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"The Tea Party is Jacksonian America"


In an op-ed for the WSJ, AI board member William Galston uses “Jacksonianism”, an old WRM idea, to explain one of the most interesting phenomena in American politics today: The Tea Party:

More than a decade ago, before the post-9/11 national fervor set in, Walter Russell Mead published an insightful essay on the persistent “Jacksonian tradition” in American society. Jacksonians, he argued, embrace a distinctive code, whose key tenets include self-reliance, individualism, loyalty and courage.

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.” […]

The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful, in full revolt against a new elite—backed by the new American demography—that threatens its interests and scorns its values.

The op-ed goes on to show how focus groups and opinion polls find that a great many Tea Party supporters are not quite the backwater, trailer trash racists that many in the MSM assume they are. According to the polls that Galston quotes, a higher percentage of Tea Partiers are college educated than the national electorate, and more in the movement identify as middle class or upper-middle class than the country as a whole.

The center-left Galston uses a mix of these polls and the “Jacksonian” concept to explain what he sees as “a dissident reform movement within the [Republican] party, determined to move it back toward true conservatism after what they see as the apostasies of the Bush years and the outrages of the Obama administration.” A worthwhile read this Saturday if you missed it last week. Read it here.

[Andrew Jackson portrait courtesy of Wikimedia]

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