The Tea Party as Jacksonians

Yesterday, Kathryn said something about the Tea Party and the deliciously comic line about keeping “your government hands off my Medicare,” and it reminded me of something I’d read earlier in the day:

Jacksonians care as passionately about the Second Amendment as Jeffersonians do about the First. They are suspicious of federal power, skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad; they oppose federal taxes but favor benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned. Jacksonians are anti-elitist; they believe that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts and that, as Mr. Mead wrote, “while problems are complicated, solutions are simple.”479px-Andrew_Jackson_Daguerrotype-crop

That is why the Jacksonian hero defies the experts and entrenched elites and “dares to say what the people feel” without caring in the least what the liberal media will say about him. (Think Ted Cruz. )

The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful…

That piece goes a long way toward explaining — at least to me — why I’ve had a problem with the Tea Party since it first emerged. I have always — or ever since I studied American history in college, which is kinda like always — had a problem with the Jacksonian mindset. I’ve always thought of the day he defeated John Quincy Adams as one of the darkest days in the leadership of this country.

I’m not a Jeffersonian, either. I’m more of an admirer of John Quincy’s Dad.

Anyway… I don’t think I had heard the tea partisans referred to as Jacksonians before. But now that I have, it seems a fairly neat, coherent way of describing their political pedigree.

33 thoughts on “The Tea Party as Jacksonians

  1. Silence

    Pros for Andrew Jackson –
    Ended the Second Bank of the U.S.
    Tough as hickory, tended to duel a lot
    Associated with South Carolina and Tennessee
    Paid off entire national debt
    tried to abolish electoral college
    survived assassination attempt

    Cons for Andy:
    Spoils system
    Indian removal
    nullified nullification
    Did not shoot Henry Clay or hang John C. Calhoun

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Not a perfect comparison, but a fair one. I think most Republicans want the tea party to be an adjunct of the GOP. It’s not. It’s as much about policing the GOP as it is about going after the Democrats. And by “policing” I don’t just mean primary challenges. I mean keeping the pressure on the GOP to do what they campaigned on doing.

    I know that makes some Republicans uncomfortable, but the truth is, when the GOP has had all sorts of power, they didn’t really deliver for conservatives. The GOP always says “trust us, it will be different next time”. The tea party is simply saying “no more trust, do it now”.

    Accordingly, I don’t want the GOP to keep telling the tea party to “focus on the Democrats”. That’s the GOP’s job. The tea party is the guy watching you to make sure you do your job. And that guy is probably packing heat.

    The tea party exists because the GOP wasn’t delivering anything to a large portion of it’s base because the GOP took a certain part of it’s base for granted.

    1. Doug Ross

      Agreed, Bryan. The Tea Party has every right to use its power to elect representatives who want to see the government transformed into something different from what it is now. Everything they have done has been within the rules.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bryan, you make the Tea Party sound like some sort of agents of responsibility, saying “The tea party is the guy watching you to make sure you do your job.”

      They are anything but. They’re more like the backwoodsmen who came to Jackson’s inaugural bash and trashed the White House.

      They are borderline nihilists. The last thing they want is for members of Congress to “do their job.” It’s the job of people elected to Washington to run the government in a responsible, sober fashion — NOT to precipitate crises (even shutting the government down, which is the very opposite of “doing their job”) over hopeless ideological gestures.

      They are not people you want acting as watchdogs. That’s like having an arsonist watching the henhouse…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        That’s like having an arsonist watching the henhouse…

        Holy mixed metapor, Batman!

        All kidding aside. I think this is just an “agree to disagree” issue for us.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            That’s OK; I don’t think Robin is a stickler for the proper names of literary devices.

            I hold that a carefully mixed metapor can be a great way to get people’s attention. I liked it because “fox guarding the henhouse” is the sort of figure limited-government people might use in talking about elected officials. With the Tea Party, you don’t so much worry about them eating the chickens as you worry about them burning the place down…

      2. Mark Stewart

        Another fair comparison for the Tea Party is with the Dixiecrats. Different party, same myopia.

