The Mood on the Right
Roger Kimball expresses a pessimism with which I confess more than a little sympathy:
Tootling around Washington, I was struck by — well, not by its prosperity, exactly, but by what is clearly a lavish outlay of funds — your funds, in fact. Everywhere I turned there were huge building cranes. In one spot, I counted seven over the space of a few blocks. It looked a little like a third world country suddenly flush from newly discovered mineral reserves of some sort. Which I suppose describes the situation in Washington accurately enough, except that for “mineral reserves” you need to substitute “deficit spending.” I remember meeting my friend Edward Shils several years ago in Washington: “My, they live well on our money,” he said. What would he say today, I wonder, when Washington has come more and more to resemble Versailles circa 1780.
The cranes are markers of a “permanent political class,” Kimball goes on to say, living well off of government largess and the investments on inside information and special-interest gifts that flow their way. And what’s true for money is true for power — power over the smallest details of our lives.
Something’s happening — maybe it already has happened — to the republic conceived in liberty. The Tea Party sounded the alarm in 2010 and there was a rustle-bustle of acknowledgment. Their voices seem oddly, ominously silent now.
Part of that sense, I’m persuaded, comes from the (quite deliberate) allocation of newspaper column inches that might have gone to Tea Party–type stories that have instead been devoted to the antics of the Occupy movement. More broadly, and more hopefully, I think the Tea Party has gone from a movement to an organization, or rather organizations peppered throughout the civic sphere.
As an outside, grassroots movement, the Tea Party managed to sway some elections. Still, 2011 and its debt-ceiling debacle proved that the movement hadn’t broken the threshold beyond which the political class hesitates to govern by illusion. And so, we all await the next election, puzzling out how to get a real reaction from government.
Conservatives’ pessimism, then, may be the disquiet accompanying the sense that a lack of noise means a lack of action and momentum. We’ll see whether that’s the case. In the meantime, it’s worthwhile to continue pointing to the path that it would be disastrous to take.