M.D. Harmon: Conservatives are everywhere, hiding in plain sight


I was a bit surprised a few days ago to see that the national Democratic Party had spent some of its Senate-race boodle on an anti-Charlie Summers ad that calls him a “tea party candidate.”

It was news to me, but I also know that if they thought they could smear a Republican by calling him a sympathizer of the “discredited Bull Moose Party” or a “recently-out-of-the-closet Whig,” they would have done it, no matter how ridiculous it sounded.

In fact, I was wondering why they were saying something nice about the guy, until I realized that they actually did believe it was a smear.

I guess you have to be a liberal to think that way, which is why I didn’t, because I devote a considerable amount of time to not thinking like a liberal—every waking hour, as a matter of fact.

It’s not that Summers is especially inclined to disagree with certain tea party priorities, because they are conservative priorities generally. Issues such as deficit reduction, serious cutbacks in government spending and tax relief are priorities for tea party activists.

My understanding of Summers’ positions is that, as a fiscal conservative, he agrees with all of those things and more.

But to the best of my knowledge, he’s never called himself a tea party sympathizer, although I couldn’t find anything that said he was an opponent, either.

Still, although I like lots of different kinds of food, I’d never call myself a cordon bleu chef, either. I am a bit of a can opener fanatic, though . . .

Anyway, a quick visit to www.summersformaine.com produced the following list of campaign pledges. Summers says he will:

• Foster a climate that will attract new, well-paying jobs to Maine and allow existing businesses to succeed and thrive;

• Fight to create jobs and lower taxes so people can keep more of their hard-earned money.

• Cut spending. Reduce the debt. No more bailouts.

• Repeal and replace Obamacare with common-sense reforms that will increase access to quality and affordable health care to more Americans.

• Develop America’s rich energy reserves to ensure our energy independence.

So, what might the tea party think about such things? Checking out websites, I found www.teaparty-ideas.com, and found the home page headlined, “The Tea Party Movement Message: Reduce Taxes, Reduce Debt, Reduce Spending.”

OK, maybe the Donkey Party is actually sensing something here. So, why do they think that pinning the tea party’s tail on the elephant in the race is such a bad thing? Polls certainly show a majority of Americans think those fiscal goals are worth pursuing.

But then I found the answer, in (of all places) an Oct. 14 column in the New Yorker magazine by uber-liberal Frank Rich.

Under the uncharacteristically optimistic headline, “The Tea Party Will Win in the End,” Rich, a former theater critic and columnist for the New York Times, cites a September poll that showed the tea party with just 25 percent support.

And he also refers to what appears to be a common conclusion (at least on his side of the aisle) that the tea party, which arose in reaction to trillion-dollar deficits, $800 billion stimulus programs and the overall bundle of fiscal hemorrhaging fondly called Obamacare, has shot its bolt, run its course and generally taken up residence in the trashcan of history.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. An August poll showed it with over 40 percent support, and it is much stronger than that in certain states and regions.

There remain dozens of people in Congress who were elected less than two years ago who owe their seats to the movement, and more than one candidate today, including surprise Texas GOP Senate nominee Ted Cruz and Indiana’s Robert Mourdock, who knocked off long-time RINO Sen. Richard Lugar in the party’s primary, who are not unhappy to be endorsed by it.

Indeed, most analysts who take the time to actually talk to tea party types report that it is alive and well, but has moved on (yes, I actually did use those words) from 500,000-person rallies to such prosaic activities as voter education and registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns that have mostly been conducted below the media’s radar.

However, Rich’s disdain does explain the Democrats’ use (or abuse) of the tea party label. If only 25 percent of people approve of it, that must mean 75 percent don’t, right? Therefore, tying Summers to it thus should stigmatize him with most voters.

Maybe. Or maybe not. If it were that much of a handicap, why would Rich think that the tea party is destined to win elections well into the future?

As Rich says (and I don’t usually say this, but this time he’s worth quoting at length): “Our down-to-the-wire presidential contest is arguably just a narrative speed bump in the scenario that has been gathering steam throughout the Obama presidency: the resurgence of the American right, the most determined and coherent political force in America.

“No matter who is elected president, what Romney calls severe conservatism will continue to consolidate its hold over one of our two major parties. And that party is hardly destined for oblivion.

“There’s a case to be made that a tea-party-infused GOP will have a serious shot at winning future national elections despite the widespread liberal belief (which I have shared) that any party as white, old and male as the Republicans is doomed to near or complete extinction by the emerging demographics of 21st-century America.”

While Rich can’t finish a paragraph without offering a gratuitous slam at conservatives, this effort also says some very complimentary things (though he may not think of them as compliments).

For example, he says that it is meaningless that GOP candidates don’t boast of their tea party support because the whole party has adopted the group’s fiscal issues as its own. Liberals who think that implies the GOP’s long-term decline should think again, he says:

“Such is the power of denial that we simply refuse to concede that, by the metric of intractability, at least, conservatives are the cockroaches of the American body politic, poised to outlast us all. And so, after Obama’s victory in 2008, the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg spoke for sentimental liberal triumphalists everywhere when he concluded that America is now ‘in a progressive period’ and that ‘the conservative movement brought about by the Gingrich revolution has been crushed.’ That progressive period lasted all of a year, giving way to the 2009 gubernatorial victories of the conservatives Bob McDonnell (in the purple state of Virginia) and Chris Christie (in blue New Jersey), as well as that summer’s raucous Obamacare protests.”

Rich instead perceives, as many other liberals do not, that the people he and they denigrate as gap-toothed hicks and crazies actually are their next-door neighbors and co-workers—and may even be their doctors, lawyers and local officials.

And he adds, “One can almost write the obituaries for the right that would appear after a Romney defeat right now. Even the millions spent by Karl Rove’s sugar daddies in the post–Citizens United era had failed to sell a far-right GOP to American voters. Once again the republic has been saved from the crazies by good old bipartisan centrist common sense.”

If liberals think that, he has two words of advice: “Dream on.”

And he adds: “‘Where did these people come from?’ asked a liberal friend of mine in Los Angeles this summer as we reminisced about the freak-show characters, from Bachmann to Mr. 9-9-9, who cycled through the Republican-primary season, sequentially drawing unimaginable throngs of supporters.

“As (historian Alan) Brinkley wrote in 1994, it’s a default liberal assumption that the right’s frontline troops are invariably ‘poor, provincial folk’ or an ‘isolated, rural fringe’ or ‘rootless, anomic people searching for personal stability,’ rather than the perfectly conventional middle- and upper-middle-class suburbanites they often are. We don’t want to believe they’re hiding in plain sight in our own neighborhoods and offices.”

Sorry, Frank, but you’re even more right than you know. Conservatives are everywhere.

Or, as your friendly right-wing next-door neighbor or cubicle-mate might say, “We’re here and we’re sincere. Get used to it.”

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:mdharmoncol@yahoo.com.


  1. There’s a tiny kernel of truth in Frank Rich’s column. He’s an old, white, male destined for extinction. This applies to me as well, of course. The difference is that I don’t embrace extinction with the same enthusiasm.


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