Thursday, August 26, 2010
Michael Gerson, formerly George W. Bush's chief speech-writer and, according to Time magazine, one of the nation's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals," declares war on the Tea Party movement (permalink) in his column at the Washington Post.
Predictably for an evangelical, he attacks the movement for not being altruistic and, predictably for an altruist, his attacks are dishonest. Here's an example of both in the two successive paragraphs that essentialize his point and his method of "argument":
First, do you believe that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional? This seems to be the unguarded view of Colorado Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck and other Tea Party advocates of "constitutionalism." It reflects a conviction that the federal government has only those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution -- which doesn't mention retirement insurance or health care.Along the way to accusing advocates of capitalism of throwing old ladies into the streets, Gerson conveniently ignores the fact that if we don't find a way to phase out the massive welfare entitlements we already have (let alone ObamaCare, which his argument supports), we'll all be impoverished (at best) from massive government theft, be it in the form of astronomical taxes or inflation.
This view is logically consistent -- as well as historically uninformed, morally irresponsible and politically disastrous. The Constitution, in contrast to the Articles of Confederation, granted broad power to the federal government to impose taxes and spend funds to "provide for . . . the general welfare" -- at least if Alexander Hamilton and a number of Supreme Court rulings are to be believed. In practice, Social Security abolition would push perhaps 13 million elderly Americans into destitution, blurring the line between conservative idealism and Social Darwinism. [bold added]
Along the way to pretending that the Constitution justifies the welfare state, Gerson fails to mention that "general welfare" is a vague-enough term that "not looting ordinary citizens" could just as well be included, and that, in any event, the institution of slavery was more arguably enshrined in the law of the land at one point. Should we have kept slavery? Or might taxation be yet another mistake we could stand to correct? Clearly, since we can not only interpret the Constitution, but change it as well, neither Buck nor Gerson has made much of an argument here -- although Gerson has made an interesting admission regarding what he feels to be the proper purpose of government.
And finally, along the way to condemning one particular "tea party" candidate, Gerson pretends that this spontaneous revolt against Obama's unambiguous moves towards tyranny is a "political movement" in the same sense that others began "as intellectual arguments." Considering how inconsistent the views of any one such candidate are, this is patently untrue -- but it does allow Gerson to treat the idea of the government protecting individual rights as if it were on a moronic par with, "the collected tweets of Sarah Palin." It also allows him to later pretend that such an idea is as nutty -- and wrong -- as the xenophobia espoused by some "tea party favorites," not to mention the talk by others of rebellion. Oh, and it also allows Gerson to pretend that such thinkers as John Locke never existed.
On some level, Gerson plainly realizes the nature of the tea party as a vaguely pro-individual rights revolt against Obama's undiluted welfare state, but as he makes clear, he wants to keep the welfare state. Game on!
Gerson has now, thanks to Barack Obama, seen the power the federal government can seize, and is prepared to do whatever he can to preserve that opportunity, even if it means grinding out with his heel the last embers of support for the ideals of limited government among the American people. He does this at a time when, instead, he should be helping to properly explain these ideas, and, in doing so, providing the tea partiers some much-needed intellectual ammunition.