(Nantucket)The 18th century English political sage Edmund Burke wrote that the vigor of any society can be measured by the “balance between its impulses of innocence and decadence”. He further noted that when that balance tilts decisively toward decadence then “decline is steady and inexorable”.
In the recent fulminations over the debt ceiling “crisis” one could clearly see if not innocence and decadence then certainly their counterparts populism and elitism vigorously battling for political advantage.
The elitists were the usual alliance of Democrats and “mainstream” (i.e. left wing) media. The face of the alliance was, of course, Obama with Reid, Biden and others filling out the chorus.
The populist role ultimately fell to that which is known as the “Tea Party”. This entity however because of its inchoate and evolving nature had no face or identifiable center, and in fact wasn’t even a party.
This elusiveness created a problem for Democrats who tried very hard to attack the Tea Party using the “identify, isolate, and demonize” strategy patented by Obama guru Saul Alinsky. Because the identify and isolate part proved inapplicable the Democrats concentrated on demonize, and variously characterized the Tea Party as uneducated, easily led, racists, hostage takers, and terrorists.
The more restrained voices in the punditocracy described Tea Party adherents as politically innocent, naïve, simplistic, and most damming “unrealistic”.
To the pundits realism is the highest good. A realist is someone who never stands on principle, is always ready to make a deal, and worships regularly in the Church of Compromise.
For years this worldview has profited the Democrats who define compromise as “you give me what I want, and I agree to take it”. This approach resembles John Foster Dulles’ long ago description of Soviet negotiating strategy: “What’s ours is ours; what’s yours is negotiable.”
In the recent stand-off Democrats defined compromise as follows: Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling and taxes NOW; Obama agrees to discuss spending cuts and entitlement reform LATER. The media echo chamber insisted that Obama had Republicans over a barrel: Accept his demands or be blamed for worldwide economic catastrophe. Even some Republicans believed this.
Strangely, things didn’t turn out that way.The final “deal” while greatly flawed- at best a very modest step in the right direction- nonetheless utterly confounded conventional Washington wisdom.
In the end it was Obama who caved, not the Tea Party. Suddenly spending cuts- albeit painfully small were NOW. Tax increases were off the table- banished to the land of discussions later. In a heartbeat Obama threw his left-wing base under the bus, sacrificing long cherished liberal orthodoxies on the altar of his dimming hopes for re-election. Additionally the Fear-Monger-in-Chief threw away his Medicare trump by including that program in the “automatic cuts” in Part II of the legislation.
In the final act it was not the Republican Party that imploded but rather the Democrats as perfectly reflected by their 95-95 split in the House vote. At day’s end the Tea Party’s perceived intransigence did not scuttle Boehner’s credibility as a leader, but instead was the Speaker’s bulwark in standing firm against the Democrats’ “sky is falling” rhetoric. By the numbers Boehner commanded three quarters of his conference, including a majority of the Tea Party Caucus while a majority of Pelosi’s minions voted against her.
That Obama recognized the magnitude of his capitulation was made clear when he signed the legislation- not before a fawning Rose Garden crowd with souvenir pens all around, but alone in the Oval Office in silence.
Thus the Tea Party- innocent, naïve, inexperienced, simplistic, and unrealistic- had been more than anyone else the principal driver of the narrative in this American melodrama that ended better than most conservatives thought possible.
How did they do it?
David Gregory- host of NBC’s Meet The Press- spoke for “pundits” everywhere, when he addressed a mostly liberal and largely baffled gathering here on Nantucket: “It’s hard to explain. They’re not like most people we know”.
On the night the legislation was signed the ever pretentious Bill O’Reilly insisted to a guest on his Fox program that it wasn’t the Tea Party who made Obama cave, but rather the American people- “The Folks” in O’Reilly speak – who did it.
His guest- the 21st century American political sage Charles Krauthammer- contradicted him saying, “Bill, the Tea Party are the Folks.” Who knew?