19 September 2010

Berg's bitter brew

A liberal is apparently someone too reasonable to prefer his opinion over that of others. Chris Berg would have you believe that a conservative is someone who doesn't know what they believe, who believes contradictory things, and yet believes very passionately - and that their passion justifies their argument, whatever it may be.

Berg ends his piece with a mistake, which is kind of fitting really:
But the Tea Party isn't wrong. America has serious problems. Those problems have energised the conservative base.
On the fact that America is not without blemish - the Tea Party movement may be wrong there, but it's entitled to be judged on the policies it identifies as remedies, or at the very least salves, for said problems.

The slander against President Obama's nationality and religion demonstrate that at the base of the Tea Party movement is a core of radicalism and unreasonableness, a lack of goodwill and good faith that renders nonsensical any description of "conservative".
New technology is giving conservative activists the power to form the sort of genuine grassroots movements the left has been for decades.
For many "conservatives", any development that puts conservatives on level pegging with the left might seem like a good thing. Ayn Rand always wanted to be the right-wing John Steinbeck, and while I doubt she succeeded she did make more money than Steinbeck, which would have been the point for her (and, probably, Berg). This is a category error, a bit like evolutionists declaring victory over Darwin 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species - to declare such a victory is to fail to understand your own argument.

Most conservatives would take pride in having secured the moral, intellectual, economic, political and social high ground over the festering swamp of the left as being the greatest triumph and vindication of their creed in whatever form you like - capitalism, the right to practice religious faith, parliamentary democracy, take your pick. For Berg to crow about drawing level with, say, the Socialist Workers' Party in about 1977 is genuinely pathetic.
Castle is the embodiment of an establishment Republican. He's enjoyed a nine-term run in the House of Representatives. He was Delaware's governor for seven years. He's a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Ben Franklin. He's very, very moderate.
Being moderate is not the embodiment of any sort of Republican since, say, John Lindsay or Nelson Rockefeller. Was Castle as "moderate" as Newt Gingrich, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Henry Paulson? If you're going to mount any sort of intellectual argument (or even write a blurb for The Age) it is important to define your terms.

Mike Castle has actually cut more tax than Christine O'Donnell has or will. It is no accident that News Corporation and many other American corporations have their headquarters in Delaware, Mike Castle deserves a great deal of credit for that. The tax and regulatory environment of Delaware is the very sort of environment that people like Chris Berg have keened for over many years. If any Australian politician had done half of what Castle had, he would be hero-worshipped by the CIS, IPA and other outfits of their ilk.

With his snide dismissal, Chris Berg shows why you should pay libertarians no heed: nothing you ever do for them will ever be enough.

True, Berg describes Tea Party perspectives as "eccentric and jumbled". He wrongly paints them as purely economic: antisemitism, paranoia about migration and a determination to wind back equality for African-Americans is an inescapable part of this movement. The idea that they are just as harmless as the IPA but with the kind of appeal that escapes Chris Berg or Terje Petersen is to willfully misrepresent the Tea Party. Berg deserves scorn for turning a blind eye to the hateful elements of this movement in the name of asserting the simple truth that America's economic and geopolitical position isn't what it could be. To claim the Tea Party as purely an economic movement is like claiming that Stalin in the 1930s was simply focused on boosting tractor output in the Ukraine.
The revolt against the Republican establishment is as much a revolt against big spending, big taxing George Bush as it is against the Obama administration.
The Tea Party drew great strength from Bush. Conservative activists ended up on the payrolls of PACs and other organisations because the Bush Administration shovelled taxpayer dollars and public borrowings at them. Sarah Palin was a big-taxing, porkbarrelling public servant, and the fact that she's seeking to do the same on a grander level shows the sheer hollowness of the Tea Party.

Look at how many Obama supporters feel let down by his pragmatism in office. Many conservatives rightly foresaw that the outpouring of hope that Obama engendered could not last. Is it not true to say the same of the Tea Party? What about all those Republicans who signed the "Contract on with America"in 1994, promising to stay for six years tops but who still hold public office today? It is another major weakness of Berg's piece for him to warm his hands by the conflagration of the Republican Party while taking it on trust.
A Bloomberg poll found overwhelmingly the thread which ties the Tea Party together is a belief the US has lost its way in the past few years.
The same could be said of the Communist Party, Chris, or the Branch Davidians, or social workers, or the people who blew up the US government building in Oklahoma City in 1994 - or, indeed, of "establishment Republicans" or even people who could genuinely be regarded as "very, very moderate".
A CBS/New York Times poll found Tea Party supporters tend to be more educated than the general public.
And when left-of-centre voters are described the same way, Chris, this is put down to a bad case of trahison des clercs (it is a little known fact that no edition of Quadrant magazine may go to press without the phrase trahison des clercs appearing in it).
The political class isn't sure what to make of the Tea Party. It comes from outside the polished environs of Washington.
The same could be said of the Obama Administration from Chicago, the Bush Administrations from Texas, the Reagan Administration from California, the Clintonians from Arkansas, or the all-seeing Eye Pee Yay from Melbourne.
In Australia, we just saw how potent a conservative grassroots can be. The implosion of the parliamentary Liberal Party late last year over climate change was driven by a membership which saw Malcolm Turnbull's support of the emissions trading scheme as unacceptable.

