Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wilentz: Today's Tea Partiers are the "Anti-Jacksonians"

John C. Calhoun:  Gotta love the hair
Over at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz rejects the idea that the Tea Party somehow represents the democratic spirit first championed by Andrew Jackson.  He writes:

Where does the Tea Party fit in this conflicted American political tradition? Several commentators have linked modern right-wing populism, including, most recently, the Tea Party right, with the political traditions of Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian Democrats of the 1830s. It is as if Cruz were the incarnation of Old Hickory and the assault on Obamacare akin to Jackson’s assault on the Second Bank of the United States.
“The tea party is Jacksonian America,” William Galston of the Brookings Institution recently observed in The Wall Street Journal, “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.” Galston based his argument on an essay written by Walter Russell Mead inThe National Interest more than a decade ago, which drew a straight line from the Jacksonians—imbued with what Mead described as a folkish anti-intellectualism and an anti-elitist mistrust of big government—to the Silent Majority of disillusioned New Deal Democrats who turned to Richard Nixon and later to Ronald Reagan to save them from civil rights reformers and arrogant, secular Eastern intellectuals.
Instead, Wilentz sees a different historical trajectory.  This one connects the Tea Party to the anti-Jackson, states rights, nullification-driven politics of John C. Calhoun.  He writes:
A strong nullifying political current connects the Calhounites to the secessionists of the 1860s, then to the anti-Reconstruction Southern Democrats, then to the Dixiecrats of the late 1940s, then to the post-civil rights white Southerners who have made the “Solid South” solidly Republican—and now to the Tea Party insurgents.
Read the entire piece here.