The Tea Party as the latest face of Jacksonian America

In the Introduction to his 2001 book, Special Providence, American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the World, Walter Russell Mead writes:

Americans through the centuries seem to have had four basic ways of looking at foreign policy, which have reflected contrasting and sometimes complementary ways of looking at domestic policy as well. Hamiltonians regard a strong alliance between the national government and big business as the key both to domestic stability and to effective action abroad, and they have long focused on the nation’s need to be integrated into the global economy on favorable terms. Wilsonians believe that the United States has both a moral obligation and an important national interest in spreading American democratic and social values throughout the world, creating a peaceful international community that accepts the rule of law. Jeffersonians hold that American foreign policy should be less concerned about spreading democracy abroad than about safeguarding it at home; they have historically been skeptical about Hamiltonian and Wilsonian policies that involve the United States with unsavory allies abroad or that increase the risks of war.

Finally, a large populist school I call Jacksonian believes that the most important goal of the U.S. government in both foreign and domestic policy should be the physical security and the economic well-being of the American people. “Don’t Tread on Me!” warned the rattlesnake on the Revolutionary battle flag; Jacksonians believe that the United States should not seek out foreign quarrels, but when other nations start wars with the United States, Jacksonian opinion agrees with General Douglas MacArthur, that “There is no substitute for victory.”

And the author would have us believe that the “four schools” have shaped American foreign (and domestic) policies from the time of the Founding Fathers to the present. And his thesis is convincing.

William Galston, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings, and now a regular columnist for the Wall Street Journal, writes that the Tea Party is one more example of Jacksonian America (at its best, at its worst, he doesn’t say).

“The tea party is Jacksonian America, aroused, angry and above all fearful, in full revolt against a new elite—backed by the new American demography—that threatens its interests and scorns its values.”

Now of the four currents of which Mead speaks two, the Jeffersonian and Wilsonian, seem to be owned by the Democratic Party, and two, the Hamiltonian and Jacksonian, by the Republicans. I would agree with the prominent place of the Hamiltonian current in the Republican Party, and have myself, for most of my lifetime, considered the Republicans as the Party of the business classes.

But this, being the party of business, it seems, is no longer enough. In fact it may even be incorrect as the now growing Republican opposition to Wall Street, if not Main Street, suggests. For there are a growing number of Republicans, still within the Party, but wanting to be something else, something in addition to being defenders and promoters of corporate America.

These Republicans call themselves Tea Partiers, and while doing so seem to be really staking their claim on Jacksonian America, on what they see as an earlier time when self-reliance, individualism, loyalty and courage and all such (read John Wayne and Ronald Reagan) held sway.

And while they will tell you they care about the First Amendment they obviously care passionately about the Second, this more than anything else perhaps, putting them at odds with the Democrats, and with much of the country.

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