On Thanksgiving weekend Americans renew family relations and look around for reasons to give thanks. It is not a time for making difficult resolutions or sacrifice. In 2010, the weekend’s apolitical bonhomie may have sucked precious oxygen out of the libertarian insurrection manifest politically by the Tea Party movement. Consequently, breathing space opened up for moderates to govern again and, for one month, they have.
It’s too late to rebrand the year: 2010 will go to the Tea Party for its vivacity and assault on establishment authority everywhere. Nevertheless, the Thanksgiving “National Opt Out Day” campaign went far too far. It was one thing to wear “Don’t touch my junk” T-shirts and eulogize John Tyner’s snarl as the “anthem of modern man.” However, travellers demurred when exhorted to boycott full-body scanners and pat down procedures at airports.
When government officials asked for the public’s co-operation in order to avoid delays and havoc at airports they got it across the board. Rather than heightened political tempers, the weather was the biggest imponderable.
On the impertinence of Muslims who make themselves at home and build mosques, on Wikileaks, Guantanamo and homeland surveillance the insurrectionists ridicule the federal government as effeminate and leave scepticism and civil liberties to snobbish civil libertarians to uphold. The little things about big government that upset genuine libertarians apparently don’t seem to excite mainstream Tea Party supporters.
Thanksgiving weekend’s failed uprising cannot be taken as an endorsement of “Big Brother” knows best. Be it Iran, the Federal Reserves’ monetary policy or regulation of banks and the environment, interested Americans aren’t very confident that those who have the big jobs know what they’re doing. And millions of Americans will tell you how they’d do things differently—if they had responsibility. However, even the loudest American partisans don’t insist on settling complex national issues at airport waiting lines or, for that matter, in polling stations.
No one seriously believes that enough wisdom was unearthed during the mid-term elections to put government on automatic pilot for the next two years. Ideas—and compromise—are back in currency in Washington because elected politicians know that the electorate sent them there to think, not just to repeat themselves.
Over just a month, elected politicians in Washington crossed party lines to ratify an arms treaty with Russia, legalize homosexuality in the armed forces, and extend unemployment benefits, subsidies to business and George Bush’s income tax regime. Furthermore, a President from the heartland of the American auto state signed a free trade deal with South Korea. Not one of these measures was pre-cleared with the public or resolved in the mid-term elections. However, these initiatives—regardless of the back room way they were negotiated—have been generally well received.
Sure, in 2011, they may very well be cornered to make much harder calls. However, elected representatives are at least making decisions again. Despite the popular insurrections of 2008 and 2010, American government remains a complex process in which no one institution or body of opinion is wholly in charge or has histories ear.