If imitation is the highest form of flattery, the "tea party" movement must be honored.
In an effort to replicate the tea party's success, 170 liberal and civil rights groups are forming a coalition that they hope will match the movement's political energy and influence. They promise to "counter the tea party narrative" and help the progressive movement find its voice again after 18 months of floundering.
The large-scale attempt at liberal unity, dubbed "One Nation," will try to revive themes that energized the progressive grassroots two years ago. In a repurposing of Barack Obama's old campaign slogan, organizers are demanding "all the change" they voted for -- a poke at the White House.
One Nation? I'm glad they left out Ein Volk and Ein Fuhrer. Okay, now that we got that cheap shot out of our system, let's think about this one.
Quick, show of hands: who knows what, precisely, is the "tea party narrative?" I've been watching it for over a year now and I'm still not sure I know. What I do know is that the various people who have called themselves Tea Partiers (and who have been called something obscene by their critics), bring a variety of concerns to the table. If there is an overarching theme to the movement, it is that the size and scope of government, which has grown substantially since the Democratic Party regained control of Congress in 2007, is becoming a danger to the future of the nation. From what I can tell, social issues are secondary to the people who show up the rallies.
Now let's look at the idea that the progressive movement has had "18 months of floundering." I think we can rewrite that statement more accurately. The progressive movement (through the politicians it championed, sometimes sotto voce) has controlled two of the three branches of government for 18 months. If there is a perception that the movement is floundering, it is because the moves that its champion and his allies have made are turning out to be a lot less popular than the progressive movement imagined they would be.
Oddly, people aren't really all that excited about the shiny new health care system that was rammed down the nation's throat a few months back. If people really wanted what the Democrats were offering, there wouldn't have been a need to use a recess appointment to put Donald Berwick into his office overseeing Medicare and Medicaid. It's weird -- you would have thought the Democrats would have been delighted to explain why we want a man who believes we "must have a redistribution of wealth."
Well, maybe some people want that. And they certainly have a right to get organized. The top-down model might be a better approach for people who favor wealth redistribution, because it's certainly going to take a top-down approach to get wealth redistribution. Or, as it's sometimes known, a boot on the throat. So why not take that approach? Sadly, there's trouble in paradise, as the Post reports:
But the liberal groups have long had a kind of sibling rivalry, jostling over competing agendas and seeking to influence some of the same lawmakers. In forming the coalition, the groups struggled to settle on a name. Even now, two of the major players disagree about who came up with the idea of holding a march this fall.
Of course they want to do a march. That's been the ticket forever. P. J. O'Rourke wrote over 20 years ago on squabbling that took place at a homelessness/free housing march, in a chapter he called "Among the Compassion Fascists" that was part of his book, Parliament of Whores:
The big, resentful woman I mentioned earlier went on to extol a group of what appeared to be just plain street bums called the New Exodus Marchers who had walked to DC from New York. When the New Exodus people arrived in Washington,
they promptly got into a fistfight at the Center for Creative Non-Violence. The fight had to do with the disposition of royalty proceeds from the sale of HOMELESS T-shirts.
20 years on, the list of people getting this One Nation project off the ground is pretty much exactly who you'd expect, the Post reports:
The groups involved represent the core of the first-time voters who backed President Obama -- including the National Council of La Raza, NAACP, AFL-CIO, SEIU and the United States Student Association.
Back in 1990, O'Rourke called folks like this the "Perennially Indignant" and his explanation of how they think remains apt.
For the Perennially Indignant homelessness is a fine rallying flag where they can all gather and show off how much they care. Homelessness is also a splendid way to indict the American system and, while they're at it, all of Western Civilization and its individualism and freedom. Of Thomas Paine's "natural and imprescriptable rights of man . . . liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression," the Indignants believe only in security. They would replace the democratic paradigm of government as a free association of equals with the totalitarian paradigm of the state as family.Substitute health care for homeless and the view is the same. Especially if you're Donald Berwick.
The people who would form an organization called One Nation and hope to organize our fractious nation into the One Nation they envision are certainly entitled to try. But it's my job to do everything in my power to stop them. And there are a lot of people who call themselves Tea Partiers who feel the same way I do. We'll be having this conversation all the way to November. And if a look back at O'Rourke's book is any indication, we'll probably still be having the same conversation 20 years from now.