Bringing down the political class

Campaign 2010

We will surely remember 2010 as the Tea Party election, the year that ordinary people gave the entire political class a drubbing, first in the primaries and then at the polls.

Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen tell us why in their book Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two Party System. Rasmussen and Schoen, Republican and Democratic pollsters respectively, draw from a wide body of polling data to provide an insightful picture of these people who have been shaping the races that they will largely settle next week.

According to the authors, the Tea Party has been a spontaneous, principled, and yet passionate response to a politically unhealthy divide in the country. That divide is not fundamentally between Democrats and Republicans or between liberals and conservatives but between what they call the American mainstream and the political class. We have seen anger on display by mainstream Americans at town hall meetings last year, at Tea Party rallies for the last 18 months, and chiefly in this year's Republican primaries. And we will see it again next week expressed peacefully but decisively at the ballot box.

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Such Tea Party anger is rooted not simply in their disagreement over the present government's economic and spending policies. And the movement is not a rebellion of heartless skinflints. Fundamentally, Tea Partiers are moved by the view that "the federal government has become a special-interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests," Rasmussen and Schoen point out. Those who govern us are out of touch with ordinary Americans. They don't listen to the people who put them in power. They're arrogant. Barney Frank sits securely in his gerrymandered, liberal, Massachusetts district lording it over the rest of us on account of his seniority in the House of Representatives. Culturally and institutionally, the link between government and the people has become stretched intolerably thin. And so, because of the extent of Tea Party fury over this thin link, Congressman Frank is sweating out an election for the first time in 30 years.

People in government may start out like the rest of us and go to Washington with the best of intentions, but they become part of a new class, an insulated political class, and they adopt the attitudes of that class. As Peggy Noonan put it, "The establishment came from America, but hasn't lived there in a long time." Or they have always been part of that ruling elite, but simply moved from one part of it to another when they went to Washington.

Rasmussen and Schoen write, "A self-selecting group of influencers from business, government, academia, and the media now occupy[sic] the most prestigious institutional positions in American society and in power centers in Washington." So when the economy went bust, the ruling class got bailouts from their fellow members in Washington and they all got richer. The rest of lost our jobs, lost our houses, or just slipped a little further behind. The American mainstream caught on to this immediately.

The conclusion we should draw, say Rasmussen and Schoen, is that, "Americans don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or the center. They want to govern themselves." But that view of self-government is an American conservative idea. America is still a largely center-right country. Despite the New Deal, the New Society, the New Morality, and constant catechizing by the media, Hollywood, the public schools, and academia, America has remained attached to private enterprise and self-government, and to what candidate Barack Obama called "guns and religion." The political class doesn't believe in any of that. But Americans still have the Constitution, which next week gives us the legal means of reminding them who it is they serve.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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