Wednesday, April 15, 2009
It is easy to make fun of the tea party protests that took place today. They could represent the first time in history that such protests took place in response to the federal government actually REDUCING taxes for almost all Americans. But I think people should still take this movement, and related movements such as the drive to assert the tenth amendment as a means of invalidating federal legislation, seriously. Although they don't make much sense as a tax protest, they do express a genuine fear of an expanding federal government. It seems undeniable that this recession, and the resurgence of the Democratic Party, are providing an opportunity for an increased role for the federal government in regulating business, and in supporting people's basic needs, just as happened in response to the Great Depression. Although the majority of the public seem fully on board with this trend, and therefore this backlash movement must be seen as anti-democratic, we should recognize that many people sincerely feel threatened by the prospect of an expanding federal government. Mixed in with this movement is some genuine populist outrage, which is also shared by many on the left, that the government seems once again to be helping the rich get richer, and leaving ordinary people out in the cold. (I don't agree by the way, that Wall Street bailouts will have the effect of increasing inequality, but that could be the subject of another post. The point here is that a fair number of people are mad as hell and don't want to take it any more. Whether or not their feelings are misguided is beyond my control.)
Every time the government starts to move in a different direction, it provokes a reaction in the other direction. This is a natural and expected part of the political process, and it is probably useless to become unduly outraged at the forces (Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc.) that are fomenting it. When Reagan came into office promoting a new arms race with the Soviet Union, his threatening stance provoked the grass-roots nuclear freeze movement in response. Reagan was pretty good at co-opting and compromising with such opponents, however, and that kept his movement as the dominant force in American politics for almost 30 years.
If Barack Obama's new politics is to obtain similar longevity, it must be equally deft in dealing with the forces of counter-revolution. I think it is important to include all of these viewpoints in the political process, and respond in some manner to their concerns, otherwise this movement could turn even uglier and more divisive.