Tea Partiers Don't Mind Their Own Leaders' Elitism
This post originally appeared at No More Mister Nice Blog.
Peter Baker's article in today's New York Times Week in Review section is headlined "Elitism: The Charge Obama Can't Shake." Baker seems to accept the notion that Obama has brought this problem on himself, though he can't quite seem to explain how -- something about Obama's "cerebral confidence," or perhaps it happened because of one remark Obama made earlier this month about voters rejecting Democrats because they're not quite grasping the facts. (But, um, that was earlier this month. Why has the charge stuck for so long? Baker can't say.) Elsewhere, Maureen Dowd gets a little closer to reality -- she thinks Obama's been a poor salesman for his own ideas and deeds (which I think is true), though she also hits the elitism button (she says Obama seems "sniffy," which is a word I might have used to describe George W. Bush at times during his presidency, including times when he was very popular).
But the notion that Jes' Regular Folks are rebelling against a pinky-extending millionaire president is undermined somewhat by a Matt Bai article that focuses on a tea party leader in Utah:
Generally speaking, Tea Party enthusiasts don't think much of East Coast media types, and it was hard not to consider this fact as David Kirkham slammed his roadster into fifth gear, topping out at more than 100 miles per hour as we hurtled toward another curve....
As Mr. Kirkham expertly maneuvered this car he had designed and built in his factory, I began to understand that there was a point to his having invited me along for the ride, and it wasn't to give me a heart attack. The message he seemed to be sending was, We are not who you think we are. We are serious people with serious abilities.
As recently as a year ago, these cars were Mr. Kirkham's sole passion. For about $100,000, Kirkham Motorsports, the company Mr. Kirkham started with his brother, Thomas, in 1995, will build you an exact replica of the 1960s-era Shelby Cobra, sculpted from 1,500 pounds of aluminum. A custom-made version like the one Mr. Kirkham designed and built for Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, will run you something closer to $1 million. Let's just say Mr. Kirkham does all right.
But now, at 43, Mr. Kirkham has another obsession: He is the founder, more or less, of the now 10,000-strong Utah Tea Party, the chapter that helped get this national movement rolling by leading a stunning revolt against a sitting senator, Robert Bennett....
I'm not much of a car guy, but you can see that million-dollar car Kirkham built for Larry Ellison here. The book documenting the process of building the damn car costs $4,500 a copy, fer crissake. Tell me again about the economic anxiety of the teabaggers?
Which gets us to Frank Rich. I think he's somewhat on target in today's column:
... The Tea Party's hopes for actually affecting change in Washington will start being dashed the morning after. The ordinary Americans in this movement lack the numbers and financial clout to muscle their way into the back rooms of Republican power no matter how well their candidates perform.
Trent Lott, the former Senate leader and current top-dog lobbyist, gave away the game in July. "We don't need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples," he said, referring to the South Carolina senator who is the Tea Party's Capitol Hill patron saint. "As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them." It's the players who wrote the checks for the G.O.P. surge, not those earnest folk in tri-corner hats, who plan to run the table in the next corporate takeover of Washington. Though Tom DeLay may now be on trial for corruption in Texas, the spirit of his K Street lives on in a Lott client list that includes Northrop Grumman and Goldman Sachs.
... Mitch McConnell ... will be certain to stop any Tea Party hillbillies from disrupting his chapter of the club (as he tried to stop Rand Paul in his own state's G.O.P. primary). McConnell's pets in his chamber's freshman G.O.P. class will instead be old-school conservatives like Dan Coats (of Indiana), Rob Portman (of Ohio) and, if he squeaks in, Pat Toomey (of Pennsylvania).... They can be counted on to execute an efficient distribution of corporate favors and pork after they make their latest swing through Capitol Hill's revolving door....
My only objection is: Will rank-and-file teabaggers even object? To some extent they want to return politics to the eighteenth century -- but I think what they really want are a few feel-good victories against the evil Kenyan socialist, or a few defeats that will spur the sense of grievance they so desperately crave. And they can be easily distracted by investigations (New Black Panthers! Climategate!). Do they even care about what they claim to care about, or do they just care about the fight?
More to the point, if quite a few of them are like David Kirham -- and quite a few more of them daydream about being David Kirham, if not Larry Ellison -- aren't they going to root for deregulation and tax cuts for the rich?
Matt Bai's article isn't about class and wealth. It's about how Kirkham reminds him of the Netrootsy liberals who helped bring the Democratic Party back into power in the last decade. He argues that this a new model for political activism, and that the Intetnet makes it go much faster than activist insurgencies in earlier eras. But he concludes that these insurgencies happen quickly and fade quickly, which means there'll probably be an even newer one (presumably Democratic) very soon.
Frank Rich, for his part, thinks teabaggers are going to be disillusioned soon, and turn to the most famous tea-style rabble-rouser, a woman currently being mocked by Karl Rove:
... those Americans, like all the others on the short end of the 2008 crash, have reason to be mad as hell. And their numbers will surely grow once the Republican establishment's panacea of tax cuts proves as ineffectual at creating jobs, saving homes and cutting deficits as the half-measures of the Obama White House and the Democratic Congress. The tempest, however, will not be contained within the tiny Tea Party but will instead overrun the Republican Party itself, where Palin, with Murdoch and Beck at her back, waits in the wings to "take back America" not just from Obama but from the G.O.P. country club elites now mocking her. By then -- after another two years of political gridlock and economic sclerosis -- the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.
But I think Rich and Bai are both off base. Teabaggers won't really be disillusioned. There isn't a bright line separating ultracorporatist GOP hacks and party-like-it's-1773 teabaggers -- teabaggers love the rich.(They make an exception only for the fat cats whose suckling at the government teat is highlighted by Fox News as "socialism.") In addition, the ultracorporatists will just stoke the rank-and-file's rage. They'll keep the 'baggers in the fold at least through 2012. They're practiced at this. They kept the religious right in the fold for decades, right? It's not that hard for them.