18 Oct 2013

Jacksonian America Revolting Against a New Elite

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William Galston
, in the Wall Street Journal, sees the recent shutdown struggle as evidence of a crucial internal struggle for the soul of the Republican Party.

More than a decade ago, before the post-9/11 national fervor set in, Walter Russell Mead published an insightful essay on the persistent “Jacksonian tradition” in American society. Jacksonians, he argued, embrace a distinctive code, whose key tenets include self-reliance, individualism, loyalty and courage.

Jacksonians care as passionately about the Second Amendment as Jeffersonians do about the First. They are suspicious of federal power, skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad; they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned. Jacksonians are anti-elitist; they believe that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts and that, as Mr. Mead wrote, “while problems are complicated, solutions are simple.”

That is why the Jacksonian hero defies the experts and entrenched elites and “dares to say what the people feel” without caring in the least what the liberal media will say about him. (Think Ted Cruz. )

The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful, in full revolt against a new elite—backed by the new American demography—that threatens its interests and scorns its values. …

Supporters of the tea party… see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president’s expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of “tyranny.” Mr. Obama, they believe, is pursuing a conscious strategy of building political support by increasing Americans’ dependence on government. A vast expansion of food stamps and disability programs and the push for immigration reform are key steps down that road.

But ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their “rights” without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.

For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle. …

Many tea-party supporters are small businessmen who see taxes and regulations as direct threats to their livelihood. Unlike establishment Republicans who see potential gains from government programs such as infrastructure funding, these tea partiers regard most government spending as a deadweight loss. Because many of them run low-wage businesses on narrow margins, they believe that they have no choice but to fight measures, such as ObamaCare, that reduce their flexibility and raise their costs—measures to which large corporations with deeper pockets can adjust.

It’s no coincidence that the strengthening influence of the tea party is driving a wedge between corporate America and the Republican Party. It’s hard to see how the U.S. can govern itself unless corporate America pushes the Republican establishment to fight back against the tea party—or switches sides.

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