Thursday, February 18, 2010
Henry V, the Tea Party and Glenn Beck
D. Eris of the Poli-tea blog has responded to my claim that the Tea Party ought to work within the two party system. Relying on the skepticism of David Hume, Poli-tea argues against "charismatic authoritarianism", which in turn is based on the claim that power must be consolidated. As well, claims Poli-tea,
"The historical argument...is negated by the very existence of a third party and independent political tradition in the United States..."
David Hume said that skepticism did not prevent him from making merry with his friends. For truly believing radical skepticism otherwise would paralyze him. Hume's skepticism denies the possibility of science. We all know that science works. Nor would Hume say that it couldn't work, rather that it is based on non-rational assumptions. As Aristotle said about ethics:
"(W)e must be content, in speaking about and from such things, to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and we must be content in speaking about things that hold for the most part and in drawing conclusions of the same sort from such things."
The Tea Party lacks leadership not out of historical necessity or because of a law that authority must be devolved upon a dictator but rather because on a real-world level no leader has stepped forward who has the capacity to lead and who is suitably independent of the GOP's national leadership or the media, both of which ought to be viewed as tainted. Without such a leader, the Tea Party will at most be an influence on the two party system.
That is not a necessary law but a practical assumption based on the past 200 years of American history. It is possible that a spontaneous, anarchic movement could transform the yahoos in the hinterland, but I doubt it. It is a matter for practical deliberation, not logical deduction.
Finding a leader is a supply-and-demand problem. We don't generally demand great leaders, and people with leadership potential are often diverted to other pursuits. Hence, there is a leadership shortage when the demand does appear, and it is not easy to fill.
Why leadership is necessary is not well understood by anyone. The human mind has limited rational capacity. To focus a movement of millions of people requires a focal point that is easily grasped. It requires a symbol. Few Americans know who their state assemblyman is, but most know who the president is because the president is an easily understood human symbol. We are all limited beings. A leader identifies the movement or organization. He or she provides a personality.
The two videos above, of Martin Luther King and Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in Shakespeare's play, exemplify charismatic leadership. The leader must match the movement and be able to articulate a vision that matches the broad concerns that motivate the movement.
The inability of the Tea Party to generate such a leader is likely linked to the important role of television. Television is powerful because it provides a human face to ideas. But the people who operate it lack ideas, so they allow special interests to dominate their content. Many Americans rely on television, and the quick and easy way is to rely on the leadership that television presents. But television fixates on the existing establishment, which is antagonistic to the Tea Party. Moreover, there is no incentive for television to present leaders who represent the Tea Party, whose concerns are directly antagonistic to television's corporate owners.
So where will the Tea Party find its leader?
Necessarily in the rank-and-file of the Tea Party itself. The Tea Party should do as General Savage in the classic war film 12 O'clock High. It should scour the organization for anyone who can lead a mule to water. It should find the Ben Gatelys, the future King Harry's who can present a vision like the famous speech at Agincourt copied above or Martin Luther King in his wonderful "I Have a Dream" speech.
To do so the Tea Party needs its own media. Television and the print media are not enough and cannot be trusted. Without its own media, the personalities necessary are much more difficult to discern. So far, the Tea Party has not begun to take the steps necessary to institutionalize itself.
Glenn Beck, the one television personality who may prove supportive of the Tea Party, needs to focus on introducing his audience to a wide range of potential leaders within the Tea Party movement. He should demand that they be well informed about issues like the Fed and the bailout. A wide range of consistently exposed potential leaders will greatly facilitate the Tea Party's ability to think for itself.
In sum, there is no antagonism between working with the GOP and trying to establish the Tea Party as a separate movement. The two can be done in tandem. It is much harder to establish a separate movement than to influence the existing two party system, which has always been flexible to change.
It is possible that because of the influence of special interests the two party system has been unable to change. It may have become brittle. In that case, a new party may be necessary. But party building should not come at the expense of influencing the two parties. Both strategies should be vigorously tried.