What If the Tea Party Gang Really Is Crazy?

For the next two years, can we please engage in some rational, non-apocalyptic discourse?

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Here’s the question that keeps me bolt upright in bed: What if, as I suspect on good days, the Tea Party isn’t just a bloc of conventional conservatives in anti-authoritarian drag who, when tempers cool, will retake possession of their senses?

What if they’re really crazy?

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]

On this score, David Brooks has a useful column today, generally aligning with my boring Bush 41 conservatism and counteracting the regnant fairy tale of an America founded as some sort of Nozickian night watchman state:

The fact is, the American story is not just the story of limited governments; it is the story of limited but energetic governments that used aggressive federal power to promote growth and social mobility. George Washington used industrial policy, trade policy and federal research dollars to build a manufacturing economy alongside the agricultural one. The Whig Party used federal dollars to promote a development project called the American System.

Abraham Lincoln supported state-sponsored banks to encourage development, lavish infrastructure projects, increased spending on public education. Franklin Roosevelt provided basic security so people were freer to move and dare. The Republican sponsors of welfare reform increased regulations and government spending--demanding work in exchange for dollars.

I can just see the comment board lighting up in righteous fury.

My brothers and sisters of the right, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If you prefer to dismiss me as a squish, listen to the great Harvey Mansfield in America’s Constitutional Soul (1991), jousting with libertarians in language that could apply just as easily to today’s Tea Party:

Libertarianism needs to become reacquainted with constitutionalism and to stop flirting with the populism that undermines constitutional government. The way back to limited government cannot by found by denying or minimizing the need for government or by setting off government against liberty ... If today’s liberals need to be restrained from using government to rule people’s lives, libertarians need to be taught that mere release from government is not enough to make a people capable of self-government.

Or listen to George F. Will in The New Season: A Spectator’s Guide to the 1988 Election, in language that could easily be read to refute Glenn Beck today:

[T]he modern state is not an accident, or a conspiracy foisted on the nation. The American people really do want mild social democracy, sacrificing some capitalist efficiency in the interest of equity and security. This fact about the sainted people is inconvenient for the large and growing number of conservatives who refer to themselves, oxymoronically, as “populist conservatives.” ... Today’s government was built by both parties, in conformity with their professional readings of the desires of the middle class.

Or listen to a quintessential New Deal liberal (and, ahem, the boss’s father), the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom:

Free society has its roots in our classical and religious past. In the modern sense, however, it began as the political expression of youthful and exuberant capitalism. The rise of commerce and industry burst the bonds of the medieval economy. The new middle class set limits on feudal and royal power, generalizing rights against authority in order to claim privileges for themselves. The American and French declarations of natural rights were the ideological reflection of the bourgeois revolution. And the men of business, by their application and their thrift, by their readiness to take trading risks, by their organizing and productive genius, not only carved out the area of freedom but created the material abundance to keep freedom going.

The Obama administration is not radical. We are not on a road to serfdom. For the next two years, can we please just pretend that a white guy from Minnesota is president (Walter Mondale, say) and engage in some rational, non-apocalyptic discourse?