David Brooks would have us believe that the Tea Partiers are much like the New Leftists of the sixties.
…the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.
I think he misunderstands the Tea Party movement, and he’s surprisingly uninformed about the New Left, which was anything but a bunch of Rousseauan romantics. In 1962, when I was at the University of Wisconsin in 1962, the Port Huron Statement, the formal origin of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, was drafted. I knew several of the drafters (the main author was Tom Hayden, at the University of Michigan). They would gather in the Rathskellar of the Student Union, where I spent a lot of time playing bridge, and we’d talk.
The Port Huron guys fancied themselves serious intellectuals, not street theater people. And they didn’t think that “the people are pure and virtuous;” they thought most people were alienated, apathetic, and manipulated. They were Marxists and Marcusians, students of the Frankfurt School, and the like. And they saw the university as the logical headquarters for a movement that could transform society. Just read the first paragraph of their definition of a new left:
Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.
Brooks seems to believe that the New Left wanted greater individual freedom — as the Tea Partiers surely do — but in fact the Port Huron Statement calls for more centralized control. Lots more: “not only solutions to our present social needs but our future expansion rests upon our willingness to enlarge the ‘public sector’ greatly.” Some of the language has become very familiar to us (and rejected by the Tea Partiers). For example:
.…medical care must become recognized as a lifetime human right just as vital as food, shelter and clothing — the Federal government should guarantee health insurance as a basic social service turning medical treatment into a social habit, not just an occasion of crisis, fighting sickness among the aged, not just by making medical care financially feasible but by reducing sickness among children and younger people.
Brooks confuses the New Left with the Yippies, which is a pretty serious confusion and it’s confirmed by his comparison of Glenn Beck with Abbie Hoffman. Hoffman couldn’t pass the entrance exam to the New Left.
The main linkage between colorful characters like Hoffman and the SDS founders is their emphasis on youth. That first “S” is for “students,” after all, and the Port Huron Statement could not be more explicit:
A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.
I don’t believe the Tea Partiers think of themselves as a youth movement.
Insisting on a common DNA between the Tea Partiers and the New Lefties, Brooks announces that both are anti-conservative. Well, duh, so far as the New Left was concerned. It was, you know, leftist:
A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.
The Tea Partiers, on the other hand, are conservatives; they are fighting against Obama’s efforts to bring more and more human activity under centralized state control. They’re defending Constitutional rights, which seems pretty conservative to me.
Then Brooks tries his hand at think-tank history, as per Michael Lind, who, Brooks admiringly tells us,
pointed out that the conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s built a counter-establishment — a network of think tanks, activist groups, academic associations and political leaders who would form conservative cadres, promoting conservative ideas and policies.
Except that the throbbing heart of that conservative “counter-establishment,” the American Enterprise Institute, was created in 1943, as a balance to the liberal Brookings Institution, which was launched before the First World War. It was the Left, with much of the energy coming from the New Left, that created the real counter-establishment, in the universities, just as SDS said it intended to do. That alliance of liberals and socialists, for which the Port Huron Statement called in 1962, now dominates American education, and one of its textbook products is now president of the United States.
So Brooks is quite wrong when he says that “the Tea Partiers are closer to the New Left. They don’t seek to form a counter-establishment because they don’t believe in establishments or in authority structures.” The New Left built a vast establishment, and the Tea Partiers are trying to hold on to some traditional American liberties, and roll back some of the state power that has been accumulated by the heirs of Port Huron.
By the way, the New Left had at least one other political victory. The Port Huron statement insisted on a clean ideological separation between left and right, and called for ideologically defined parties. Part of the Europeanization of twentieth-century American politics. Thanks a lot, guys.
David, report to reeducation camp Monday promptly at 6.
UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit, one of this generation’s most valuable resources (and fun, too), for linking to this.