Under the heading of “subtle indicators”, I offer this recent news item: Newly-elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown did not attend Wednesday's “tea party” rally on Boston Commons to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Sarah Palin – preferring instead to get a haircut, or get his shoes shined, or something. One comment was, “He must be wary of appearing too closely affiliated with groups that could damage his 2012 re-election bid.” Yeah. That's putting it mildly. Now, there's no doubt that he's a hero for having wrested the “Kennedy Senate seat” out of the sweaty, fevered, booze-laden hands of the Kennedy clan; he deserves full credit for that. But to immediately jump across the Republican political spectrum (and yes, that party is not monolithic any more than the Democrats are) and join what is basically a populist movement... well, that would be asking a bit much. The chances are that Brown has already figured out one thing – populism is, in the long run, a non-starter in America, and the “tea party” movement is no exception. To begin with, as I've commented before, it's always a case of “too little, too late”. Where were these tea partiers when Bush was invading Iraq and Afghanistan, and initiating the bailout and economic stimulus programs? Where were they when the Patriot Act was passed? And so on. These are the perennial frogs in the boiling water – by the time they realize they're being cooked, they _are_ cooked. So they let out a few plaintive bleats, stage a few rallies with their chosen demagogue du jour, and then fade into the woodwork. They are, ultimately, the powerless... and they have no way to change that sad fact. They think they can do it by means of the ballot box, but any candidate they ever get a chance to vote for has already been thoroughly vetted by the regime – and that includes Sarah Palin, the Wonder Woman of the tea partiers. If she ever got into office, she would either be sold out or rendered impotent – or some combination thereof. “Hope and change” are really not on the agenda – and haven't been for quite some time. Now, you might say, “But aren't things a whole lot different with Obama in office than they would have been with McCain in office?” And the answer is no – obviously not. They would be no more different than Obama is from George W. Bush. In anything that counts, the Regime gets its way – no matter who the figurehead is. (And the answer to your next question is, I don't think they care one way or the other about “health care” -- for one thing, it's a domestic issue, and for another, it won't make the country bankrupt any faster than the sum total of all the other programs that are already in place.)
Maybe I'm making Scott Brown out to be smarter than he is. Maybe he really did have pressing business elsewhere. But even the most superficial look at the political landscape will tell you that the tea partiers, besides being powerless, are the perpetual outsiders... the “done to”, rather than the “doers to”... the people who are on the losing end of every government program and every social change movement. They are the people who are losing their country – although it can be argued that the country was never actually theirs to lose. But the point is, no one – especially not a politician – wants to be seen with losers, to associate with them, or to depend on them for his advancement. The only reason the tea partiers are even in the news at all is that they represent, by and large, a group of people that is normally mute, like sheep before their shearers. It's like the old joke about the kid who never says a word until he's five years old, and when he finally does and is asked why, he says “Up to now, everything's been OK.” Of course, in the case of the tea partiers, everything has _not_ been OK up to now... in fact things haven't been “OK” since at least as far back as the New Deal. So something must have happened to finally get their attention, and actually get them to spend money to get to rallies, and hold up signs, and be conspicuous (the bane of middle-class existence). Part of it, I suppose, was the apparent differences between Bush and Obama, which were amplified with just as much vigor by the liberal press as by conservative commentators and talking heads. And, yeah, I suppose there is an element of... not racism exactly, but race anxiety. Even though Obama didn't rise up out of the ghetto, he has adopted that mind set – for political purposes at least, but maybe he actually believes in it as well. And then you have the economic crisis, which no one really understands – at least no one who is willing to go on the public record with their theories. But this notion, overall, that government has suddenly gotten too big – overnight! -- that has more to do with demagoguery than with the actual facts. Government was too big 70 years ago. The Regime, as it is currently constituted, has been in charge at least since the end of World War II. The “wartime economy” has become just “the economy”. And the American equivalent of games and circuses has been to live far beyond our means for decades – on the theory that “in the long run we're all dead” (that's from John Maynard Keynes, every liberal's hero) and, in the short run, to keep political incumbents in office until they decide to either die or retire. As I've said before, short-sightedness and lack of a sense of history (real history, that is, as opposed to myth and fairy tales) are among the many besetting sins of Americans. So the result is that we do, in fact, get the government we deserve – or let's say, so as not to indulge too much in collective blame, we all get the government that most of us deserve. And this includes the tea partiers! They are, by and large, no less culpable than the most abject collectivist liberal – you know, the kind that thinks tax rates are still not high enough (even if his own are). So to start crying at this point is like a girl who went through 13 years of “sex ed” and wound up pregnant anyway – where was she while everyone else was in class? These people have obviously not been paying attention – and this is why their bleatings at this late date seem so pathetic and loser-ish. This is why they're mocked and derided by the likes of Keith Olbermann -- not because they're a threat but because they're such an obvious non-threat. And this is why their “movement” will go the way of all populist movements – not only because they are powerless, but because their emphasis is ever on all the things they're “agin”. It's sad to say, because in these times it actually makes sense to be “agin” nearly everything the government is, and does – but that never creates change, to say nothing of revolution. It barely garners any votes, as we can see by looking at the history of populist movements. One has to give the liberals, “reformers”, and “progressives” credit – they're always “for” something. In fact they're “for” a whole lot of things -- most of which are dead wrong, if not actually evil. The liberals play on people's dissatisfaction every bit as much as the tea partiers -- the difference being that they have firm answers -- programs! And they radiate the kind of energy that tends to attract support and votes, whereas populists really don't, especially when they make heroes out of accidental public figures, mediocrities, and hypocrites. I mean, look at the sorts of characters from the “conservative” side who are currently playing footsie with the tea partiers – some of the most hard-core insiders, cynics, hacks, and opportunists out there. The tea partiers are, basically, being slickered by a bunch of three-card monte artists. But if their support should actually lead to one of these shysters being elected, well... they'll find out how betrayal feels about as fast as the anti-war left is now finding it out. The pity is, the powerless are easily conned and misled – and as dense as politicians can be at times, they're all smarter than the tea partiers (except maybe for Sarah Palin). But the Regime is smarter than any politician, and since what they say goes... well, none of it really matters anyway. But as spectacle, it is amusing to watch.