Paul Rahe: The Great Awakening, part 2

Hillsdale College Professor Paul Rahe writes:

Back in early September, I attended the annual meeting of the American Political Science Convention, which was held — for the first time — outside the United States in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
One of the panels I attended had as its focus the first eight months of the Obama administration and that administration’s prospects. Those on this particular panel were for the most part on the right, and in an utterly sober fashion they discussed the stimulus bill, the likelihood that the Democrats would pass a health care bill, and the prospects of the two parties in the 2010 midterm elections.
I was struck by one thing. No one even mentioned the tea-party movement and the explosions that had taken place at town meetings throughout the country in August.
So I asked why no one had mentioned it, and one political scientist — an exceedingly distinguished and astute student of presidential elections — responded that the tea-party phenomenon was, indeed, strange. It had, he noted, no institutional support. Nothing more was said. That was the beginning and the end of the panel’s discussion of this phenomenon.
Just under a month before the political science convention, I had argued in a Power Line post that the tea-party movement was the elephant in the room, and I had compared what I called “The Great Awakening” with the spontaneous resistance mounted against Henry Clay’s protective tariff of 1828 that had so impressed Alexis de Tocqueville a few years later when he made his famous journey through the United States.
“We are,” I wrote, “today witnessing a reawakening of the American spirit that so strongly impressed Tocqueville.”

In earlier posts on Power Line, I have discussed the tyrannical ambitions of the Obama administration (here), the danger a consolidation of government poses for the people of the United States (here), the psychological disposition that makes democratic peoples vulnerable to servile temptation (here), the institutions that once in some measure shielded Americans from these propensities (here), the gradual disappearance of that shield (here), and some of the reasons why I think it now possible for us to recover the liberty that once was ours ((here and (here).
Here I simply want to add an appreciative word regarding Barack Obama. Our President has told us that he has a gift, and he is undoubtedly right. But he misconceives the nature of his gift. He thinks that his skills in oratory will enable him to fool all of the people all of the time. In his presidential campaign, he did wonders – hinting at radical intentions while speaking always in a moderate tone. And thanks to the blunders of George W. Bush in office and to the ineptitude of John McCain, who had made a career of betraying his own side, Obama managed to win.
Soon, however, the Democratic Party will be reminded that, in German, “Gift” is a word for poison. For one cannot fool the American people for long, and the real effect of the effort made by Obama and by figures such as Rahm Emanuel will be to unmask the Democratic Party as an conspiracy on the part of a would-be aristocracy hostile to self-government in the United States.
This we are witnessing now, for everything is now done in secret and behind closed doors. The so-called “stimulus bill” was passed in both the House and the Senate in a manner suggestive of tyranny. It was written behind in camera with the help of a legion of lobbyists, and it was presented and shoved through before anyone in Congress even had a chance to read it, much less think about it. The fact that there was no time allowed for public discussion and debate aroused suspicion nationwide; and when it became evident that the bill was a fraud – that its real purpose was to reward favored party constituencies and that the sum spent will grossly inflate the national deficit in the short run and require massive tax increases down the road – Americans in astonishing numbers took to the streets in every corner of the land.
The passage of the cap-and-trade bill in the House – again without adequate public discussion and debate – only reinforced the wariness of the general public, and the same can be said for the efforts of the Obama administration to push through a scheme aimed at putting us on the road to socialized medicine.
Behind closed doors, in secrecy, a deal was done to reward the United Auto Workers and to defraud the bondholders of Chrysler and General Motors. And behind closed doors, without any species of accountability, Tim Geithner is reorganizing our financial system.
Now, as citizens flock to town meetings all over the country to confront their Senators and Congressmen, we can see the consequences. And the White House and the Democratic Party have responded to the spontaneous organization of opposition to their endeavors in a manner that is reminiscent of the governments in Tocqueville’s France – by insulting their fellow citizens, by charging that there is a conspiracy, by locking citizens out of putatively public meetings, by bringing in thugs to intimidate those who manage to get in, and by illegally collecting the names and contact information of those who have exercised their First Amendment rights in a manner unfriendly to the proposals advanced by the current administration – apparently with an eye to future retribution.
Thanks to Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Rahm Emanuel, we are witnessing a return on the part of the American people to this country’s first principles. What Franklin Delano Roosevelt falsely charged in 1936 is visibly true today. “A small group” is intent on concentrating “into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives.” Many Americans now recognize what is going on; and thanks to the manner in which the Democratic Party is responding to the ordinary people who have turned out for the putatively public meetings that they have arranged, many more are figuring it out.

Nothing that has happened since has altered my opinion in any way. The gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, the congressional election in upstate New York, the local elections in Westchester and Naussau counties outside New York City, and the judicial election in Pennsylvania are all indications as to which way the wind is blowing.
Moreover, the decision of the Democratic grandees to try to force through a radical program of socialized medicine in the face of opposition on the part of a growing majority of their fellow citizens guarantees that opposition will grow and grow. And Barack Obama and William Jefferson Clinton did themselves no favors when they decided to pick up and repeat Anderson Cooper’s snide, sneering, obscene description of the Tea-Partiers as teabaggers.
In the election campaign, Obama tended to hide the contempt that he entertains for his fellow citizens. Now the gloves are off, and he and his minions are busy delivering body blows . . . to themselves.
What remains remarkable, however, is the fact pointed out by the political scientist mentioned above. The Tea-Party movement lacks institutional support. Back in the early 1990s, when Hillary Clinton announced her proposal for a federal takeover of healthcare, the insurance companies mounted a campaign against it.
This time, the Democrats have squared everything with the special interests. The National Association of Manufacturers quickly climbed on board, eager to free its members from having to provide health care insurance for their members’ employees. The pharmaceutical companies did a deal with Obama aimed at protecting their short-term interests, as did the American Medical Association. The American Association of Retired Persons — which purports to represent the interests of the elderly, but which has business interests of its own — was bought outright, and the same thing can be said with regard to the health insurance companies. The industrial labor unions are similarly on board.
Indeed, everyone appears to have been taken care of . . . except, of course, for the ordinary citizens who will be subject to the new regime. There is no one to stand up for them. The Republican Party lacks the requisite votes, and everyone else has been bought.
In the circumstances, it is heartening that Americans still know how to stand up for themselves. With continued cooperation from Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama, the Tea-Party movement may find itself blazing the trail for a partisan realignment that no one in the Republican Party yet has the wit to imagine.
What the leaders of the latter need to be taught is something akin to the rhetoric articulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 — for it nicely summarizes the argument made before almost every major party realignment in our history.

Paul A. Rahe holds the Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College. He is the author, most recently, of the companion studies: Montesquieu and the Logic of Liberty: War, Religion, Commerce, Climate, Terrain, Technology, Uneasiness of Mind, the Spirit of Political Vigilance, and the Foundations of the Modern Republic and Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.

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