          1. Barry

            Most of the Tea Party folks I read on Facebook and other sites want really no government – and don’t want to work with anyone at all on legislation.

            They want to force things their way, no compromise on anything is their guiding phrase.

            That’s fine, but it’s not the way the United States constitution and government were designed.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    The Tea Party, like Jacksonianism, is less a system of thought than a set of gut impulses.

    We lump them in with libertarians — I’ve certainly done that quite often, so mea culpa — but libertarians are more about theory than impulse. (Too MUCH about theory, to the extent that they ignore the real world.)

    It’s like the difference between Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley. We tend to lump them together, and indeed, she was the one person running for governor in 2010 most like him. But Sanford is more libertarian, more Club for Growth. Our current governor is more Sarah Palin, more Tea Party.

    There’s a real difference between the two. The first prides itself on its ideas; the other is more in tune with the American anti-intellectual tradition…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Do you even know a Tea Partier?

      All your “tea partiers are anti-intellectual” and “tea partiers are uncouth backwoodsmen who trash the White House” really annoys me. Just come out and say it: You think that people who associate with the tea party are dumb and you know better than they do.

      Tea party people aren’t anarchists. Anarchy would be total elimination of all government. But I guess if you want to scale back any part of government AT ALL, and give the people more personal freedom, the people who love government go bananas.

      Tea party people aren’t backwoodsmen who trash places. They’re actually really polite people who leave all of their places clean, and usually cleaner than when they found it.

      Tea party people aren’t racists. That’s probably the hardest thing for most Democrats to get their head around, but it’s just not true. It’s been said so many times. If I had a nickel every time someone called me a “racist” when I was talking about fiscal policy, I could probably pay off the US Debt.

      I’m probably a little cranky because of a hangover from the Whiskey Festival last night, but this has been annoying me.

      So there.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        After the Whiskey Rebellion (I mean, Festival), did y’all go out and trash the White House?

        Sorry. Couldn’t resist. 🙂

        I am sincerely sorry if I insulted you in any way, Bryan. I mean you the greatest respect.

        Frankly, though, I didn’t associate you with the Tea Party. I still don’t, even if you do yourself.

        And I’ll admit that my direct experience with Tea Partiers (as opposed to Republicans who may vote their way) is limited. I’ve been to a couple or three rallies.

        What I saw and heard at those gatherings made a bad impression. I’ll agree with you that the Tea Partiers I’ve seen are more bourgeois than those who caused such a ruckus at Jackson’s inaugural. They’re more settled, more comfortable.

        But they radiate a smoldering, unfocused anger that is extremely off-putting, especially since they aren’t terribly good (in my view) at expressing what they’re angry about. Or maybe they ARE good at it, but just not terribly persuasive.

        And because the things they are furious about don’t make a lot of sense to someone who isn’t on board with them, people quite naturally look for some darker underlying motive for their anger, and for their sudden emergence just as the first “black” president takes office.

        I think calling them racists is wrong, or at least misleading. As I’ve written before, I don’t really see him as black. But there’s no question that, compared to every other president we’ve had, he’s, I don’t know, exotic.

        Birthers (and there is some overlap between birthers and Tea Partiers) like to say he’s not American. They’re wrong, but there’s something that is true that lies at the base of their paranoia.

        I think it was well illustrated by the Churchill bust incident. Maybe we all read too much into it, but it struck me that this president doesn’t internalize the Special Relationship in the way that seemed instinctive to previous presidents in my lifetime. And then I realized that no other president had had a grandfather who was imprisoned by British authorities because he was a subject in one of their African colonies.

        He’s also from Hawaii, which makes him WAY different from any other president. The difference between the islands and the mainland is hard to explain unless you’ve spent a lot of time there, but it’s profound.

