It may be that, at long last, the right wing has begun to take aim at itself, find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, and attempt to harness productively the tremendous surge in anger and resentment that has propelled it these past two years.
(Note: I realize that the news du jour is Stanley McChrystal. But he may resign in the next 24 hours, so I’m going to wait till tomorrow or so to comment on that debacle).
There were inklings, of course, such as Jim Manzi’s epic takedown of Mark Levin a while back. But that post produced a fairly heated backlash against its author, which broke down along predictable (verging on stale) orthodox/heretic lines. This week, however, noted Sarah Palin defender Matt Continetti takes aim at TV personality Glenn Beck, in a Weekly Standard article entitled “The Two Faces of the Tea Party.” Those two faces are Beck, obviously, and Rick Santelli (he of the anti-mortgage-bailout rant). In a nutshell, Continetti takes the position that both Beck and Santelli channel a popular rage into anti-government arguments – but while Santelli makes reasonable, or at least arguable, economic points, Beck espouses conspiracy theories and nonsensical comparisons of the US left to evil dictatorships. That way, Continetti says, lies ruin, hearkening back to William F. Buckley’s good sense in casting out the Birchers (and the GOP’s bad sense in nominating Barry Goldwater). The best paragraph:
This is nonsense. Whatever you think of Theodore Roosevelt, he was not Lenin. Woodrow Wilson was not Stalin. The philosophical foundations of progressivism may be wrong. The policies that progressivism generates may be counterproductive. Its view of the Constitution may betray the Founders’. Nevertheless, progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States. And not even the stupidest American liberal shares the morality of the totalitarian monsters whom Beck analogizes to American politics so flippantly.
And the closer:
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.
Continetti notes at the beginning of his piece that he is a “student in the exciting new field of Tea Party Studies.” Enter Dave Weigel, probably the preeminent TPS scholar in the blogosphere, who notes in his take on Continetti that weaning conservatives off “conspiracy theories” is “a tough task, given how they’ve indulged them so far. It was just this week that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck teamed up for a charity event.”
And there you have it. The hidden third face here is Palin, a curious entity who seems to belong to both camps and to none. (Kevin Drum termed her “sui generis” a couple days ago, which seems about right.) She doesn’t engage in Beck-like histrionics, but she does engage in platitudinous rambling, she is often ill-informed, and she advances highly dubious claims about the Democratic party. She has a dispositional optimism that belies, or tempers, her fundamentally critical political stances. She came from Wasilla, but it was the Republican elite who took her from Juneau. She served as governor of Alaska – but only for two years, before jumping off to join the media circus. She appeals to the Beck-style evangelical population, not the Santelli-esque, fiscal-conservative-social-apathetic crowd. Yet many of those sympathetic to Sarah Palin will find Glenn Beck obnoxious at best (in my limited experience).
Once you’ve drawn the extreme boundaries, the challenge is to fill in the rest. So the first question I have for the Tea Party is this. Mr. Continetti has drawn you his battle lines. Should you accept them, where stands Sarah Palin?