In the introduction to The Great Unraveling, Paul Krugman discusses Henry Kissinger’s PhD dissertation. In it, Kissinger deconstructs revolutionary movements. One thing that defines these movements is their rejection of political norms. Krugman talks about it in relation to the Bush Administration. He notes that after scandals where earlier administrations—both Democrat and Republican—would have forced a resignation, Bush did nothing.
We see this same thing in the revitalized right. Where normally they would have been contrite about the mess their policies had made of the economy, they instead doubled down. (And tripled down. And quadrupled down. And quintupled down…)
In his new book Pity the Billionaire, Thomas Frank takes on the question of why the financial crisis causes half the political spectrum to do this. As usual with Frank, the book is insightful and funny as hell. But that doesn’t mean it is right. The thesis of the book is that after the crisis, the right organized and channeled public anger but the left did not. This is not what happened at all.
After the crash, there was right wing anger and left wing anger. The Tea Party movement did indeed organize the right. And had the left been better organized, they might have pealed off a few followers from the Tea Party. But that’s about it.
When the Occupy Wall Street movement formed, the right did not join in with the group—even though what it was saying was very much in line with what the Tea Party has always claimed to believe—even while they consistently support politicians who are primarily social conservatives.
I think there are two aspects to this. First is that as Krugman noted, the right is a revolutionary movement. As long as they still exist, they will never tack to the middle. (The Republican Party could, however, be taken over by more moderate people.) The solution to any policy failure will be ever more ideologically pure policy. You know, “The reason for the financial crisis was that we were still regulating it too much!”
The other aspect of this is how the media treat movements. When you get down to it, what is the Tea Party movement? A group of Republicans! That’s it. Why should it be treated as something different, much less new.
The reason the Republicans did so well in 2010 was not because they were well organized—much less because they changed a lot of minds. They won because liberals stayed home. Certainly, you can attribute this to a lack of organizing on the part of Democrats. But mostly it is just the apathy of power.