The 19th-century German Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke said that “No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy”.  Despite this, military people always make plans anyway.  They have to, I guess, to gather intel. Or at least to feel like they’re doing something, so they can be accused of idleness in the face of looming disaster.

There’s a minor controversy over an article published in something called the “Small Wars Journal”.  It’s by Col. Kevin Benson (ret.) and Jennifer Weber, and it concerns what an American civil war in 2016 would be like.  It puts forth an imaginary scenario in which “an extremist militia motivated by the goals of the ‘tea party’ movement takes over the government of Darlington, South Carolina.”  (I assume the authors picked South Carolina for the irony, since that’s where the real Civil War began.)  They go on to postulate how it would play out, and how the Federal forces should respond.

Needless to say, the article has generated a backlash from Tea-Partiers, who are both understandably upset at the idea that they would try such a thing, and by the fact that, by all appearances, the government is thinking about how to wage war against them.  The Washington Times published an editorial denouncing it as “a choppy patchwork of doctrinal jargon and liberal nightmare.”

First of all, I understand why the Tea Partiers are upset, and I think Col. Benson and Dr. Weber would have been better served by leaving politics out of it and just using generic rebels in their example. There are some real lunatics in the movement, but most of the Tea Partiers I’ve seen are just rural, usually older, people who yell slogans they heard on talk-radio.  Most of them seem harmless, apart from tending to vote for bad candidates.

Having said that, I do understand why they wrote the article, and why they filled it in with political details: because military people love war-gaming  hypothetical scenarios.  My guess is they used the Tea Party because the military tends to lean conservative, and they were trying to compensate, and clearly that didn’t work.  But then, with all the money we spend on defense, it’s not surprising to see them wargaming all kinds of “what-if” scenarios.  It’s related to the old saying “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

I do think it is a very disturbing article–mostly because of its context.  I think there have been tons of “awful civil war in the future” novels, movies, etc. but to see it presented dryly as something that might really happen is something else altogether.  Plus, it gives the people who are always getting ready for the apocalypse even more fodder for their beliefs.  (Which is ironic, since they are doing the same thing as the people who wrote this article: getting ready for all sorts of unlikely eventualities.)

This is fascinating. According to this story linked to from the conservative site Drudge Report, Tea Party groups are opposing the “Occupy” movement’s attempts to curtail Black Friday spending with a “BUYcott” movement. They are, according to the article, “encouraging consumers to shop on Black Friday to help the economy recover.”

This is interesting for two reasons. First, the Tea Partiers here are pretty much saying “we support the corporations”, which most people already knew, but it’s still surprising how obvious they are about it.

Second is the fact that by taking this action, it seems to me that the Tea Partiers are unwittingly admitting their opponents are right, and that stimulating the demand-side is a way to improve the economy.

Andrew Leonard of Salon discusses why a Tea Partier is advocating Keynesianism. If anything, he goes too easy on the guy.

I can’t say I’m surprised. Back in February 2010, I wrote:

“As near as I can tell, the optimal strategy according to [the Tea Party] would be ‘militaristic Keynesianism,’ which would mean cutting taxes, and increasing government spending by vastly increasing expenditures on the military (to further National Security) while making cuts elsewhere.”

I’ve blogged several times in the last few months about the Atlas Shrugged movie. It might seem like I’m really fascinated by it, so I’ll try to stop. But first, I’d just like to say that this review of it by P.J. O’Rourke–a conservative who is somewhat sympathetic to Ayn Rand–is pretty funny. However, it also perpetuates some Republican talking points, as in:

“Political collectivists are no longer much interested in taking things away from the wealthy and creative… It’s the plain folks, not a Taggart/Rearden elite, whose prospects and opportunities are stolen by corrupt school systems, health-care rationing, public employee union extortions, carbon-emissions payola and deficit-debt burden graft. Today’s collectivists are going after malefactors of moderate means.”

But Ayn Rand didn’t like “plain folks”. Atlas Shrugged is very deliberately about romanticizing the rich. O’Rourke calls for an “update” to make the story favor the “plain folks”, but that is antithetical to Rand’s philosophy.

Sometimes I almost feel like I understand this book better than a lot of the people who say they agree with it.

