As a part of the job of being a political scientist, I take interest in trends and currents of the culture, and in parties, and/or political movements. For example, Rassmussen released another interesting poll this week that demonstrated 48% of all adults believe the government is a threat to individual rights. Snip:
Most Republicans (74%) and unaffiliateds (51%) consider the government to be a threat to individual rights. Most Democrats (64%) regard the government as a protector of rights.
Additionally, most Americans (52%) say it is more important for the government to protect individual rights than to promote economic growth. Just 31% say promoting economic growth is more important. But again a sizable number (17%) of Adults aren’t sure which is more important.
To make matters worse (for all incumbents) is that just 21% believe that government today has the consent of the governed.
Why does this poll matter? Because it reflects something of the Tea Party movement we have been hearing about for a year now. In the latest Weekly Standard (a center-right magazine) two different aspects of the Tea Party were featured on the cover. It was an interesting article, but I was not going to write about it until Larry Kudlow spoke about the polls dividing the movement on his show Friday night:
Now, what is important about this is that center-right/conservatives are slowly beginning to publicly criticize Glenn Beck. Larry Kudlow channels the Weekly Standard article without mentioning Beck’s name, but while mentioning his disagreement with Becks style and message. It is fascinating to watch conservatives back away from Beck. More than likely they are doing this because the elections are near, but more so because 2012 is really just around the corner.
So what is the problem? Beck appears to be a net negative and a sure fire way to conservative defeat in 2010 and 2012 if his message is accepted and promoted. Will it? Beck recently gave the keynote at CPAC this year. He is definitely becoming more promoted and mainstream on the political right. Many are taking notice and not all are confident that Beck has the electoral answer, not to mention the political answer.
Matthew Continetti at the Weekly Standard thinks Beck’s message spells defeat. Note his concluding paragraphs:
The tensions within conservative populism are durable and longstanding. Consider two other faces. The first is Ronald Reagan’s: sunny, cheerful, conservative. Yet it is often forgotten that Reagan was the first Republican president to identify with FDR. He drew support from unions and other parts of the New Deal coalition. He left Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid intact. He was less concerned with undoing the work of his predecessors than he was with implementing reforms that promoted competition, investment, and growth. Not coincidentally, he was the most successful Republican president of the 20th century.
The second face is Barry Goldwater’s, circa 1964: tart, dyspeptic, radical. For Goldwater, “Extremism in the defense of liberty [was] no vice.” For Goldwater, the aim was “not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” It is no wonder that conservatives are attracted to such a message. But they are often the only ones who feel this way. Goldwater lost in a landslide.
The Tea Party cannot choose one face over the other; they are both part of the same movement. But the Tea Party can decide which face it puts forward. And in the coming days that decision will be of great consequence. It is the choice between Reagan and Goldwater. Santelli and Beck. Reform and revolution. Common sense and conspiracy. The future and the past. Victory—and defeat.
The Continetti piece caused a lukewarm defense of Beck in National Review’s Corner by David Foster:
At this point in the proceedings, by the way, I’m actually halfway between Beck and Continetti. Like Continetti (and like Jonah, for that matter) I think that the unique political culture of America means that European-style totalitarianism would have a much tougher time gaining ground here. Indeed the very existence of the Tea Party is proof of this. But I also think certain — ahem — neoconservative elements of the right are too quick to reflexively beatify the likes of Wilson and Roosevelt, and too selectively blind to the breathtaking statism they advocated.
Foster likes Beck for some positives that even Continetti noted. He has piqued the interest in Austrian economists like Ludwig van Mises and Frederick Hayek. Yet, to make matters worse–for Beck and his influence–center-right bloggers at Powerline stated that they do not take Beck very seriously at all, but that he has described (correctly?), for the most part, the problems with the Progressivism.
Conservatives like Beck for his interest in libertarian and intellectual conservatism. They really like him for his attacks on the Progressives. It seems that the tolerance for his other imprudent opinions were a result of his more positive assertions about people like Hayek (and even Ayn Rand?) and his popularizing the problems with Wilson/FDR/and TR progressivism. There is solid evidence that the progressives were making a determined effort to undermine the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to serve their own ends:
Wilson certainly did not revere the Founders–appeals to their views were nothing more than “Fourth of July sentiments” that “perspicacious men” should “derid[e].” Wilson himself derided what he referred to as the “Newtonian” underpinning of the Constitution, stating that the Founders “constructed a government the way they would have constructed an orrery–to display the laws of nature.” Disputing the applicability of fixed laws (other than his own) to History, Wilson wound up opposing the concepts of limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances.
Since the Constitution could not officially be “stripped off and thrown aside,” Wilson endorsed the emerging, Darwinian-inspired theory of a “living Constitution.” For Wilson, this did not mean creatively applying original principles to situations the Framers had not imagined: It meant negating those principles whenever they stood in the way of the march of History, as manifested in the latest promising idea.
Wilson and the progressives were indeed the greatest articulators of historicism/progressivism, but in reality, the ideology caught on before the Civil War and among the slave-holding South in particular. So, Beck may have a sense of what the progressives were about, he may love the Constitution and the Declaration, but at what point does his questionable opinions undermine the entire edifice? Conservatives seem to be trying to figure that out.
Foster’s critique of Continetti seems like it could be misplaced in one instance. While it may be true that Continetti is soft on progressives (and I do not know that he is), his column on Beck and Santelli was not about how progressivism should be saved, or promoted. It was about electoral politics. So, his point was, will a person who espouses the ending of the welfare state, the destruction of the DoE, etc., really be a viable candidate? The answer, and Continetti is right here, is no. The progressive state was not built in a day, it will not be ended in a day, and other than Ron Paul, there are not many who can win on such a policy platform. Foster seems to be a bit unfair, then, to Continetti even as he is correct that neo-cons have made their peace with big government.