Jay Ambrose: The left has a great pretense to intellectual heft, and you don't have to go any further to find it than Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist who was recently pontificating on the possibly disastrous and significant meaning to the American republic of a man crashing his plane into a Texas building housing IRS workers.
The left has a great pretense to intellectual heft, and you don't have to go any further to find it than Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist who was recently pontificating on the possibly disastrous and significant meaning to the American republic of a man crashing his plane into a Texas building housing IRS workers.
I bumped into the piece on a Web site, Real Clear Politics that happened to be offering up a link to another piece that day on another possibility of something significant in America's future. This one was by Niall Ferguson, a British historian now teaching at Harvard and a conservative. He is the real thing, someone with true intellectual heft, and was making a point that coincides interestingly with Tea Party fear of debt.
The Tea Party -- that's currently an obsession of the left -- was the backdrop for the Rich piece. His argument starts with the assertion that the "frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage" of the crazy pilot, Andrew Joseph Stack III, "overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner." When you put that together with a variety of other signals -- the reemergence of the John Birch Society and some genuinely nutty remarks by some politicians, for instance -- you have to worry about the possibility of right-wing Timothy McVeigh-style terrorism in the days to come, Rich says.
To me, the John Birch Society is a bad joke and I agree that no public figure should even hint that we might have to have a second revolution to save ourselves from overweening government. But the rest of this is buncombe, starting with Rich's odd reading of a Stack "manifesto" on which he rests much of his case.
There is anti-tax stuff there, to be sure, but it is more a leftist document than a right-wing one. When Stack blasts GM executives, the medical system and drug and insurance companies, there is at least as much overlap with Barack Obama as with anyone in the Tea Party. When he attacks Catholics and organized religion, who does he remind you of? The leftist comedian Bill Maher, maybe? Here is how he sums up the "capitalist creed" -- "From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed." Who uses that word "greed" all the time to describe some corporate executives? Why, left-wing columnists and Democratic politicians.
Political violence is always a possibility in America -- we've had it before from both left and right -- but there is nothing in what's now going on to suggest that some Tea Party version of it is knocking on the door.
Next up, Ferguson. He talks about complex systems, such as the society and government of the United States, and how difficult it is to predict what might bring them to a collapse. Historical analysis often looks for long-term trends, he says, when in fact the cause could be something that comes on a society in a rush, almost as if from out of the blue. Suppose, for instance, there is some report casting serious doubt on our fiscal policies and an ensuring public concern that those policies just won't work. Enough fear can itself make it tough to sustain those policies, and we could be in for a fall perhaps equivalent to the sudden demise of the Soviet Union.
My own sense is that the administration's response to the recession has entailed serious overreach and my conviction is that our debt threat will be significantly worsened by enactment of an unaffordable health care program. What is needed is a lot more than the currently proposed baby steps that don't do anything to reduce runaway spending by anything important for years and years. We've got to do something significant soon. If we don't, our peril is great. I think the Tea Party understands as much and that it is therefore more a force for rescue than for danger.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay@aol.com.