David Weigel on why the Tea Party isn’t against the Libya intervention:

“The Tea Party is libertarian in plenty of ways. But if it has one defining characteristic, it’s that it’s nationalist. If there’s a way to remove Qaddafi decades after he aided the Lockerbie bombers, then that’s more important than a debate over the deep thoughts of the founders.”

That’s pretty much my take on the Tea Party’s reaction, as well.

Well now, this is very interesting:

“Co-founder [of the Tea Party Patriots] Mark Meckler tried to pre-empt expectations among the faithful that Washington would shrink and the federal deficit would close overnight, instead alluding to a “forty-year plan” that the group was busy working out with its members. The plan, according to Meckler, was a highway with four lanes, only one of which was explicitly political. The other three were educational, judicial and cultural.

‘All civilizations and empires have fallen because their cultures became decadent,‘ Meckler said. ‘We need to lift up conservative culture, family values and wholesome things by supporting conservative musicians, writers, artists and producers.’” [Emphasis mine]

If this vaguely Spenglerian quote really was said by Meckler–and I have my doubts because I haven’t seen it reported in many places–it certainly does make it sound like the Tea Partiers are not just Libertarian Free-Marketeers.

National Greatness Conservatism“, thy time has come, it seems.

George Monbiot writes in The Guardian:

“The Tea Party… is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting.”

To which Alex Knepper responds:

“Ideologues don’t see opposing ideas as possessing any real legitimacy. Instead of honest disagreement, they see men behind the curtain deceiving helpless fools. Anyone who disagrees with them is manipulated, conned. Dissent from the beliefs of an ideologue, and he doesn’t treat you as an opponent worthy of sparring with. Instead, he condescends; he treats you like a helpless sap who’s been suckered into furthering the villainous motives of malicious sociopaths. The ideologue is the hero, motivated by kindness, while his enemies are bad guys who obstruct virtue and goodness.” 

This is much the same phenomenon I examined in this post, and after reading these articles, I think it’s worth examining a bit more in depth. First, Monbiot’s claim that the Tea Party people are simply being tricked is not quite right; they may not be aware precisely of who the Koch brothers are, but I am sure that they wouldn’t care if they did. Monbiot is indeed oversimplifying the situation to fit his ideology.

To this extent, Knepper’s rebuttal is correct, but where it falls short is in deciding to simply treat this discrepancy between the philosophy of the party’s backers and its members like it is completely unimportant. The Koch brothers really do spend money on these things–which is hardly surprising when you think about it. After all, someone has to pay to fund all these efforts.

Knepper appears to prefer  to simply conclude that, for some reason, the small-government ideals resonate with people nowadays; Tea Party has diverse viewpoints, etc. etc. etc., end of story. I would prefer to think of it in a rather different way.

There are three major groups here: the Nationalist Conservatives, the Materialistic Libertarians and the Cosmopolitan (the philosophy, not the magazine) Liberals. The Tea Party rank-and-file is mostly Conservative, but it is funded mostly by Libertarians. I don’t think this is a case of the one manipulating the other; rather, it is simply a strategic alliance. The Libertarians say to the Conservatives: we will help you get the Liberals out of office if you’ll help us with our small government initiatives. It’s a compromise.

And, as I’ve said before, this seems to me to make intuitive sense because it’s the exact same alliance that has defined the Republican party for almost fifty years.

That’s how I see it, anyway. As always, if you disagree with my analysis, I encourage you to speak up.

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan)

Rob Reiner compares the Tea Party to the Nazis, and brings up the possibility of them having a charismatic leader. He says:

“My fear is that the tea party gets a charismatic leader… Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold. ‘I’m angry and I’m frightened and you should hate that guy over there.’ And that’s what they’re doing.” 

Our Nazi-comparison-based political discourse and the importance of charisma are two of my favorite topics. So, with that in mind, I have to say first of all that Reiner is very wrong to make this comparison. The Tea Party is many things, all of which I believe to be wrong, but I really don’t think they want to commit genocide. The Nazi comparisons are uncalled for and foolish, in my opinion.

