Various pundits have been at work over the past year or so analyzing the Tea Party movement, and I don’t pretend to have any better handle on it than others. In fact, I think the movement defies comprehensive characterization and is certainly not monolithic in any sense, which is why there isn’t and in my view won’t be a personality or identifiable “leader” of the movement, or at least in the sense that the chattering classes would like to see evolve.
Pat Buchanan has his take on it and, in his typical paleo-conservative approach, gives it a tribal designation as direct descendants of those rebels who took outrage from the trail of British tyranny leading up to 1775 and who spawned a new ethnicity–the Americans. There is some resonance in this characterization and, frankly, some of us can readily identify with it.
Peggy Noonan has a better idea. In her view the great unrest in the country is what she calls The Big Alienation–“a deep and growing alienation between the people of America and the government of America in Washington”. And in her estimation this is not the old conservative “leave us alone” attitude, it is much more broadly and fully evolved, and it has a trail reaching back to two wars, Katrina, the financial meltdown, the bailouts, the health care fight, the deficit, the debt, bankrupt states, etc., etc., capped recently by the new Arizona immigration law, about which more below. In Noonan’s words, “the American people fear they are losing their place and authority in the daily, unwinding drama of American history……..and alienation is often followed by animosity”.
True enough and well said. And I would add some thoughts from the late Richard John Neuhaus who, in his seminal work of 25 years ago, The Naked Public Square, was even then using the alienation theme in observing that the premise of the populist movement is that “they”, meaning the government and whoever is in charge of the culture, are not simply alien but are contemptuous of “us”, the little people, the real people–“Millions of Americans have for a long time felt put upon. Theirs is a powerful resentment against values that they believe have been imposed upon them, and an equally powerful sense of outrage at the suggestion that they are the ones who pose the threat of undemocratically imposing values on others.” Alienation indeed, and whatever your take on the phenomenon, it didn’t just arrive and it isn’t going away soon.