Thomas Whalen is an associate professor at Boston University and author of 'A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage.'
Recently the Tea Party movement has come under withering media attention for being something akin to a populist Hee-Haw for the great conservative unwashed masses. While most on the political left may snicker and nod their heads over these grossly distorted, over-the-top characterizations, I find myself in strong disagreement. I don't dislike the Tea Partyers or their message because they are somehow the spiritual and intellectual embodiments of Moe, Larry, and Curly. Rather, I dislike them because they are insufferably arrogant and unapologetic elitists. That's right, e-l-i-t-i-s-t-s.
Elitism by definition is when a group of people get together and announce to the society in which they live that they possess an inherently superior knowledge or understanding of the world around them. Those brave souls who have the temerity to disagree with their arrived consensus are stubbornly ignored or outright dismissed.
In their "Don't Tread on Me" worldview, which U.S. senatorial nominee Christine O'Donnell of Delaware has likened to being "more a cause than a campaign," this is precisely how Tea Party members have approached the political crisis of confidence facing our country. According to them, only they and they alone, presumably with divine guidance from the Almighty, have the smarts and moral rectitude to bring America back from the abyss of fiscal insolvency and social breakdown.
Indeed, they feel the good ol' US of A has come under direct assault from some sinister political and cultural forces hellbent on taking away our constitutional freedoms and transforming the country into a vast and oppressive socialist state. If this isn't bad enough, Barack Hussein Obama is willfully abetting this malignant transformation by cramming authoritarian decrees like mandatory health insurance down our throats in the same manner the distant and corrupt King George III imposed the Stamp Act on oppressed American colonists in 1765.
The fault in this approach is that it leaves no room for nuance or alternative points of view, which is generally the problem with elites. It's their smug way or the highway. For example, if one sincerely believes that our commander in chief is the second coming of Joe Stalin or at the very least Norman Thomas, then why did he refuse to nationalize the banks when he had the means and optimal opportunity to do so in the midst of the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression? Wouldn't a more reasonable and likely explanation be that Obama is not a socialist but a careful (some might argue too careful) political moderate who abstains from extremist views, from the left or the right?
Similarly, does it make sense to call out Wall Street firms, as Tea Partyers do, as purveyors of financial and moral corruption, then support removing the few federal regulations on the books for these largely unaccountable institutions? I'm afraid Sarah Palin's snarky line about Obama's leadership ("How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?") doesn't begin to address what's really relevant, or practical.
So what does this have to do with the central question: Is the Tea Party movement good for the GOP? Well, everything, in point of fact. In a nation that's growing increasingly more complex and diverse by the day, is it really a good idea for Republicans to adopt a narrowly elitist political program that seems to draw its inspiration more from a hoary reactionary like Jefferson Davis than the inclusive and forward-looking Abraham Lincoln?
Last time I checked, Abe was supposed to be the spiritual father of the GOP. Perhaps I was mistaken.
Read why the Tea Party movement is revitalizing Republicans, by Michele Bachmann, a two-term Republican U.S. representative from Minnesota's Sixth District.