Now, as to the possibility of the Tea Party getting a charismatic leader: they already have at least one, possibly two. For a long time, I’ve thought that Sarah Palin is charismatic. And, more recently, it seems like Glenn Beck has emerged as their leader; and if you can think of some reason for that other than charisma, you’ve got me beat.

There’s an old story, probably apocryphal, that’s often told about Adlai Stevenson. Supposedly, at one of Stevenson’s campaign stops, a woman yelled to him “You have the vote of every thinking person!” To which, the story goes, Stevenson replied “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!

It’s the sort of story that resonates with any one who has any interest whatsoever in politics, at least now that Stevenson is so far back in history that he has ceased to have any power to divide people politically. Everyone always feels like their side–right though it undoubtedly is–is also an oppressed minority, overwhelmed by hordes of uninformed imbeciles motivated only by the propaganda of shadowy elites.

This is the view that is held both by the members of the Tea Party and by most of the people who oppose them. And I suppose this is so because it is partially correct–and necessarily so, given the way politics works in this country.

The Tea-Party is, as I have said before, a re-branding of the Republican party to make it seem more fresh and exciting, but most of all to dissociate it from the unpopular George W. Bush and his administration.

Now, this does not mean the Tea Party is quite the same thing as the Republican Party; obviously, from day one they have sought to purge anyone who shows any signs of compromising with the Democrats from the party’s ranks. They appear to be insistent on ideological purity.

Many Democrats have tried to label the Tea Party as an “astroturf” (fake grass-roots) operation, citing Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks organization and the work of the Koch Brothers. And they are to some extent correct, though I suspect every large movement and every mass demonstration has some wealthy backers, if anyone cares to check.

But what does the Tea Party, as an organization, want? Most people who are sympathetic to them have said they are a sort of Libertarian movement, which claims to want smaller government. Those who oppose them say that they are racists. The Tea Partiers deny this, saying they only oppose “Big Government”.

Data about what the members of the Tea Party think about certain issues are at odds with the slogans they yell. As I noted earlier, a majority of Tea Partiers think free trade is bad for the country. This is not exactly a Libertarian position. Yet they continue to argue for capitalism, and despise governmental attempts at economic intervention.

So from all this we are to gather that they are clamoring for a free market, nothing more. Yet so often they are found not talking about this stuff at all, but about “restoring honor to the country” and “American exceptionalism” and “taking their country back”. They are always dressed in super-patriotic garb, always waving the flag and talking of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. This is all complemented by a dose of fundamentalist Christianity–often with the implication that the Christian God blessed America specifically as the “greatest nation”.

This is, as I’ve said many times, nationalism. Not necessarily ethnic nationalism, as so many will infer. It may well be a completely non-racist, non-ethnically prejudiced nationalism, but nationalism it is nevertheless. The “Restoring Honor” rally held by the Tea Party’s much-beloved Glenn Beck was a cry for a return to National Greatness. The American exceptionalism talk means just what it says.

And the hatred of Obama? I think that much of it is not racially motivated. If you listen to the Tea Partiers, a chief complaint of theirs about Obama is that he supposedly “apologizes for America”. They want a President who will speak only of the greatness of America, a view which focuses solely on the positive things it has done. (At this point, they usually make some reference to the phrase “Shining City upon a Hill“.)

I believe Obama damned himself completely in the eyes of these Nationalists when he said, in response to being asked if he believed in American exceptionalism: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” This type of subjective thinking is wholly, dare I say it, foreign to the religious nationalist’s worldview.

In his otherwise excellent article on the Tea Party, Matt Taibbi wrote:

“It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.” 

The second sentence is accurate to an extent–though some would couch it differently–but the first part seems blind to the fact that virtually everything the Tea Party movement does is filled with symbols of Americanism and references to American history–not necessarily accurate history, of course, but some romanticized version of it. The underlying theme of it all is a longing for National Pride and National Greatness.

So, the rank-and-file Tea Partiers are nationalists. They want to protect American jobs through protectionist measures, punish illegal immigrants, deny any mistakes made by America through history, and above all restore “National Greatness”. This is the will of the majority of Tea Party participants.

