Reading a recent column by David Ignatius at RealClearPolitics I am struck by something that has begun to change in America due to the Tea Party movement. It is a strong, very strong, sense that those who once had a great capability to describe the world as it was have not adapted to the world as it is.
The last time I had a similar feeling was at the end of the 1980's and heading into the 1990's. The collapse of the Soviet Bloc (in general Eastern European Communist regimes) and the final fall of the USSR itself, by dissolving out of existence, then left an entire class of the pundit class at sea. They were the ones who could only see the USSR lasting at least to 2030 if not longer, and saw no structural problems within the Soviet system or amongst its outlying satellite states. This was the grim and gruesome crowd that knew we would 'always have the USSR to kick around'. Mind you, the ever ready CIA agreed with that position, too.
Then came Solidarity and Gorbie and soon the entire edifice was crumbling. Poland 10 years, Hungary 10 months, Czechoslovakia 10 weeks, Romania 10 days and East Germany 10 hours. One decade a mighty USSR that is everlasting and a decade later 'where the hell did it get to?' It was the seemingly impossible snowballing to take out all previous assumptions and constructions with it and those who were hardest hit were minorities... just kidding! No the hardest hit were the Kremlinologists who had their 'sources' to 'know' what was 'going on' in the Kremlin. Or at least that small bar off the square near the hotel where the double-agents hung out. Their credibility went from supremo-maximo, must consult before any decision so as to not get global thermonuclear war over a minor trade dispute, to 'what a bunch of morons'!
You know, the over-educated elite punditry? Those were the morons.
Really, morons need lessons.
Fast-forward to a massive lending crisis involving a few institutions (Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citibank) and a huge government over-response (throw tons of cash at everyone, force secret deals, keep the system going!!!) that has made things worse by stifling the market and upsetting the normal rule of law and the course of bankruptcies. Pulled into that were two automakers that deserved to be taken down a few million notches: GM and Chrysler. Actually GM is a lending institution (GMAC) that makes cars as a side-show, and the government wanted to get its fingers into GMAC as did the head of GM. Gotta love that 'government getting into bed with industry' sort of deal that made Mussolini a household name back in the late 1920's early 1930's.
The reaction to all of this has been the sudden appearance of the Tea Party movement, foreshadowed by the Porkbusters movement during the later Bush years. From 'trimming the pork' and 'finding the waste' to 'Taxed Enough Already' in only a couple of years, going from a concerted group of the interested to involving their friends, relatives and neighbors in a few massive federal bailouts. Change is in the air and it isn't of the 'hope & change' variety, either. Thus reading David Ignatius has that ever so eerie feeling of Kremlinologists spouting off about the durability of the USSR, and 'certain ways things will always be done' and, generally, missing the fact that the Eastern Bloc was crumbling wasn't really happening at all, just some 'minor adjustments' to the USSR. The world could use some minor adjustments like that in Old Europe, which David Ignatius points out.
What he misses, though, is the entire tone of what needs to be done. Consider these two opening paragraphs and I will highlight the things that really get to me:
WASHINGTON -- At the risk of taking contrarianism to extremes, let me offer this suggestion: The global economy needs a "tea party" movement in Europe to lobby for fiscal conservatism there.
Many "mainstream" analysts deride the tea party agitators as a right-wing fringe group, and in many respects, that label is deserved. I wouldn't want them running the Treasury Department or the Federal Reserve.
The last part, first: I don't want eggheads like Little Timmy "The Smartest Guy In The Room Who Can't Figure Out TurboTax" Geithner running the Treasury. From that experience of the tax code did Lil Timmy figure out the tax code was too damned complex for an egghead like himself? Nope. BTW he was in charge of the NY Fed and a major source of our financial problems and regulatory enforcement and pushing for different regulations. So I would, actually, like someone who has been on the pointy end of the financial system and who can learn their lessons to be the head of the Treasury... and I don't see why we need the Federal Reserve as it is very convenient to politicians and turns out to be quite costly to the people as it makes the exact same mistakes of the 1920's all over again in the 1990's to 2008 era. Save that we have Fannie, Freddie, Ginnie and a much more massive government presence in markets than it ever had in the 1920's.
