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Mark Lilla on the election

The ever interesting Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books on the election. Lilla's verdict: the Tea Party movement is as much Populist as Republican, despite the results, giving the Democrats a chance to seize political momentum in the next couple of years if they emphasize the theme of "fairness."

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John -- Nice analysis, but there's nothing "utterly baffling" about Obama's reluctance to engage in populist politics. I hate to keep harping on this point -- well, no I don't -- but he thinks like Wall Street. He's a corporate technocrat who was bought and paid for in 2008. The "reforms" of the last two years demonstrate this, in my view. What's truly baffling is how scholars such as Lilla can look at the events of the last forty years and continue to assume that we inhabit a functioning democracy. The United States is a corporate plutocracy, with two political parties who represent the "right" and "left" sides of the Wall Street-Beltway axis. On this score, you'll find more wisdom in Chris Hedges and Roger Hodge than in Lilla.

Eugene, one could argue that the "beanie baby" mentality was just as prevalent on Main Street as it was on Wall Street.

Even (especially?) on the religious left the impulse to ridicule seems almost impossible to resist. I suspect too few will heed Lillas warning:The Democratic doxa for the past few years has been a mix of contempt (look at the misspelled signs Glenn Becks puppets are holding!) and economic determinism (these sorts of things happen when people lose their jobs and homes)....As for progressive pundits and Democratic Party leaders, they need to get out of their limousines and talk to some of those people with the misspelled signs. Theyll discover some potential allies among them.

Ronald Dworkin in the same NYR blog has perhaps a darker view. "We must take seriously what so many of them actually say: that they feel they are losing their country, that they are desperate to take it back. What could they mean? There are two plausible answers, both of them frightening. They might mean, first, that their new government is not theirs because it is not remotely of their kind or culture; it is not representative of them. Most who think that would have in mind, of course, their president; they think him not one of them because he is so different. It seems likely that the most evident difference, for them, is his racea race a great many Americans continue to think alien. They feel, viscerally, that a black man cannot speak for them. "Obama isnt one of them in other ways as well: in the period since he was elected its become clearer that he is uncomfortable with the tastes, rhetoric, and reflexive religiosity they identify as at the heart of American political culture. He tries to find his way into that culturehe speaks of folks in every paragraph these daysbut his articulate, rational style strikes the wrong note. Many of those who voted for him before dont like what they got. They want to take their country back by taking its presidency back, by making its leader more like them. "There is a second, equally dismaying, understanding of what they mean. All their lives they have assumed that their country is the most powerful, most prosperous, most democratic, economically and culturally the most influentialaltogether the most envied and wonderful country in the world. They are coming slowly and painfully to realize that that is no longer true; they are angry and they want someone to blame."And I would add that the demonization of Nancy Pelosi has some of the "she is not a white man," aura that Dworkin's first point emphasizes.

Margaret, at the end of the Day, I think most people would agree that the character of an individual, much like the character of a nation, does not depend on ancestry nor does it depend on gender, but rather it depends on fidelity to the Moral Law which should be at the heart of the American political culture. Why not a Democratic Party that affirms the fundamental Right to Life that has been endowed to us from God and a Democratic Party that affirms God's intention for Marriage and The Family?

Ah, again Patrick Molloy descends from Olympus (presumably abandoning Althouse momentarily) to inform liberals of their weaknesses--this time for ridicule. And why should anyone take his advice as expert? Let's take a little trip down memory lane... "Its obvious to all free-floating omniscient observers that youve strayed from the right path. Please repent but more importantly give public evidence of your contrition. Acknowledge our superiority and we will consider treating you as a worthy equal." ... "The magazine should contract with the Pew Forum to design a religious literacy test to screen aspiring fact-checkers." ... "Need I say, if George Bush had said something similar he would have been hurled to the bottom of Hell by all the really important validators." ... "Lets not forget to tax the beautiful, those with high IQs and the highly educated, the healthy, the long-lived, and especially the lazy."Take heed, members of the religious left. Molloy only wants you to be the best you can be.

"Whatever political instinct it is that tells a politician he's got an opening", it appears there are those who simply want to dismiss it. With freedom comes responsibility, for all that we have done and all that we have failed to do. Why not a Democratic Party that affirms the fundamental Right to Life that has been endowed to each one of us from God and affirms God's intention for Marriage and The Family?

