“Out, damned spot! Out, I say.” So says the demented Lady Macbeth.
Not demented but exercised, the tea party movement says, “Out, damned Washington! Out, we say.”
They say this even as they are trying to get into Washington themselves—indeed to take it over. And no Republican politician, no matter how aware of the naivete of this new dimension in conservatism, dare ignore them.
They are a force to be accommodated for now. In time, they will be blunted by being incorporated.
Running against Washington is not new. It worked like a dream for Ronald Reagan who preached the need to reduce the size of government but let it grow in wondrous ways. Astonishingly, he won re-election in 1984 by again campaigning against Washington, even though he had been president for the past four years.
Part of Reagan’s genius was in channeling the anger of Middle America to his purposes. He was so alluring a figure to Republicans that many were prepared to abandon businesses and careers to serve—often far down the ladder—in his administration.
In the far off days of Jack Kennedy, Washington still had its charm. Knowing people in Washington meant something—at least socially, if not financially and politically. Chicago bankers, New York consultants and Western cattlemen all came to Washington, where they would lunch with minor political appointees.
These lunches in the nation’s capital impressed their colleagues back home.
As in the Reagan years, capable businessmen (it was mostly men then) abandoned careers to serve in the administration.
Edward Stockdale, a successful Miami Beach realtor, gave up everything to serve Kennedy as ambassador to Ireland and in other ways. Bill Ruder, a brilliant New York public relations executive, quit his company just to serve as one of those assistant secretaries in the Commerce Department. His PR firm, Ruder and Finn, went into a severe decline without its top man.
There is a difference between those who came to Washington to serve in the Kennedy administration and those who came later, and with the same passion, to serve in the Reagan administration: The Kennedy recruits felt they were doing it for America, whereas Reagan’s people did it for Reagan.
This made them more political and, as a result, they were more frustrated. They wanted the world to know that their man, Reagan, deserved everybody’s adulation and respect. People like John Herrington, who worked his way from the personnel office at the White House to being secretary of energy, would explode with rage when people didn’t speak deferentially of Reagan.
There was plenty of the cult of personality around Kennedy, but it enhanced the idea of Washington rather than diminished it. Washington was cool in the time of Kennedy. Reagan was cool, but not Washington, in the time of Reagan.
For today’s tea party set, Washington is an alien bridgehead, manned by Euro socialists with U.N. numbers on their speed dials.
Anyone who has ever walked a picket line or joined a mass protest knows the joy of being at the barricades, the adrenalin rush, the thrill of righteousness. The tea party people have had enough and they’re not going to take it anymore.
So have most of us. We are the victims of insensitive government agencies, stagnant wages and large, faceless corporations with automated phone systems.
Any full-blooded citizen who doesn’t feel the rage ought to see a doctor—if he can afford that. The pull of the tea party is there.
But hating Washington is neither a remedy nor a policy, especially when there is no leader like Reagan to produce a policy.
It also is a trifle disingenuous to be trying to take over the place you have so reviled.
Without a leader, Washington will swallow the tea party activists, who will either drift to the center of Republican thought or settle for the no-man’s land of eccentric nobodies, like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, on the left, and Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, on the right.
Weak tea, indeed. And poor Lady Macbeth died without getting the stain out.