“Why Liberals Don’t Get the Tea Party”

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Weekend Opinion section today, Peter  Berkowitz explains Why Liberals Don’t Get the Tea Party Movement.

He opens by giving a few examples of liberals who have made poor attempts at characterizing the movement.

For example, New York Times columnist Krugman in April ’09 calling them “AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events.”  Or fellow Times columnist Frank Rich alleging that the movement is not grass roots, but an “instrument of billionaires David and Charles Koch.”

Berkowitz blames higher education for the inability of highly educated people to actually address the tea party for what it really is.  The following paragraphs are excellent (emphasis mine).

This improved science of politics was based not on abstract theory or complex calculations but on what is referred to in Federalist 51 as “inventions of prudence” grounded in the reading of classic and modern authors, broad experience of self-government in the colonies, and acute observations about the imperfections and finer points of human nature. It taught that constitutionally enumerated powers; a separation, balance, and blending of these powers among branches of the federal government; and a distribution of powers between the federal and state governments would operate to leave substantial authority to the states while both preventing abuses by the federal government and providing it with the energy needed to defend liberty.

Whether members have read much or little of The Federalist, the tea party movement’s focus on keeping government within bounds and answerable to the people reflects the devotion to limited government embodied in the Constitution.

One reason this is poorly understood among our best educated citizens is that American politics is poorly taught at the universities that credentialed them. Indeed, even as the tea party calls for the return to constitutional basics, our universities neglect The Federalist and its classic exposition of constitutional principles.

For the better part of two generations, the best political science departments have concentrated on equipping students with skills for performing empirical research and teaching mathematical models that purport to describe political affairs. Meanwhile, leading history departments have emphasized social history and issues of race, class and gender at the expense of constitutional history, diplomatic history and military history.

Neither professors of political science nor of history have made a priority of instructing students in the founding principles of American constitutional government. Nor have they taught about the contest between the progressive vision and the conservative vision that has characterized American politics since Woodrow Wilson (then a political scientist at Princeton) helped launch the progressive movement in the late 19th century by arguing that the Constitution had become obsolete and hindered democratic reform.

Then there are the proliferating classes in practical ethics and moral reasoning. These expose students to hypothetical conundrums involving individuals in surreal circumstances suddenly facing life and death decisions, or present contentious public policy questions and explore the range of respectable progressive opinions for resolving them. Such exercises may sharpen students’ ability to argue. They do little to teach about self-government.

They certainly do not teach about the virtues, or qualities of mind and character, that enable citizens to shoulder their political responsibilities and prosper amidst the opportunities and uncertainties that freedom brings. Nor do they teach the beliefs, practices and associations that foster such virtues and those that endanger them.

Those who doubt that the failings of higher education in America have political consequences need only reflect on the quality of progressive commentary on the tea party movement. Our universities have produced two generations of highly educated people who seem unable to recognize the spirited defense of fundamental American principles, even when it takes place for more than a year and a half right in front of their noses.

Advertisements

Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s