Quite good essay on the tea party movement by Mark Lilla:
Historically, populist movements use the rhetoric of class solidarity to seize political power so that “the people” can exercise it for their common benefit. American populist rhetoric does something altogether different today. It fires up emotions by appealing to individual opinion, individual autonomy, and individual choice, all in the service of neutralizing, not using, political power. It gives voice to those who feel they are being bullied, but this voice has only one, Garbo-like thing to say: I want to be left alone.
A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets.
Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob.
(via Jay Rosen)
I find little to disagree with in this essay. But Lilla neglects to mention the Democrats and the general failure of institutions that leads to distrust of the same. Our governments (yes plural), educational systems, and health care industry have all failed us miserably and the Tea Partiers, however misguided, are right to distrust them.
Something I’ve been asked on occasion regarding my support for some sort economic regulations to keep megascale private bandit institutions in check* is why I would want to give “the government” more power if it’s failed us so badly thus far. Well, why would a manger want to hire a new employee to do a certain job if the last person they’d hired had done a bad job? Because there’s still a job that needs doing. It’s time we start figuring out what properly functioning institutions would look like so we can start dismantling the old and building the new.
*The late Timothy Leary, a libertarian, put it best: “The basic function of government is to protect individuals against organized gangs and groups”