By J.R. Dunn
It’s a painful thing to imagine Robert Bennett over the past few days, sitting alone in a darkened room, staring off into space wondering what hit him and whistling Nick Cave’s “There She Goes My Beautiful World” over and over again.
It happened quickly. Events in politics aren’t supposed to happen that quickly. It came out of nowhere, with next to no warning at all. Even a few weeks ago, there was little sign that Bennett was in trouble. Then the spirit of 2010 suddenly rose out the darkness and took him down.
It also wrong-footed the chattering classes, most of whom have echoed that master of analysis David Brooks in sputtering, “It’s an outrage.” From a certain point of view, perhaps so. But outrages don’t occur for no reason. After Bennett, three things can be said with certainty:
That the Tea Party movement is in no way a partisan phenomenon.
That it is not a minor event, one of those weird little upheavals common to democracies such as the Perotista uproar of the 90s, which appeared, wreaked havoc, and then vanished leaving no measurable effect on national politics.
That it is not simply a revolt. As the Duc de la Rochefoucauld explained to Louis XVI one fine July morning: “No sire, it is a revolution.”
The Tea Parties were well named. Like the Committees of Correspondence of the 1770s, they are the leading edge of a revolutionary change in American politics, one that has been gathering force for decades. This is the third wave foreshadowed by the Reagan Revolution of the 80s and the Gingrich Revolution of the mid-90s. It is a widespread national revolt against managerialism, administrative government, liberal paternalism, and the policies they embody.
The Reagan and Gingrich revolutions were aimed at the same targets. Other similarities exist as well, but the differences are just as profound. The previous movements were limited by party; as the Bennett ambush reveals, this one is not. They were doctrinal in basis; this one based almost purely on principle. They were only partially successful. And this one…?
Neither party yet grasps any of this. The Dems are in the position of a chicken in the middle of a thruway gazing bladly at an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. The only question is who will brush the feathers off the road?
The Republican stance is more complicated and problematic. The GOP is eagerly counting up the possible gains in the midterms (the number, according to Jim Geraghty, is now up to 90 seats in the House). It appears that the GOP is set to take over the House and make dramatic gains in the Senate. This is all well and good, but the problem with the Republicans is that, as usual, they are giving little or no thought as to what such a victory will be all about.
The ’94 revolution failed in large part due to the flakiness of its leader (“The mayor of Sominex City,” as Dame L. put it last weekend.) but also thanks to institutional pressures inherent in both the GOP and Congress itself. Within a short time, the fire kindled in ’94 was extinguished amid the damp chill of business as usual and a pathetically limited post-Gingrich leadership, to be replaced by seat-counting, earmark-trading, and open corruption. This led to 2006, to 2008, and, in due time, to the Tea Parties.
The question arises as to whether the GOP understands this course of events. The signs are not encouraging. Shortly after the passage of ObamaCare, Sen. John Cornyn, one of the party’s old bulls, announced that the party would make no effort to repeal the bill. He was echoed by Sen. Bob Corker and several House members — a nonentity named Richard Burr, and one or two others whose names slip my mind. No clear rationale was given, and none was required. ObamaCare will be embraced by the GOP mainstream because it represents a return to the status quo ante 2006 –` it represents a mammoth opportunity to practice what George Washington Plunkitt called “honest graft”: trading earmarks, placing US HealthCare installations in your district, and, not the least, guaranteeing that your supporters get to jump the line after rationing starts.
Voters? They get to do what they’re told.
But of course, they’re not doing what they’re told. And since Cornyn is insulated from the voters’ wrath this year, they instead turned the phaser banks on poor Robert Bennett.
It can be argued that Bennett didn’t deserve to be let down so harshly, that he was a conservative of sorts, and that we shouldn’t batter members of our own team. All good points. But none of them will play this year. Because, quite apart from all that, Bennett had sold out, and more publicly and completely than many. There was the broken pledge not to serve more than two terms, the vote for TARP (some form of bailout might have been necessary, but not that one), and his “bipartisan” health-care bill, of which the best that can be said is the fact that it went nowhere. Bennett was much the same as Bob Dole, and George H.W. Bush, and today’s Newt Gingrich: a member of the managerial elite. Somebody who, apart from the rhetoric, is simply another cog in the legislative machinery (or like Newt, would like to be once again). Arguing that Bennett was no worse than anyone else was not going to save him, not in 2010. And it won’t save anyone else either.
Will the Republicans get the message? That remains to be seen. It often appears that Republicans are not a message-getting species. 2006… 2008… ObamaCare… the dominos fall and make no impression in the elephantine mind. They still believe they can continue playing the numbers game, rewarding each other with earmarks, making deals across the aisle, and playing both ends against the middle. The voters will never notice.
Well, the Utah voters sure noticed.
To avoid Robert Bennett’s fate, the GOP must do things. ObamaCare must either be repealed or emasculated (if a veto-proof majority cannot be put together). The illegals problem must be solved firmly and quickly. The southern border must be secured before it explodes. The plague of PC that has overwhelmed political decision-making in this country since the first Bush administration must be ended. These only comprise a start. What people are demanding is a rollback. They will get it, or the politicians who stand in their way will wind up on the same ashheap as Bennett.
It happens that what the people are calling for matches the platform of the GOP almost point for point. The Republicans can prevail simply by being themselves, living up to their own standards and rhetoric. But we should never underestimate the Republican capacity for blowing a two-foot putt. Remember Dede Scozzafava, for one example.
If the Republicans drop the ball this time, if they toss aside their principles, break their promises, lose themselves in deals, Bennett’s downfall will expand to the level of massacre. 2012 will become the year of the third party, a serious third party, not the vanity productions of Ross Perot, but something we haven’t seen since 1912. And more than likely led by a populist crank of the Ron Paul variety. The last such upsurge by the Perotistas gave us Bill Clinton. And the next one…?
The GOP is being given that rarity in politics, a second chance. There will not be a third. Learn the lesson of Robert Bennett, or go to the wall.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and editor of the forthcoming Military Thinker.