You don’t have to be thrilled with Tea Party Republicans to recognize that Elizabeth Drew’s genteelly sneering new article on the faction and its role in American politics these days superbly illustrates many of the biggest problems of the nation’s public life and especially of the Mainstream Media that cover it.
In a very important sense, Drew is no longer a pillar of the national journalistic establishment any more. At 78, she’s not cranking out copy frequently any more. But she does still write periodically for The New York Review of Books and, according to the Washington Post, she’s a “recent discovery of a new generation of journalists” who view her as a mentor. (Yes, that was meant as a compliment.) And starting in the 1960s, her detailed chronicles of political and policy battles for The Atlantic and The New Yorker were considered must-reads by the chattering class.
It’s not that Drew hasn’t done some insightful reporting and analyzing (though none of it comes to mind). But her latest piece betrays a blind spot regarding previous eras of American politics, including in her prime, that were more greatly and dangerously flawed than she remembers – and possibly than she realized at the time (which would be remarkable, considering all of her reporting on the Watergate years). And her rose-colored glasses have produced ongoing prejudices that mirror those of entirely too many of her colleagues today.
According to Drew, the Republican party today is “Divided and Scary.” And the Tea Party is largely to blame.
Its members are “purists” who “oppose any expansion of the federal government.” They are therefore the bane of the “pragmatists” in the party and throughout the capital who recognize that “without compromise there cannot be governing.” They are simply concerned with “making a statement and keeping their supporters fired up.” “[L]ike the NRA, they’ve figured out that absolute obstruction, outrageous as it may seem to others, can be a winning strategy.”
They fail to appreciate the solid conservatism of the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner – although she upbraids these GOP mandarins for not acting like “the Republican congressional party of the 1990s, much less the 1960s….” Their main sin? Rather than genuinely “wanting to work with the president and show themselves as ‘positive’,” they have focused on efforts to “repeal, revise, and overturn a great deal of what Obama has achieved through laws and regulatory actions and executive orders.”
Among priorities considered by Drew as beyond the pale are attempts to:
>“roll back some of the president’s immigration initiatives, a move that could end in the deportation of millions….” (Presumably all Democrats are okey dokey with Obama’s exeutive amnesty and dedication Open Borders);
>”impose more sanctions on Iran that would undermine the administration’s current negotiations on nuclear capacity.” (I guess no Democrats supported the legislation?);
>and propose “a number of bills to overturn regulations adopted during Obama’s first six years, particularly those of the Environmental Protection Agency curbing carbon pollution.” (Of course there are no serious Constitutional issues at stake here.)
What a far cry from the Golden Age of the 1990s in particular, when “During the Clinton presidency, ten to twenty Senate Republicans were willing to work with the White House to try to negotiate deals on shared goals.”
But in fact, Drew is just getting warmed up. She charges that Republican efforts to transfer some power over programs from Washington back to the states, especially those that “allocate benefits,” contain “a trace of the old championing of ‘states’ rights’—code for fending off federal efforts to impose equity in the treatment of the races.” Indeed, the Republicans have become even worse than in their Nixon-Agnew law and order days, and are now addicted to “playing to anti-black and anti-minority sentiment in order to maintain their electoral strength.”
In Drew’s eyes, almost needless to say such despicable views lie behind the entire Republican party’s shift to “perfervid opposition to liberalization of immigration, combined with antipathy toward and fear of the growing numbers of minorities in this country. Not only racism but nativism is alive.”
Drew is correct on some points. Too many Republican Senate candidates in 2012 in particular were indeed “screwballs” (at best), harboring particularly hateful views towards women. Capitol Hill Republicans’ focus today on the Keystone pipeline and on rolling back even weakfish Wall Street reform is, respectively, bizarre and reprehensible.
But most of Drew’s critique is so one-sided that it’s clear she simply opposes most right-of-center positions on major issues. That’s her right, but why doesn’t she have the honesty to come out and admit her biases? (The same of course goes for so many of those younger mainstream journalists she’s reportedly been mentoring.)
More disturbing is Drew’s apparent obliviousness to the Tea Party’s belief that many of the nation’s worst problems today and recently stem precisely from the bipartisan, compromising impulses that she so reveres. She of all people should remember the bipartisan Cold War consensus that led directly to Vietnam. How well, moreover, has the federal government really served the economic interests of blacks and other minority Americans, especially once the great and needed battles of the Civil Rights era were fought and won? And what of the completely bipartisan creation of an economy based on binge-borrowing and consuming, which triggered the financial crisis and all of its painful aftermath?
Nor does Drew evince any awareness that the taxonomy she (and others of her ilk) use to describe the conflict between insiders and outsiders is exactly the same that was used to describe Washington battles in the 1980s. Then it was commonplace for the commentariat to view former President Reagan’s most conservative supporters as “ideologues” and “cowboys” who threatened to endanger the nation and even blow up the entire world with their primitively radical and hawkish views. Their opponents within Republican (and often White House) ranks were supposedly the “pragmatists,” who luckily recognized the limits that domestic and foreign realities imposed on American actions, and who were determined to neutralize their less sophisticated rivals. Drew certainly displays no awareness that the Cold War might not have been ended and stagflation not cured (or at least not so quickly) had the “realists” and their conventional wisdom prevailed.
I could go on. The main point, however, is not to insist that the Tea Party – and other outsiders – have always been right, and that Drew and the insiders have always been wrong. It’s to observe that Drew, the avowed pragmatist, and too many of her journalistic colleagues who are supposed to chronicle Washington and similar controversies with some degree of objectivity, won’t even consider them legitimately debatable. They’re smugly convinced that they hold a monopoly on truth, and unthinkingly equate their own strongly elitist prejudices with sweet reason itself.
Drew reportedly likes to recall her humble, outside-the-Beltway beginnings, when she was “Little Lizzie Brenner from Cincinnati.” Her latest piece is a sad reminder of how little of real importance she seems to have learned since those days.