Justin Raimondo contrasts the tea party’s populism with the decadent elites of the welfare-warfare state:
Just as war is the ultimate expression of government power, so opposition to war is the ultimate expression of “antigovernment” sentiment.
Our elites hate populism in all its forms simply because it threatens their power, their privileges, their pelf and their prestige: populism is by definition a revolt against the elites, in government and society. Worst of all, from a ruling class perspective, is populism of the “antigovernment” variety, because it threatens the source and symbol of their power: what Murray Rothbard called the Welfare-Warfare State.
One problem: The current outburst of anti-establishment right-wing sentiment is not even close to being anti-war or anti-empire. Here is CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin’s report from a tax day Tea Party protest in D.C.:
In our very small, unscientific sample, the hawks–many of whom were retired military or have close family in the military–outweighed the doves. Take the first question about the 800-plus bases the U.S. military maintains at a cost of over $100 billion a year. Thirty-five of the 50 respondents wanted to keep the bases.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the people we interviewed were not disturbed by our statistic that every taxpayer had already paid over $7,000 for the wars–and that’s before Obama’s latest escalation. Seventy percent did not want a quick withdrawal, saying that we had to “finish the job first.”
You would think that aid would be particularly unpopular within the Tea Party. That was true in the case of Egypt, where 45 out of 50 interviewees preferred cutting aid[….]But when it came to Israel, 80 percent wanted to keep up our $3 billion in aid, even though we pointed out that Israel is a wealthy country.
And though Raimondo would like to think that the corporatist fusion of state and private sector power is hated by tea parties – perhaps through conjecture given their opposition to the bailouts – not-even-remotely-libertarian leftists are, by default, relatively more “left libertarian” in their view of the military’s use of private contractors:
On the question of supporting high-paid private security contractors like Blackwater (Xe) that take jobs from the military, the group was split down the middle. Half agreed that unaccountable contractors sullied our country’s reputation and those jobs should be returned to the military. The other half said that as long as we don’t have a draft [emphasis mine], we need private contractors.
So does the half that doesn’t support the use of companies like Blackwater support a draft? Difficult to know, but if they were against the warfare state one would think they’d suggest ending the use of contractors by ending the military engagements that employ them. The questioning methodology may not have been open-ended, however. Indeed the answers presented here appear binary.
True, Raimondo mentions more than just Tea Party activity. But it’s the Tea Party protests that have attracted the lion’s share of media attention and invited conflation of their activity with the more radical anti-state fringe in the “liberal imagination,” ala Trilling. One could gather from Raimondo and the elite media that Paulistas and the main of the Tea Party as somewhat interchangeable; the difference being, of course, that Raimondo has a positive view of this big tent.
As far as I know there’s been little demographic analysis of the more radical element within the Tea Party, those that come down squarely against foreign intervention, emphasize civil liberties (and the “prison-industrial complex”), etc. On average, however, the idea that they are populist is questionable at best. Tea Partiers are too Republican (or at the very least Republican leaning) to be broad based, have a somewhat higher level of education, and are disproportionately white and Protestant. It would be more correct to identify the Tea Parties as an expression of identity politics for white folks, as Pat Buchanan does via Obama. (Suggesting that identity politics is at play even for those that don’t officially subscribe to it is to come awfully close to agreeing with Critical Race Theory, but so be it, that’s a discussion for another day – or the comment thread.)
Maybe what really seals the deal for the anti-populist argument is the fact that Tea Partiers are just too ideological. What’s popular is being ideologically clueless and not voting. (True, the turnout for presidential elections often crosses the 50% mark, but when congressional, senatorial, and state and local elections are included, this is not the case.) The Tea Partiers are far too consistent across issue positions to be in the dark ideologically, and they are overwhelmingly (97%) registered to vote, against 67% of the nation at large (though the latter link covers the November 2006 election – the historic election of 2008 probably brought that up).
Show me a group described as populist, and I’ll show you an ideologue projecting a fantasy.