The tea party movement continues to incite sometimes ugly rancor, from not one but several vantage points. Pundits scrabble for the higher ground. Here are some recent examples of what’s going on:
1) New York Times columnist David Brooks, citing polling data, wrote recently, “Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.” He described the Tea Party movement as the force now in the best position to translate its passions into successes against all institutions, particularly government and any movement associated with the aforementioned educated class.
2) A columnist for The Daily Beast attacked Brooks, with snide references to other Times columnists, for “flying at 40,000 feet,” adhering to Ivy League egghead education snobbery and blowing off tea party adherents as fanatic dunderheads. (Tip for this link from Doug Gibson.)
3) A new book, “Game Change,” reports some terrifying details about Sarah Palin, a tea party goddess, including the pathetic reality that she apparently didn’t know the difference between North and South Korea.
My problem with all this is the mountains of disdain being heaped upon people on both sides of this cultural catfight. On one side, there are the elite snobs of the Eastern establishment, those arrogant pipe-smoking Ivy Leaguers who, it is alleged, are driving us to ruin. Then there are the Tea Party snarlers, the Glenn Becks et al who rant about socialism, clutch their firearms and insist the world will end when the gubmint passes Obamacare.
Both caricatures are based upon real people. But those cartoonish elements are an overblown fraction of the story. In the middle are millions of working class people who alternately may approve of the Obama campaign promises of the government helping lower income folks get ahead, and the usually Republican voters who want lower taxes and less government on social matters.
In recent weeks I’ve spoken out online in defense of “the educated class” as I consider it to be. It’s people who may have a college education but are in any case well-read with a solid background in current events and the American system of government and a decent knowledge of geography and world history. This group does not include the encrusted Ivy League crowd of such stereotypical disrepute. But it does include many people who might agree with the bearded-intellectual elite on some major issues. It also includes many who would call themselves moderates or Republicans.
Disdain for higher education per se is just stupid. I personally don’t think we can depend on legions of high school dropouts, gun nuts and commie-under-every-rock folks to solve all of our problems. Writing off rank-and-file tea party people is equally absurd. Some may be accurately described as simpletons, but many are not. They want change for the better and are impatient with our institutions.
The biggest problem, in my view, is that politicians and radio and TV bloviators have effectively latched onto a fictitious “class struggle” and polarized every point of debate. There is no middle ground. It’s all us vs. them.
Casting education vs. populism is dumb. It is not a cage fight.