The fury with which America’s left-leaning establishment has chronicled the country’s fiscal challenges is indeed fascinating to those of us who follow such activities.
The Washington Post’s editorial and op-ed pages are full of grand indictments against all things Tea Party, GOP Congress and the leading Republican presidential contenders.
The headlines of many recent opinion pieces reflect the unbridled vitriol: “Those reckless Republicans,” “The Tea Party, united only by anger and the Internet,” “Conservative zealotry vs. economic reality,” “Racism and the Tea Party movement,” and “The GOP’s carjacking on Capitol Hill” - is but a sampling of recent reviews produced by the establishment’s opinion makers.
The establishment is in a bad mood - a negative mindset that only gets worse as each passing day brings its share of disquieting economic news.
How did we reach such an ugly state of affairs? Why the overt hostility directed toward what until recently was viewed in a positive light - grass-roots activism? And what did the average Tea Party protester do to deserve such dismissive treatment from so many leading opinion makers?
After spending two decades in the political arena, I think the answers are readily apparent - if one cares to look.
First, the rapid downturn in President Obama’s poll numbers after the euphoria of early 2009 is not an easy thing to watch. The proclaimed post-partisan “leader of leaders” has proved to be what many of us thought he was: a traditional liberal (albeit a telegenic one) who has advocated mostly traditional liberal remedies for what ails America.
One refreshing exception to this path: a willingness to keep Bush-era security policies in place. Nevertheless, the familiar, progressive planks of government medicine, free-spending Keynesian economics and federal pre-emption have been put into place and proved to be unsuccessful and unpopular. Predictably, a new and improved half-trillion-dollar “Stimulus II” has followed on the heels of the $1.2 trillion “Stimulus I” - to enthusiastic approval by the establishment. Not so much by the country, however.
Second, one must understand the worldview at work here: It can accept only one type of populism. This brand is traditional - it speaks of “evil” multinational corporations, class warfare and centralized remedies for all that ails us. As such, it is the polar opposite of a new populism targeting confiscatory taxation, overregulation, rampant unionism and a “Washington knows best” mindset.
The traditional approach was employed brilliantly by then-Sen. Obama during the campaign of 2008. It was perfect for the time: An unpopular Republican president, middle-class anxiety, a recession blamed on Wall Street and two unpopular wars made for a receptive audience.
Third, it is the makeup of the Tea Party protesters that generates the most hostility. You see, they tend to live between the coasts, in “flyover America.” Their states trend toward red on Election Day. Furthermore, their rhetoric is steeped in a new libertarian-influenced populism - more anti-government, anti-Washington, anti-tax and anti-federal pre-emption than past incarnations of conservative-inspired realignments. As such, they represent a more direct challenge to those who are vested in gigantic government now overseen by newly installed “czars” whose focus is the expansion of federal control into every nook and cranny of American life.
Tea Party members and like-minded conservatives certainly have taken some significant hits from Washington’s opinion-maker establishment. They are dismissed as “know-nothings.” They are labeled racists and xenophobes. They are bloodied, but unbowed - and ready to make a mark on the 2012 election. Establishment beware.
Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was the Republican governor of Maryland from 2003-07.
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