Thousands of emails were sent by party members and others calling for the position to change. In the end, they had to change leaders. Hopes for bipartisan climate action disappeared, and Kevin Rudd's prime ministership died in the Liberal party room. A conservative grassroots destroyed a Labor prime minister.
In other words, there was a bit of a kerfuffle within Canberra but the Labor government remained in office, and in a stronger position to take "climate action". So much for your analogies, Chris.

The Tea Party is another populist movement harvesting dissatisfaction and letting it molder into ever more toxic forms. It probably isn't fascism per se but it sure won't "Restore Honor" or any of the claims made for it. These are the successors to the Know-Nothings and those who sneered at the 33rd US President as "Jewsevelt": they are not honest toilers who want to pay less tax, because Americans who want that voted for Mike Castle or the John McCain of 2000. Those of us who admire the United States see this rabble-rousing as an illness to be borne and overcome, not admired and misrepresented like Chris Berg has done.


  1. I'm finding the musings of Australian "think tanks" terribly underwhelming. I think it's because I thought the disciplines that generally apply to academia would apply to them but I've since learnt that they are just opinion spruikers. Where are the Phds in these places?

    Watching The Drum has been an eye-opener for me. I get some unease when pundits from these "think tanks" are simply listed as 'so-and-so' from IPA or CIS etc as if they're some non-partisan academic expert on a particular area, rather than an ideologue or lobbyist. When they open their mouths, however, it's easy to see their political bias. It would be nice to see the think tanks described as 'right-wing' or 'left-wing' or something to note that these guys are serious academics, they're just people pushing a barrow.

    Chris Berg isn't alone in being a twit. Jessica Brown from CIS is equally as much of an opinionated twit.

    I love Chris' "Kevin Rudd's prime ministership died in the Liberal party room". Such a simplistic and misleading thing to say. Many things went into Kevin Rudd's demise, most of it due to Kevin Rudd. To credit the Liberal party with his demise is arrogant and self-serving.

    The Tea Party is a very American phenomenon due to many things peculiar to the US. It's 'centre' is much more to the right of Australia's 'centre'.

    The US Right has an obsession with taxes that Australians just wouldn't get, an obsession so brilliantly displayed in the Californian constitution, which has done that state so many favours. Yes, low taxation is utopia.

    The resentment felt by many whites against blacks and hispanics is also something that drives the Tea Party, and nothing get under their nose more than a black president, the hide of those people to think they can lead nice white folks! The ambient racism is something Mr Berg didn't bother to comment on, nor on the GFC, nor many other things feeding into the Tea Party.

  2. One of the great weaknesses of the right in Australia is their vacation of the intellectual field. I was surprised the Young Liberals and Liberal Students never offered PhD scholarships, but were content to grizzle about leftie academics while pining for part-time jobs with halfwit MPs (on similar incomes to those of academics) where their published work never went beyond the length or depth of press releases. Andrew Norton tried to arrange a confab to stimulate intellectual development in the right during the '90s, but knowing some of the attendees it's fair to say that nothing came of it, with the possible exception of Norton himself.

  3. I think these comments on the Tea Party from Berg are just as clever as his views on climate change.

    I recall he seemed to believe an 'adaptation only' strategy was the way to go.

    I am all for adaptation (together with mitigation). Its just sad that the right has borrowed it for their purposes.

  4. That Chris thinks the "Tea Party" is an authentic populist uprising is a sign that he is either pushing propaganda, or risibly uninformed. From the start, it's been backed by the extreme right of the republican big money party.
    I mean, hell, their first real break was a staged hissy fit from a wall st trader on CNBC.

    Since then, Fox has been pushing it as hard as they can as some sort of "authentic" populist movement, when it's nothing of the sort.

  5. I missed reading the Berg piece in the paper (perhaps a conscious choice) so thanks for picking out the choice tidbits. The question of what constitutes a 'good' elite or a 'bad' elite is fascinating and important in decoding this sort of discourse. And as for trahison des clercs in Quadrant - LOL!