Grant Gallicho,Its flattering to find that you are a close reader of my dicta. Or might it be that I am on a watch list?Im curious about one thing - Is Ann Althouse on some sort of watch list for this site? I link to her from time to time. The last time it emboldened Mollie Wilson OReilly to immediately straighten out the confusion in her thought. Now for some reason she is mentioned today by you. Is AA a threat to orthodoxy? Just asking. Youll be heartened to learn that I console myself with the thought that the more time gatekeepers spend patrolling the borders for heretics means less time available for them to cite their unaccountably admired oracle Jonathan Chait.On a personal note I once worked on Parnassus Heights in San Francisco where the view is sublime and so have never been tempted to dwell on Mt. Olympus.

Don't flatter yourself, Patrick--or succumb to paranoia. There's no watch list. Our blog comes equipped with an amazing feature called a search engine. As for the rest of your comment, Q.E.D.

I regret to inform you, Grant, that I remain exceedingly flattered that you would fire up your powerful search engine to monitor a wretch like me. Is the frightful instrument located at the top of Morningside Heights, the better to survey the wreckage outside fortified Obamaland?

Zing. Careful, Patrick. You're starting to sound like a leftist.

My pious healing duties accomplished I have one more (and absolutely final) request, caro Grant. Your statement above about the tea party strikes me as the most positive thing ever said about that phenomenon by a contributor on this site, truly a notable occurrence. If you have the time it would be interesting to hear how you came to your present position. Or did you always harbor these sentiments but kept them under wraps until now?

You continue to do me great honor, now by trying to classify me. But I'm afraid you'll have trouble fitting me into your categories and you may not find it worth your while to do so.But I do agree with the sentiments that Lilla expressed in the excerpts included in my first comment above. Assuming you don't want to probe my views any further today do you happen to have anything substantive to say about Lilla's point?

Does being classified bother you, Patrick? I can see how it might. Then again, that's a risk one takes when speculating that "even (especially?) on the religious left the impulse to ridicule seems almost impossible to resist"--especially when one traffics so often in the rhetoric of ridicule.As for Lilla (tickled to know you care): I think he's basically right, even though he's cherry-picking Boehner on the import of the election. I don't think the Tea Party is especially coherent, but it's given voice to concerns the Democrats would be crazy to dismiss.

According to Ann Althouse, it is not the role of Government to protect our fundamental Right to Life upon which our Right to Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness depends even though our Founding Fathers stated, unanimously, "...and to protect these Rights, governments are instituted by men." We could all use a trip down memory lane.

On the contrary, far from being bothered by your response, I find it interesting that it is so important for you to classify others before discussing substance. If its a help to your powers of argumentation, by all means classify away, caro Grant.Im glad to see that you too agree with at least some of Lillas opinions, even though its probably embarrassing to find yourself in the same boat as a certified reprobate like me. It shouldnt take so long to get to substance, I would have thought.I will have to cut this exchange short, though there is much more to my views that I am sure you would find it fascinating to explore. Ive taken it upon myself to comfort those afflicted by the barbs thrown at them by some on this website (an advanced query can supply details) and so I must pursue my mission of mercy to them. I tell them to occasionally look at Althouse - and to stay away from Jonathan Chait and other comic sources favored here, however sorely they might be tempted.I also must watch Keith Olberman. Last word to you.

My, my, Grant, you have ruffled the peacock's feathers!

Zounds... Now I see that I have gone too far. Ive distracted the veritable Scourge of the Papacy from his accustomed rounds. Admirers of his brand of coverage should be duly alarmed -- Is there a substitute analyst in readiness to analyze the full range of prelatical faults when all this intellectual firepower is devoted to a single insignificant miscreant? Perhaps the gang of two will soon elaborate upon the hints expressed above about a changed tone in the coverage of the Tea Party and assorted movements -- or will the mirth continue?

You're a regular Florence Nightingale, Patrick, ministering to the persecuted whatever-you-ares (I couldn't care less about classifying you). I know you'd rather not talk about the fact that you criticized "the religious left" for its "impulse to ridicule" even though that's your preferred mode of communication here on dotCommonweal. And that you're deriving some pleasure from distracting me from my other duties. But that was my point. People whose regular register is mockery don't get to rip others for excessive ridicule.

Regarding Mark Lilla, the Tea Party and assorted movements, I agree that there is an opening and The Democratic Party should seize the moment. Why would The Democratic Party not seize the moment and affirm the fundamental, unalienable Right to Life that has been endowed to each one of us from God and is thus unalienable and should be protected, and affirm God's intention for Marriage and The Family? According to Mark Lilla, we have chosen to keep our politics illuminated by Divine Revelation and we have suffered because of that: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/magazine/19Religion-t.html?pagewanted=... truth is, when we have failed to keep our politics illuminated by Divine Revelation we have suffered because our fundamental Right to Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness is endowed to us from God and the purpose of all that is, seen and unseen, is what God intended.

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About the Author

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.