        And when he wasn’t growing up there, he was doing so in Indonesia, spending part of his childhood thinking in a language other than English.

        I think all of that contributes to a gut, emotional reaction in lots of folks who tend to be susceptible to such language as Sarah Palin’s “real America.”

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Allow me to elaborate a bit more…

        Another reason I see the Tea Party as more visceral, and less intellectualized, is based on the way they choose to brand themselves.

        And I’ll admit here that I react viscerally to their brand, so mea culpa there.

        It starts with “Tea Party.” I believe the Boston Tea Party was a shameful incident in our history. It was contemptible hooliganism, trespassing and destroying other people’s property that way. It was a classic enactment of the side of revolutionary sentiment that I’ve always found off-putting. I’m a John Adams patriot, and have no admiration for his cousin Samuel.

        There are other unfortunate symbols from that period that are off–putting to me, and the Tea Party enthusiastically embraces one of them — the snake flag.

        Really, people (and I’m talking to the revolutionaries who embraced it back then, as much as the Tea Partiers today)? THAT’S how you see America? As a snake? As a contemptible, quintessentially evil, slither-in-the-grass-and-bite-you-if-you-step-on-it creature — the one creature specifically damned by God in the Garden of Eden?

        Folks, lemme give you some marketing advice: There are just no positive associations with the rattlesnake. None at all. It is the living, slithering embodiment of pure, unconstructive malice.

        That such a symbol would be chosen — a creature that contributes nothing, but is ready at any time to kill you if you step on it — speaks to a visceral hostility that doesn’t lend itself to any constructive role in society. It’s a symbol for people who are just deeply ticked off (even, symbolically, murderously so), and they’re not likely to appeal to anyone but other people who are ticked off in the same way.

        So, do you see where I’m coming from here? And do you see why I could never associate Bryan with such attitudes?

      3. Scout

        I have a tea partier in my family, so yes I know one. I agree he is hard to characterize. Definitely an enigmatic mix of qualities. He is intellectual when it suits him to be, when it serves his ends, and inexplicably dismissive of intellectual pursuits at other times, which mostly seems to me to be when it doesn’t suit his (veiled to himself) emotional needs. Though he is, as you point out, usually quite courteous and respectful in person. Though he wouldn’t admit it outright, I do think he is a racist. He rationalizes it differently, but that is what it looks like from here. And he is a history buff, and in fact, I happen to know he is a big admirer of Jackson and detests Lincoln. So yea, that feels right too. Maybe there are subgroups of tea party members. He doesn’t feel like a Sarah Palin or a Michelle Bachman who seem to embody the anti-intellectual thing better. More like Ted Cruz, who in fact, he also admires. Sorry for the abbreviated sentences in this post. I’m tired.

  4. bud

    Tea Party folks want smaller government and less waste.

    Who exactly is the pro-waste party? That kind of characterization is really nothing more than a weasel statement, long on sounding good, short on anything constructive. The Tea Party really is nothing more than a group of rabble rousers who are big on slogans, flags, signs and all the other trappings you might find at a college football game. But they are woefully short on ideas, a spirit of compromise or really anything useful for moving this country in the right direction. Ironically if the Tea Party crazies in congress were trying to save money the not only failed but actually added $24 billion dollars to the national debt. Perhaps they’re trying to get us to the debt ceiling sooner so we can have another crisis.

    There was one president who actually did attempt to reign in government waste. That was Jimmy Carter. Conservatives today vilify him while deifying Saint Ronnie, the patron saint of government waste. Remember the utterly ridiculous 900 ship navy? Hardly a whimper from conservatives about the huuuuge deficits run during the 80s.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Just another example of people not understanding that the political process is actually a good thing and that what seems like waste isn’t actually. It may not be clean or pretty, but that’s the game. And it works – throughout our history and around the world.

