Nicolaus Mills: Conservative Split with the Tea Party





[Nicolaus Mills is professor of American studies at Sarah Lawrence College and co-editor with Michael Walzer of Getting Out: Historical Perspectives on Leaving Iraq.]

In recent weeks nobody has been more critical of the Tea Party’s favorite new politician, Rand Paul, the Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky, than New York Times conservative op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat.

In his May 24 column, “The Principles of Rand Paul,” Douthat delivered a blistering attack on Paul for his failure on the Rachel Maddow Show to say unequivocally that he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Douthat found Paul’s tap-dancing on whether he would or would not have voted for the bill in 1964 “offensive, tone deaf, and politically crazy,” adding, “It was also sadly typical of the political persuasion that Rand Paul represents.”

Douthat’s disgust was understandable. Paul’s position evoked the memory of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and took Republicans to their disastrous presidential-election defeat in 1964. As far as Douthat was concerned, Paul had learned nothing from William Buckley Jr., the founder of the conservative National Review and an outspoken opponent of civil rights legislation during the sixties. “I once believed we could evolve our way up from Jim Crow,” Buckley acknowledged in 2004. “I was wrong: federal intervention was necessary.”

The split between thoughtful conservatives who think like Ross Douthat and the Rand Paul-Sarah Palin Tea Party supporters is not, however, doing Democrats and the Left as much good as it should. For uniting virtually all conservatives and most Republicans is the idea that whether it comes to regulation or improving the economy, there is little good the federal government can do....



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