Monday, September 27, 2010

Irish Times: Rain clouds linger as Tea Party brews up a storm

Richard Aldous, a professor of British History and Literature, argues in The Irish Times that the real test of the Tea party movement "will be whether Palin and Co can show the ability for systematic thinking needed for government":
There is already an impending sense of the ideological struggle to come once November is over.

Then all eyes will turn to the real prize: the presidential election of 2012. Tea Party activists may not like Barack Obama, but they admire the way he won the last election, not least the “netroots” of political activists who helped him defeat an “establishment” machine candidate. Already they are planning a similar campaign to make sure that one of their own secures the Republican nomination.

The unknown element in that battle is the quality of Tea Party ideas. Thus far they have skilfully cultivated a simple message and deployed charismatic leaders such as Sarah Palin and Marco Rubio to articulate it with authentic conviction. Yet to emerge is a serious sense of the systematic thinking about government that would put those aspirations into practice. In the end this will be the real test of whether the Tea Party movement represents a seismic event in conservatism or is just a noisy distraction.

For a movement that puts plain speaking, values and common sense at a premium, this may seem unnecessarily cerebral. But Tea Party activists need only look to the example of two iconic figures of the right to recognise how significant this is.

Reagan too had the charisma and ability to articulate his beliefs with moral conviction and a popular touch. But underpinning the Reagan era was a neo-liberal intellectual ferment that tipped the social democratic consensus upside down, shifting public debate and preparing the way for a Republican victory in 1980. Characteristic of this activity was the work of the Heritage Foundation, which produced the 3,000-page Mandate for Leadership that became the comprehensive blueprint for the administration.

The second example is Margaret Thatcher, who is revered by, among others, Palin. Thatcher may not have been an intellectual or an original political thinker in the purest sense.

Yet she was a consumer of ideas, devouring the books and papers put in front of her by Alfred Sherman at the Centre for Policy Studies. Her great ability was to give those ideas clarity. If Palin is following the Thatcher model, she will currently be reading everything she can lay her hands on.

Thatcher came to power in a “peasant’s revolt” against the leadership of her own party. She was often patronised and derided by conservative grandees and liberal journalists alike. Yet few if any of them won an argument head-to-head with her, as she took them on in a war of attrition, idea by idea, backed up with her uniquely individual style of moral conviction.

That ability to articulate a new way of thinking made her a star in the United States. On her first visit to Washington as prime minister in 1979, she electrified Congress not just with her conviction but with her incisiveness and intellectual rigour. Afterwards Republican politicians flocked around her. Later one sent her note: “Will you accept the nomination of the Republican party for president?” it asked.

The Republicans could not have Thatcher, but they did get Reagan instead. The Tea Party can only hope they have a leader of similar stature waiting in the wings.

For that reason perhaps the most pertinent question of the day has become, “Which books are you reading at the moment, Sarah?”
How typical of a college professor to ask that question! We don't know what books Gov. Palin is currently reading, but we do know that she has digested George Orwell's Animal Farm, a number of works written by C.S. Lewis and Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny -- the Conservative Manifesto of our time -- just to name a few.

The Heritage Foundation is still around, Professor Aldous, as is the Cato Institute, The Mises Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. Sarah Palin cites these think tanks, as she does such academicians as Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution at Stanford), Oliver Hart (Harvard), Luigi Zingales (University of Chicago), Michael Economides (University of Houston), Thomas James DiLorenzo (Loyola University) and Arthur Laffer (Mercer University), among others, in the policy statements she has posted on Facebook. A number of the Facebook postings have also been published as op-eds in National Review, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

She also has a public record as chief executive of the state of Alaska which clearly shows her approach to governing, which has been to cut taxes, reduce budgets and manage resources in a responsible manner, while maximizing the benefits from those resources for the citizens of Alaska who own them, according to that state's constitution. Put your research assistants to work, professor, and your questions about Sarah Palin's reading material and philosophy of governing should be answered.

- JP

1 comment:

  1. What is with these people? Do they really think that the campaign shenanigans of 2008 are going to matter in 2012 ? Do they really think that tea Partiers will think that reading Proust will help one govern better?

    BTW, she has read The Looming Tower.