      I am far more peeved about the death benefit self-dealing in Congress than I am about $3 billion for a massive infrastructure project to keep the Ohio River humming.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      Random example of waste:

      The government contracted to build a website. But since no one in the federal government knows how to build a website, it contracted to pay a private company $93.7 million to do it. Yeah, you’re going to say that sounds expensive, but I’m sure building a website isn’t easy. It’s not like people do it all the time.

      However, the government (you, me, all of us) ended up spending $292 million to build the website. That’s about three times the original price. Now, here’s the funny part. You’re really going to laugh when I tell you this.

      The website doesn’t even work. A third of a billion dollars. For a website that doesn’t even work.

      Government is just another name for things we do together. Apparently, we’re idiots.

    3. Bryan Caskey

      “Remember the utterly ridiculous 900 ship navy? Hardly a whimper from conservatives about the huuuuge deficits run during the 80s.”

      Hey, at least the aircraft carriers function.

    1. Bart

      Good find Burl. One can always find an example of the extreme. Here’s a good one. Many years ago, I knew a small country preacher who ran a small country general store. He sold the standard goods one would expect but he was adamantly opposed to the use of tobacco in any form and believed it to be a sin. However, he had a wide range of tobacco products for sale but he refused to handle them and if a customer wanted cigarettes, a cigar, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, or snuff, they had to take the product from the display, lay it on the counter, place the product in a bag if they wanted one but he still took the money and made his profit. I asked him one day how he could profit from a product he was so opposed to and all I got in return was a blank stare. I then realized no one had ever challenged him on his hypocrisy and the look on the faces of the other customers was priceless. He never answered me but needless to say, I was not welcome in his store again.

      We can find extremes anywhere we look and unfortunately, by using the extreme to describe any political movement we don’t agree with, the members of the movement with honorable and sincere beliefs are by fiat, painted with the same brush and repeated often enough, the perception is changed to fit the narrative preferred by critics and opponents. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle or argument you are on either. The tactic works equally well for either side. Saul Alinsky – Rules for Radicals 101

      1. Barry

        True- but of course those in that movement have a responsibility to call out other members and leaders that are too extreme. Too often they don’t.

        At times I find some agreement with some Tea Party folks, then I go read some of their blogs, articles, or facebook posts and I see examples of too many of them that aren’t interested in any compromise at all.

        When your position is that compromise in any form is bad- it’s a problem.

    2. Heywood

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these 10 children adopted and foster children that he’s raising? I really don’t have a problem with him getting aid if he’s raising children that would otherwise be living out on the street.

    1. Doug Ross

      It helps to listen to him instead of listening to what others say about him. Form your own opinion.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, I’ve tried that. I still disagree.

        But I’m sure he’s said things I agree with, too.

        As I said on the Graham post — there’s no one in the world I expect to agree with all the time (which puts me outside the American mainstream, since most folks think you have to agree with either the left or the right all the time). Similarly, I doubt there’s anyone I DISagree with about everything…

        1. bud

          since most folks think you have to agree with either the left or the right all the time …

          I don’t think that statement is true at all. I don’t agree with every liberal idea. I imagine the generally conservative posters here don’t agree 100% with every single conservative idea. But what I do understand is that the best approach to moving the country in the general direction I want is to align myself with the party that comes closest to my worldview in the aggregate. In my case that is the Democratic party. Frankly I wish there were more viable political parties to choose from but given the 2 that we do have I support the Democrats most of the time. It’s just not practical to have a viable political process without parties. It’s just human nature to band together with one’s peers.

      2. Scout

        I do try to get primary sources and form my own opinion whenever possible. I have found myself agreeing a lot lately with Matthew Dowd and David Brooks when they are on This Week on Sundays, which feels kind of odd for me since they are republicans. I don’t consider myself one or the other, but I have agreed more often historically with democratic positions than republican ones. So it’s a bit odd, but I accept it for what it is. I have listened to Rand Paul. I usually think he is being ridiculous.

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