Peter Wehner: Grappling with The Tea Party Mindset

Peter Wehner grapples with understanding “The Tea Party Mindset” in a thoughtful post on Commentary:

It’s an interesting place in which I find myself. I share the Tea Party’s concerns about the Affordable Care Act and, more broadly, the threats posed by the increasing size, scope and reach of the federal government. I recognize the important role the populist movement played in the 2010 mid-term elections. And I wrote the other day that it’s important for there to be bridges built between the so-called conservative establishment and the Tea Party. Even still, I’ve found myself increasingly out of step with the Tea Party, for reasons that William Galston crystallized in his recent Wall Street Journal column.

I think Wehner does an admirable job trying to understand where his Tea Party friends are coming from.

And I think he captures a lot of it, certainly the mindset part.

I think though, he’s missing a key part of this movement’s “tipping point” concerns.

My sense is they believe that America is at an inflection point. That we are about to enter into the land of no return. That demographic trends are all troubling and that the “takers” in America will soon outnumber the “givers.” That for many decades (or more) we’ve seen a “one-way ratchet toward ever bigger government.” And that a majority of Americans will become hooked on the Affordable Care Act like an addict to cocaine.

So far, so good. After some further discussion, he says this:

… some perspective is also in order. We are actually not on the verge of collapse and ruin. This period is not comparable to the Great Depression or the period leading up to the Civil War or the collapse of Ancient Rome. And tyranny is not just around the corner.

I would submit we are on the verge of collapse and ruin. Not because of demography or more people on the dole than off it. Or because we are facing a massive wave of immigrants far more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.

I think we are at a tipping point because for over 100 years our culture has systematically and powerfully been infiltrated and undermined.

Our educational system is largely in ruins. Logic, history, understanding of the human condition—all these critical tools of basic citizenship are increasingly out of the reach of even highly-educated (read: highly-schooled) people in our society to master and utilize.

This means our most basic ability as a people to govern ourselves is slipping beyond our grasp.

Long gone is the American ideal described by de Tocqueville, of communities and societies of mutual support in time of need.

Instead, we have “The government is us.”

The Government Is Us mindset is sapping initiative, energy—and yes, liberty—at an accelerating speed, making it harder than ever to restore America, not just to the Founders’ romantic notions of greatness, but to simple national health and security.

And self-governance.

Here’s where I’m headed, and where I part company with Mr. Wehner:

Government cannot be Mom or Dad, or rich Uncle Sam riding to our rescue every time we are overwhelmed with a crisis.

For three reasons.

  • One, this effort, as we are seeing at an accelerating pace, is simply financially unsustainable. Our Safety Net has become a massive pyramid scheme.
  • Two, when attempting to innovate solutions beyond its core constitutionally-mandated responsibilities, government—as we are seeing with the Obamacare rollout—is incompetent. Not incompetent in the Why Did I Ever Hire My Nephew to Design My Small Company Website sense. But massively incompetent on a scale beyond anything most of us thought possible.
  • Three

Frankly… Three is heartbreaking. It is the real crux of the difference between the government can do it (if we just do it right) and the Tea Party mindsets.

We have real families, real communities, real churches and synagogues and temples and Rotary and Knights of Columbus and Kiwanis and Daughters of the American Revolution and reading societies and mutual aid societies and soup kitchens and community pantries.

And individual and community compassion and caring and creative problem-solving.

Unless government has subsumed the roles that The People used to act from, insinuated itself into our even our most intimate relationships, and destroyed the very fabric of our covenants and caring.

Which, bottom line, is exactly what has happened.

A healthy, life-giving community is a network of interdependent, nurturing relationships.

It is resilient in the face of almost anything except massive, centralized government interference.

Which—is exactly what has happened.

That is the tipping point before us.

Many of us sense that though the battle before us is long and difficult (and impossible to game plan for), that battle must begin now or be forever lost.

Mr. Wehner is a good man who worked closely with a president who is also a very good man.

However, I think they both failed to grasp the greatness of community in America and the destructive nature of the forces they enabled, even as they sought to bring compassion to bear on large and complicated crises.

This is something that grieves those I know in the Tea Party movement.

So many in the conservative establishment see them as an angry, green eye shades movement.

And they are not.

They simply believe the Good Samaritan was an individual who cared and who voluntarily took ownership of another man’s healing and restoration.

They do not believe he was a government-appointed social worker.

Or an agitator for government action.

Or—God save us all!—a congressional appropriator.

The typical Tea Partiers I know want their communities unleashed once again to do their work of compassion. Assisting one another on to greatness and prosperity—which, for them, means great opportunities to do good in this world.


And that’s it.

What about the politics of the Cruz Hail Mary?

Yesterday I posted a piece (The Lawyer, the Polemicist & the Network Political Director on the Cruz Hail Mary) with intros and links to articles from the past few days that, I believe, answer that question. Go there and click on the links, especially the first one.

My bottom line on that is that too many in the establishment, including genuine conservatives, acted out of some sort of knee jerk mindset and they weren’t listening.

Now let’s listen.




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