Tea Party is the New Neocon
So I guess that makes it neo-neocon.
The Washington Times reports on a poll released by Rasmussen on the relative popularity and unpopularity of various political labels.
• 38 percent of likely U.S. voters “consider it a positive” when a political candidate is described as “conservative,” 27 percent say it’s a negative.
• 37 percent say “moderate” is a positive label, 13 percent say it’s a negative.
• 32 percent say “tea party” is a positive label.
• 56 percent of Republican voters agree.
• 38 percent of voters overall say the tea party label is a negative.
• 70 percent of Democrats agree.
• 31 percent of voters overall say “progressive” is a positive label, 26 percent say its negative.
• 21 percent say “liberal” is a positive label, 38 percent say it’s a negative.
What jumped out at me is the disparity between how the term “conservative” is received versus the term “tea party.” The positive/negative spread for “conservative” is 38/27, but it’s 32/38 for “tea party.” Now, conservative/tea party fares better than progressive/liberal, and that is probably worth a discussion in and of itself.* But I want to focus on the conservative versus tea party aspect of this poll for a moment.
Now there are plenty of reasons why the tea party is looked upon more disfavorably than conservatives. The media has done an effective job at discrediting the tea party movement. We even have sitting members of Congress who say things like this:
“Some of them in Congress right now with this tea-party movement would love to see you and me – hanging on a tree,” Carson said.
Because the tea party brand has been somewhat tarnished, we see the term being used willy nilly to describe things which would once have simply been termed conservative. If you oppose raising taxes and support spending cuts, why that means you’re one of those racist tea party people. Funny, that seems to me to simply be a traditionally conservative mindset. But describing something or someone as a conservative isn’t as scary as labeling it as tea party affiliated, so we go with the tea party label.
We saw the same phenomenon take place a few years ago with neoconservatism, or neocon for short. Especially after the commencement of the Iraq War the term neocon was used rather haphazardly to describe plenty of people that were not truly neoconservative. Some seemed to ascribe the term to anyone on the right who didn’t agree with everything Pat Buchanan had to say. The final nail in the coffin of the usefulness of the label was when Bill Buckley, author of God and Man at Yale and founder of National Review in the 1950s was described as a neoconservative. When William F. Buckley is called a neocon, then the term pretty much has no useful meaning.
As is the case with the tea party label, I witnessed what to me are fairly traditional conservative ideas being termed neoconservative, often in laughably inappropriate ways. I didn’t realize that wanting cuts in entitlements was a particularly neoconnish idea. In fact, of all the people on the right, neocons are the ones most accepting of the modern welfare state. Nevertheless, being conservative in a center-right country is acceptable; however, neocon sounds mean and scary and probably means you like torturing little babies or something.
Adding to the confusion is that both terms are fairly ambiguous. Neoconservatism came into vogue in the late 60s when intellectuals on the left realized the follies of their way and moved onto the right side of the political spectrum. Then neoconservative had a very clear definition – in fact the definition was in the word itself. These were new conservatives. Today defining what exactly is meant by neoconservative is a bit trickier, mainly because neocons don’t always agree with one another. There’s a commitment to a more aggressive foreign policy, but that does not necessarily mean all neocons favor military interventions in all cases. Similarly, while many neocons are slightly more comfortable with what may be called big government conservatism, others seem just as committed to trimming the size of the government as traditional conservatives.
As for the tea party movement, it was born out of opposition to President Obama’s massive infusion of government spending at the beginning of his term. A desire to shrink the government is the common element among all tea partiers. But, once again, they are hardly of a like-mind on all matters. Contrary to what one pothead-sounding caller** on the Michael Medved had to say today about the existence of a tea party website, there is no single entity that is the tea party. It’s a grassroots movement that contains various elements. Most are generally conservative, but others are of a more libertarian mindset, especially as regards social issues. They’re all over the map when it comes to foreign policy.
I will concede that the two situations are not completely the same. Many conservatives wouldn’t mind being lumped in with the tea party, and in fact most political types expressly seek to be associated with the tea party movement, even going so far as pretending to be the father of the movement even when they had nothing to do with its formation coughRonPaulcough. Unlike with the neocon label, things that are called tea party influenced actually are ideas associated with tea partiers. That being said, it looks like yet another way to avoid describing ideas and people using a relatively popular term, and replacing it with an association that is much more negatively perceived.
*And unlike many conservatives, I actually think the term “progressive” is more accurate than “liberal” for those on the left, though my opinion of the respective labels is evidently flipped from the average voter.
** Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be two types of young, male leftists: the guys who sound stoned, and those that sound as though they are members of, as Rush terms it, the new castrati. They’re the guys who talk like valley girls. It’s an interesting phenomenon.