But its that first part that really lets me know that a pundit is about to find out that although he is on the same planet as I am, we are living in different worlds. The code words 'fiscal conservatism' have a definite meaning in DC: conservatives who want to restrain the growth of government. They want to manage government growth. The underlying concept is that they want more government not less of it. This is conservatism of a Progressive venue in that it never, not once, asks: 'Are all these things government does justified and supportable under the US Constitution?'
These are the folks derided by the Left when they want to 'restrain growth' as the Left claims those are 'cutting government'? But that is not the case as the responsibilities and costs of what has been done before continue onwards. What the Left complains about is that government is not growing fast enough for their liking. This is what happens when Progressives remain unchallenged for decades: they so twist the meaning of words and concepts that black becomes white and they get killed at the next Zebra crossing (as per Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). Thus not growing is shrinking, growing slowly is stifling and only when there is robust government growth do they complain about the slow rate of government growth. By casting no growth as 'cuts' the Left 'wins' the important kudos of 'providing more of taxpayers money to non-taxpayers as such swell Congresscritters' Award.
Now the commentariate, the modern day Kremlinologists of the two party system who have 'fiscal conservatives' pegged as slow-growth Republicans are seeing their ideas being left way out on muddy expanses and wondering 'what the hell is that wall of water across the entire horizon?' That, as was found out in 2004, is a tsunami. If my feeling on this is right (and I've only had it one other time beyond the USSR era when Bill Gates famously said that '640K was enough for anyone') then that old idea of 'fiscal conservatism' for Europe (i.e. slow growth conservatism) is about to find that the only place that might make sense is inside Europe. As Mr. Ignatius points out, Europe can no more get a Tea Party together than it can figure out that all these unassimilated Muslims really aren't Europeans.
This concept of 'fiscal conservatives' is cemented in the next paragraph:
But these conservative populists do perform the useful function of focusing American political attention on the need for fiscal responsibility. They make a good point, for example, in arguing that we shouldn't add a major new entitlement program for health care until we've figured out how to pay for the entitlement programs we've already got.
Hell even the NYT/CBS group that had a poll last week understands that a majority of Americans would take a cut in services to reduce spending. That goes beyond the WaPo/ABC poll and Rasmussen Reports poll where 63% want smaller government. This is slowly becoming something that isn't about health care but about the current entitlement system which is broken beyond political repair. This is not old-time Republican 'fiscal conservatism' that is brewing in America, but something that hasn't been around since the 1830's - a disgust for powerful government. The Tea Partiers are representative of those Americans who not only want 'fiscal conservatism' but to start addressing the entitlement programs we have, and not figure out how to pay for them... just reduce or eliminate them. Smaller government and fewer services doesn't mean paying for what we have, but reducing the outlays, powers and taxing power of the government simultaneously.
Like I said, I'm getting that Kremlinologist/Bill Gates feeling going on here and it won't be pretty for the indentured servitude party pundits who can't imagine what liberty and freedom are like because they have read their own material for too long. That feeling of life-time service to a way of thought comes through clearly in the last paragraph:
I wouldn't really wish the tea party movement on anyone, but the Europeans could use some of its passion about fiscal responsibility. And while we're thinking contrarian thoughts, how about a "conspicuous consumer" movement in high-saving Asia to push for greater domestic spending there?
No, he really can't understand the Tea Party movement as his fellow Americans take up the banner of liberty and freedom which clearly states: Don't Tread On Me.
And while we are on authoritarian ideals, why don't we just wish governments would tell people what to do, tax the hell out of them to do it, restrain their liberty and freedom and make them servants to government because government 'knows best'.
So while I'm thinking contrarian thoughts, wouldn't it be great if the punditcrats got out of their cubicles, their cushy brie and chardonnay get togethers, their damned echo chambers and actually went out into neighborhoods and just talked with folks instead of talking at them? Luckily we have the internet for that.
Yet another thing Bill Gates didn't expect to catch on...