There is a small measure of truth in this. Much of the Tea Party’s success has come from its independence, its adamant refusal to be co-opted by establishment politicians. It is true, too, that effective organization has turned the Tea Party into a potent political force, one capable of swaying elections. What Van Jones and others on the Left miss, however, is that these are as much the products as the causes of the Tea Party’s success, which hinges on a far more critical point: a political platform with genuine and widespread appeal.
No comparably energizing agenda can be found on the Left. To the extent that progressives have a cause, it is a reactionary one. While the Tea Party has pushed for meaningful and popular reform – an end to fiscal recklessness decades in the making, for instance – the Left stands mostly for keeping things the same. Hence its main objectives of protecting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, raising taxes on corporations and the rich, and helping the re-election of an unpopular president who has already implemented much of their agenda. Dressing up this platform in the inspirational language of the American dream does not disguise the fact that is utterly conventional, a continuation of left-wing politics as usual. It is surely no coincidence that beyond some platitudes about aiding the beleaguered middle class, Van Jones’s group, Rebuilding the American Dream, offers no new or compelling ideas to bring the country out of its current economic malaise.
The staleness of this agenda is notable because Van Jones is said to represent the best and brightest of the Left’s new leadership. If true, that would argue against a left-wing rival to the Tea Party emerging any time soon. So far from inspiring, Van Jones is a prophet of doom who in his book The Green Collar Economy counseled Americans to accept that “the very notion of economic growth” is “something human society will someday be forced to abandon.” Indeed, for all his appeals to the American dream, Van Jones is remarkably tone deaf about what that dream entails. Where the Tea Party calls for less government and freer markets to revitalize entrepreneurship and revive job growth, Van Jones and the Left’s would-be movement leaders channel their energies into condemning capitalism and corporate America. Referring to the Occupy Wall Street protestors, Jones tellingly applauded them for going to the “scene of the crime.”
Whatever Americans’ frustrations with Wall Street, it’s difficult to imagine the country rallying around the cause of class warfare and anti-capitalism. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but is not a substitute for substance. For Van Jones and others on the Left who covet the Tea Party’s clout, that’s a lesson that has yet to be learned.
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