For the last three weeks, I have listened to Sean Hannity make the mistake of conflating the Tea Party movement with Conservatism, and then postulating that the whole thing simply must be the natural state of the American political landscape reasserting itself; it's a Conservative country, always has been, and now Conservatism shall return in force.
I beg to differ.
Frankly, I think if you looked at it intelligently, you'd probably come to this conclusion; about 30% of the country is actually republican/conservative, about 30% of the country is actually liberal/democrat, and the 40% in the middle wouldn't know what they were if you wrote it down for them on the back of their hands. That 40% is simply too ignorant to care much about politics, is too easily bribed with other people's money to be a reliable vote for either party, or is too dependant upon one party or the other to shift to the other side.
Sean trumpets some recent polls in which 40-something-percent of Americans call themselves Conservative, and thinks this bolsters his argument. But it doesn't. Considering what the democrats placed in office with the help of the so-called moderates, if a pollster called you and asked if you were a lib-comm-symp or a conservative, how many of you would actually admit to having been on Obama's side all along? I'd bet at least 50% of those who answered the question lied through their teeth to avoid the embarrassment.
The fact is that Obama was elected by the moderates, many of them now telling pollsters "I've always been a conservative". They voted for him because they bought the Hope and Change nonsense, and because John McCain was perhaps the worst Presidential candidate since...well, John Kerry.
Now, as to whether or not the Tea Parties are Conservatives in disguise; to a certain extent, yes, they are. They are the small-government, lower-taxes, federalist conservatives which the right has largely ignored these last 20 years because it would rather kowtow to the Religious Right. It's the wing of conservatism that has been ignored because it's more Republican than Puritan, and because there wasn't any money in it.
Here, we come to a difference of opinion over a definition. This is why people like Sean Hannity should read more George Orwell. Because if they did, they'd realize that what they describe as "Conservative" is nothing of the sort, because the terms 'liberal' and 'conservatism' no longer mean what they should, and this blurring of definition is done on purpose by both parties and their operatives for their own reasons. Sean and others like him are unwittingly helping to carry this deception forward.
Technically, a Conservative is someone who seeks to preserve that which was created by liberal means (like the rights and privileges spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, a fairly radical document, historically speaking), or as Irving Krystal once put it (paraphrasing) "A conservative is someone standing in front of the runaway freight train of progress yelling STOP!".
In modern parlance, a Conservative has very slowly been morphed into a caricature of the Bible-carrying, shotgun-toting, gay-hating-flannel-wearing-flag-waving-rural-dwelling hick who is a) under the impression that he's always right -- even when he's wrong -- because God said so, and b) he believes all us city-dwellers don't 'get' him or his way of life, and we're out to persecute him because apparently we have nothing better to do, and c) will do anything Pastor Bob tells him to do, especially if it's presented to him as a holy imperative, because his form of Christianity is often indistinguishable from Islam, in many respects.
You can disagree -- and so would I -- but that is the general impression of 'Conservative' that most people in this country have, and you know what? That's exactly how the so-called leaders of Conservatism would like to have it; they actually believe there is a value in this fable of the continued virtues of the Pioneer Spirit, and the American Do-or-Die drive, concepts which no longer exist in a world of Sleep Number Beds, Sexting, E-mail, cable television, the NFL Network, Once-a-day Osteoprosis 'cures', and frozen pizza rolls. That sort of Conservative, trapped between his traditions and the modern world, is in the same boat as the guy who joins the Taliban. It's an 'us-versus-them' mentality which the republican party has been able to milk for money and votes for a very long time.
It's what I like to call the God-Guns-and-Gays mentality. It's a political philosophy that revolves around school prayer, abortion and opposition to gay marriage, with the small-government-low-tax thing more or less accepted as a good thing only after you promise to pack the Supreme Court. It's not conservative in any real sense, politically. It has very little cachet in a world where the prime concerns of the people are unemployment, a broken economy, out-of-control government and simultaneous wars.
You don't see that sort of thing at a Tea Party Rally. Oh, yeah, you do see a few signs with "God Bless America" and "One Nation Under God", and so on, but you don't see people singing hymns, you don't see men of the cloth making impassioned speeches before the multitudes, you don't see Jerry Falwell -figures front-and-center. In fact, you don't even see establishment politicians in the van of this movement, and the ones who have tried have looked extremely sycophantic and phony while doing it. What you do see is a bunch of reasonably intelligent people who seem to have checked their social conservatism (if they had any) at the door; for them, this is not about abortion and school prayer, it's about getting the government to do what it's supposed to do and then forcing it to stop doing what it actually does.
In that respect, Sean, I would argue that the Tea Parties are actually out to knock that Calvinist brand of Conservatism out of the conversation, and focus the energies of the American people into a more positive direction; into restoring the sovereign rights of the people...not the Republican Party.