But, it must be remembered, these are only the foot soldiers, not the generals. “Theirs not to reason why“, they simply are carrying out the strategy laid out by the other aspect of the Tea Party: the businessmen who finance the whole thing.

This is where the Libertarian strain comes from. The people who fund the Tea Party have no interest in “National Greatness” either for the United States or for any other nation. They just want to be able to make deals to do business with China, or to keep costs down by not having too many environmental standards to comply with at their factories.

This is not the sort of thing most people would get on board with–largely because, as often as not, capitalism works in opposition to nationalism. (For example: sending American jobs over to China? No American nationalist could ever sign off on that, even if an economist justified it with Ricardian comparative advantage.) 

Hence, the need to on the one hand spread the Capitalist system while on the other giving the Nationalistic streak in the party something to distract it from the details of how the system works. Much better that the Nationalists should be told the government that is regulating the capitalists is “anti-American” than to try to defend the decidedly non-nationalistic behaviors of capitalism itself.

The late Conservative political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote of the “Davos Man“. Named for the site of the World Economic Forum, Huntington said such people “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations”.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing that Glenn Beck and his followers are always talking about, hinting at dark conspiracies to destroy the American way of life by international socialism. And, I suppose there is a kind of truth to it; though it isn’t really a secret conspiracy. (If it were, we wouldn’t hear about it.) The point, though, is that there are also international capitalists who have just as little interest in national loyalty, but who are willing to exploit it for their own sake.

This conclusion is somewhat unsatisfying, mostly because, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is precisely the kind of thing that everyone concludes about the opposing side, no matter who they are. And furthermore, it is because this is the sort of thing that naturally arises in our system of politics. The same sort of dynamic exists in the Democratic Party; and I’m sure if one looked one could find contradictions between the intellectuals at the top and the working-class rank-and-file.

If one is sympathetic to the overall goals of a party, one calls it a “compromise”, and hails the miraculous union of these viewpoints. But if one is unsympathetic, it is a “contradiction”, and a bizarre cabal with one side pulling the others’ strings.

In any case, however, this is my conclusion as to the structure and philosophy of the Tea Party. Feel free to critique it.

[NOTE: This post is sort of a follow-up to this one.]

There are two competing strains that run through the Republican party–they are sometimes called “fiscal conservatism” and “social conservatism”, “Christianity” and “Libertarianism”. I prefer to use the terms “materialism” and “nationalism”.

The nationalist strain, which is the one most people call socially conservative, sees America as declining, thanks largely to the decadent liberals who do not strive to preserve its greatness and who dissolve its culture. They believe the U.S. is, by Divine Providence, the greatest on the Earth, and it is their darkest fear that the godless liberals will bring it down into merely “another country”.

The nationalist strain seeks a return to national greatness, which they believe existed from roughly 1776 until the early 1900s. It was at that point, they seem to believe, that liberal decadence first emerged, though it only became really obvious in the 1960s, with the counterculture and anti-war movement.

The nationalist wish for national greatness means restoring the old institutions and social norms. They also wish to increase the role of Christianity in the country. (As an aside, it is fitting that one of the most beloved figures among the nationalists is the Mormon radio personality Glenn Beck. Mormonism neatly ties American nationalism in with Christian religious texts.)

Materialism, meanwhile, is more like what we call Libertarianism or even Objectivism. The materialistic world view cares little for the nation except insofar as it is able to enrich the individual. Materialism has no interest in social issues or the Religion in the country except as to how it relates to their profits.

These two strains coexist, ultimately, within each individual member of the Republican party. Oh, there are some who believe almost exclusively in nationalism, such as Pat Buchanan followers, and some who are purely materialist, such as Ayn Rand followers. But more often, a Republican will lean nationalist on one issue and materialist on another.

What are we to make of the Tea Party, then? It is, in my view, a movement whose rank-and-file members are largely motivated by a nationalist outlook, but primarily funded by behind-the-scenes materialists.

Now, this is in fact the same situation which has existed in the Republican party for decades. As such, it seems clear that the Tea Party is not a third party, as some think, but rather a rebranding of the Republican party.

These two strains are currently united against Democrats, but will probably come into conflict if they achieve victory in this year’s midterm elections. What remains to be seen is which force will prove stronger.