Jonah Goldberg: Tea Parties a Delayed Bush Backlash





[Jonah Goldberg is an editor for the National Review and writes a column for the LA Times.]

I attended the Cincinnati Tax Day Tea Party rally as a speaker. But it was more interesting to be an observer.

First, here's what I didn't see. I didn't see a single racist or bigoted sign or hear a single such comment. Nor did I see any evidence of "homegrown fascism." Though in fairness, such things are often in the eye of the beholder, now that dissent has gone from being the highest form of patriotism under George W. Bush to the most common form of racism under Barack Obama.

But I did see something a lot of people, on the left and the right, seemed to have missed: a delayed Bush backlash. One of the more widespread anti-tea party arguments goes like this: Republicans didn't protest very much when Bush ran up deficits and expanded government, so when Obama does the same thing (albeit on a far grander scale), Republican complaints can't be sincere....

No doubt partisanship plays a role. But partisanship explains only so much, given that the tea partyers are clearly sincere about limited government and fond of GOP bashing. So here's an alternative explanation: Conservatives don't want to be fooled again....

According to last week's New York Times/CBS poll of tea party supporters, 57% have a favorable view of Bush, but that hardly captures the nuance of tea party feelings. For instance, when Bush's face appeared on the Jumbotron in the arena, the Cincinnati audience applauded. When speakers blasted Bush and the GOP for "losing their way," the audience applauded even louder.

Going by what I saw in Cincinnati, second to their profound desire to rein in government, the chief attitude driving the 39% of tea partyers who describe themselves as "very conservative" isn't partisanship, racism or seizing the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. It's "we won't be fooled again." In the near term, that spells trouble for Democrats. In the long term, that lays down a serious gauntlet for Republicans.


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