Gabriel Winant: Why Does David Brooks Hate the Tea Partiers?





[Gabriel Winant is a freelance writer and graduate student, currently living in the United Kingdom.]

...[I]n the Tea Parties, there is a certain strain of radical egalitarianism that offends [David] Brooks, in his self-designated position as conscience of the precious conservative elite. But there’s also something much older in the movement, which he misses entirely. Like the New Left, [Glenn] Beck and his followers see a bloodsucking state up on top of society. But the 1960s radicals only pointed their hatred upward, at the state, the establishment and the wealthy. The Tea Parties share this upward-looking disgust, but they also see parasites down below them, at the bottom of society, looking for redistribution.

It's this multi-directional loathing that animates the charges that the Tea Party movement is, by its basic nature, racist. (That plus, you know, all the really obvious racism.) In their evocations of a lost, "simpler" past and a "real America," this is what the Tea Party folks are talking about: themselves in the center, and the looters, thieves and degenerates all around them. It’s pretty close to the outlook that characterized 19th-century southern populism. That movement was both an uprising against a capitalist system that the populists saw as rigged from above and also, eventually, virulently racist. Tea Party ideology also closely echoes the belief system of the revived Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s. This second iteration of the Klan was a movement of small businesspeople, skilled workers, clerks and the like, who were convinced that the government and high finance had formed a conspiracy against them with the poor, Jews, Catholic immigrants and African-Americans.

So in one sense, we should probably be applauding Brooks for his discomfort, rather than making fun. But it’s not like he cites the troubling sides of right-wing populism in his argument. He’s just worried these people are going to endanger the elitist traditions of conservatism.

Besides, who died and made him the new William F. Buckley? If Brooks got his way, Republicans would have little support outside the top tax bracket. Getting to a majority has always involved adulterating the pure dogma with a major dollop of scary populism. It’s the major irony of the right wing. Defending the free market and the institutions that go along with it is what Brooks cares about. But to do it, he’s got to enlist an army of people he has almost nothing in common with. And honestly, if some Tea Party veteran called this guy a snob, would you disagree?...

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