From today's column, our friend Mr. Brooks tries another stab at understanding the Tea Party. This time, he gets it pretty much right:
As government grew, the antigovernment right mobilized. This produced the Tea Party Movement — a characteristically raw but authentically American revolt led by members of the yeoman enterprising class.Better than "WalMart Hippies," at least. However, it seems like he hasn't fully grasped how the Tea Party influences what he sees as a 'standing script' of American life.
The government war is playing out just as you’d expect it to, strengthening those with pure positions and leaving those of us in the middle in the cross-fire. If the debate were about how to increase productivity or improve living standards, people like me could play. But when the country is wrapped up in a theological debate about the size of government, people like me are stuck crossways, trying to make distinctions no one heeds.I doubt that's true. First of all, he doesn't actually attempt to draw any wise distinctions here; this is just a meditation on how difficult it is for people like him to have people further to the right energized and powerful.
More, though, the Tea Party movement is a "small government" movement, but it's not an "anti-government" movement; and it isn't a "small government" movement in some sort of generic way. Rather, it has a very precise set of goals: it wants "small" government, but more than that, it wants explicitly Constitutional government.
The Federal government has quite a few legitimate functions. The Tea Party doesn't want to see the military done away with, for example; it doesn't want to see air traffic control shut down. It does want to see the Constitution respected, and for the Federal government to stop doing things where it does not have clear, specific authority. It wants to see the government shrunk as a practical matter, but only because the government has so far exceeded its Constitutional role.
When the government is doing all and only the things it is supposed to do, the Tea Party will be satisfied. When the Federal government can point to specific authorization for every function it is performing, and abandons all the functions that do not have specific authorization, that will be enough. The Tea Party doesn't just want "small government," in other words. It wants Constitutional government. It wants the government to take the Constitution seriously, and agree to be constrained by it instead of constantly trying to stretch its powers ever farther.