TP is supposed to be about, even if it can’t quite say so explicitly, but instead has to inch up to the admission (DeMint, Broun) If we can’t bear it, they believe, we’re doomed – so almost anything they do is justified.
At a certain point this viewpoint does or can become insane, or anyway purely ideological, terms which in the American tradition are almost the same thing, but it’s a lot easier (it seems to be all that’s possible) for the left to play defense than to articulate and advance a positive alternative.