I've been a fan of Texan and former neoconservative writer Michael Lind since reading his 2002 book Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. His article today in Salon brings the thesis in that book to bear on the Teaparty phenomenon, especially in its current attempt to paralyze Washington. The argument is summed up in his final paragraphs:
When the election of Lincoln seemed to foreshadow a future national political majority based outside of the South, the local notables of the South tried to create a smaller system they could dominate by seceding from the U.S. That effort failed, after having killed more Americans than have been killed in all our foreign wars combined. However, during Reconstruction the Southern elite snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and succeeded in turning the South into a nation-within-a-nation within U.S. borders until the 1950s and 1960s.
Today the white notables of the South increasingly live in states like Texas, which already have nonwhite majorities. They fear that Obama’s election, like Lincoln’s, foreshadows the emergence of a new national majority coalition that excludes them and will act against their interest. Having been reduced to the status of members of a minority race, they fear they will next lose their status as members of the dominant local class.
While each of the Newest Right’s proposals and policies might be defended by libertarians or conservatives on other grounds, the package as a whole—from privatizing Social Security and Medicare to disenfranchising likely Democratic voters to opposing voting rights and citizenship for illegal immigrants to chopping federal programs into 50 state programs that can be controlled by right-wing state legislatures—represents a coherent and rational strategy for maximizing the relative power of provincial white elites at a time when their numbers are in decline and history has turned against them. They are not ignoramuses, any more than Jacksonian, Confederate and Dixiecrat elites were idiots. They know what they want and they have a plan to get it—which may be more than can be said for their opponents.
Read the whole article. In a comment I wrote for a post last week I called the House Republicans fearful ignoramuses with the emotional maturity of middle schoolers in The Lord of the Flies. I stand by it. That doesn't mean they aren't shrewd.
Lind calls their strategy rational, I think that must be qualified by pointing out that this strategy is being driven by adrenaline-soaked brains that think they are facing extermination, and as such it is rationality in the service of desperation. The folks with these brains see it as us or them, the 'them' being the Feds. As Lind suggests, this is the same dynamic that led to the Civil War.
And so in this survival game, as in the run up to the Civil War, the Southern white provincial, poobahs--the Buddy Garritys, the country club set, the millionaires, not the billionaires, as Lind describes them--send folks to Washington to do what they can to rig the game in their favor, and they are endlessly clever in their stratagems. The more gummed up the works in Washington, the weaker the power that threatens their own. It's a losing game in the long run, but these poobahs see themselves as an embattled remnant defending a noble American heritage. There's nothing noble about it, of course. It's just the age-old story of a local, privileged elite trying to hold onto power.
It's the dark side of the localism I've been preaching here. Localism is only healthy if it creates a human-sized space for more active involvement of everybody to govern themselves. But people have got to want to govern themselves in the first place, and whatever you might say about the Tea Party folks, they are working hard in the interests of governing themselves, whether you like how they want to do that or not. Whoever cares the most wins.