David Brooks is getting plenty of heat, and rightly so, for comparing the Tea Party movement to the New Left of the 1960s. On the other hand, the Tea Partiers should hope they advance as far. If that were to happen, within four decades, they’d be:
- In the White House.
- Running Congress.
- Running Hollywood.
- Running the news media.
- Running the university system.
- Running numerous state governments and their affiliated services.
And American beer would taste a lot better, too, as Glenn Reynolds jokes in the Washington Examiner, using the analogy of an increasingly watered-down Schlitz beer in the 1970s as a metaphor for a government that, pace Miller Lite, tastes awful and is unbelievably filling:
A nation whose government does not rest on the consent of the governed is a nation whose government holds sway only by inertia, or by force.It is a nation vulnerable to political shocks, usurpation, or perhaps even political collapse or civil war. It is a body politic suffering from a serious illness. Those who care about America should be very worried.
But we’ve had enough political drama in recent years, so I’ll go for a more prosaic comparison: The once-heady brew of American freedom has become watery and unsatisfying.
In fact, when I think of the federal government’s brand now, I think of Schlitz beer. Schlitz was once a top national brew. But, in search of short-term gains, it began gradually reducing its quality in tiny increments to save money, substituting cheaper malt, fewer hops and “accelerated” brewing for its traditional approach.
Each incremental decline was imperceptible to consumers, but after a few years, people suddenly noticed that the beer was no good anymore. Sales collapsed, and a “Taste My Schlitz” campaign designed to lure beer drinkers back failed when the “improved” brew turned out not to be any better. A brand image that had been accumulated over decades was lost in a few years, and it has never recovered.
The federal government, alas, finds itself in much the same position. The political class sold its legitimacy off in drips and drabs. As “smart politics” has come over the past decades to mean not persuasion but the practice of legerdemain, the use of political deals, cover from a friendly press apparat and taking advantage of voters’ rational ignorance, the governing classes have managed to achieve things that would surely have failed had the people known what was going on.
But though each little trick may have slipped by the voters, the voters have nonetheless noticed that the ultimate product isn’t what it used to be. The end result, as with Schlitz, is a tarnished brand. And rescuing tarnished brands is hard.
It gets worse. Not long ago, the federal government enjoyed a stellar reputation for honesty and competence. Now, according to a recent CNN poll, three-quarters of Americans think federal officials aren’t honest . (There’s no separate survey here on what the “political class” thinks, but I suspect that its numbers would be sunnier, but still appalling, as above). So what do we do with a federal government that many voters think is illegitimate and dishonest?
On the other hand, when you’re a media that’s so in bed with the Washington power structure that Rush Limbaugh has only half-jokingly dubbed them “the state-run media”, you really don’t want change of any sort, other than the Orwellian “change” that Obama proffered, which was a Barack to the Future return to FDR/LBJ/John Kenneth Galbraith-style command and control corporatism.
In the late 1960s, when the New Left was just getting started, Tom Wolfe was winding up his days as a working reporter with the New York Herald-Tribune. He watched television news crews work out carefully choreographed routines with protesters to ensure great video on the 6:00 PM evening news. And ever since, the media — long before the Internet and their own dissipation transformed into the legacy media — never saw a protest they didn’t like.
Until now. And ironically, Brooks may have stumbled over the reason why, in spite of himself.