Real Americans

Hogeland_35.5_bryan William Hogeland in The Boston Review:

“Save America.” “Take the country back.” “Armed and dangerous.” “Lock and load.” Such are the slogans of the right-wing populist resurgence that began in 2008.

The new populism embraces members of the Tea Party, who object to what they see as confiscatory taxation, excessive government debt, and assaults on the right to bear arms; fans of Sarah Palin, who assails the Obama administration and the Democratic Party for being out of touch with what she defines as the lives and aspirations of ordinary Americans; and some Republican elected officials. They not only reject Obama administration policies, and political liberalism in general, but also cast their rejection in questing, confrontational language as an epic battle for the soul of American democracy, which they accuse liberalism of defiling.

In the face of this rejection, liberal voices in the press largely have failed to illuminate the new right-wing movement. Frank Rich, a columnist for The New York Times, applies epithets (“cowed” Republican politicians bowing before “nutcases”), makes airy dismissals (“the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele”), and, using scary metaphors (the grass-roots right as “political virus,” “tsunami of anger,” even “the dark side”), warns of threats to civilization itself. The historian and critic Jill Lepore, in an otherwise thoughtful New Yorker article on a Tea Party rally in Boston, becomes uncharacteristically bemused when it comes to interviewing Tea Party members directly. Chip Berlet, asking his readers to view with compassion what he and others have called right-wing American populism, reveals an even deeper prejudice.