My birthday was a few weeks ago, but if I could go back in time and make a different wish, I’d ask God — or whoever is responsible — to keep clueless columnists from comparing the Tea Party Movement to everything under the damn sun. For instance, here’s Anne Applebaum:
Here is a riddle: What would the Tea Party movement look like if it were British, privately educated and had once worked as a ski instructor in Austria?
The answer: It would look like Nick Clegg, leader of the British Liberal Democratic Party — and possibly the beneficiary of the biggest revolution among British voters in decades. For those who don’t follow these things, the Liberal Democrats are Britain’s historically insignificant third party. In its current incarnation, the Liberal Democrats date from the late 1980s, when the Labor Party was a near-Marxist monolith, the Tories were the party of Margaret Thatcher, and there was a lot of space in between.
Seeing as how Applebaum doesn’t bother to draw this comparison out any further, I am going to assume that this is the extent of her reasoning. And it’s terrible. Indeed, you don’t actually have to know anything about the Liberal Democrat party to peg this as a painfully vapid comparison.
Without any real evidence, Applebaum has positioned the Liberal Democrats and the Tea Party as movements of the center (the “radical” center, perhaps?). But that’s plainly untrue of the Tea Party Movement. As revealed in the recent New York Times/CBS survey, the movement is overwhelmingly white, male and conservative. 54 percent of Tea Partiers belong to the Republican Party and 73 percent identify themselves as somewhat or very conservative. Unless the center of American politics has taken a sharp veer to the Right, it is clear that the Tea Party Movement is just another species of right-wing populism.
Likewise, the Lib Dems are firmly situated on the Left, with a particular commitment to liberal values (of the classical variety) and civil libertarianism. And while the Lib Dems have critical disagreements with the Labour Party — mostly pertaining to civil liberties and the extent of state intervention in the economy — it is not at all accurate to place them in the center of British politics. In fact, given the anti-war and pro-European Union bent of the Liberal Democrats, I’d tag them as the left-liberal alternative to Labour.
To be fair, I didn’t expect Applebaum to write an interesting (or even factual) comparison of the Tea Party Movement and the Liberal Democrats. American simply aren’t equipped to cover foreign elections, even for a country as culturally similar as Britain. More often than not, their attempts to cover foreign elections fall flat. What’s more, they have this annoying habit of viewing everything through the lens of American politics, which leaves them incapable of grasping crucial distinctions and important differences. By and large, Anne Applebaum’s column is pretty typical of the genre, so I can’t be too hard.