While many on the Right are energized by the level of engagement on display by grassroots libertarians and conservatives in last week's "Tea Party" protests, conservatives should fight the urge to get too excited about this impressive show of force by the Right for one simple reason: It's all happened before.
No, there has never been a one-day coordinated mass protest like this on the Right. That much is new. But that is all that is new about this. The symptom was a new one, but the disease remains the same.
The Right, in opposition, is always pure, populist and principled. Without hands on the levers of power, professional conservative activists and operatives always return to principle. The Tea Parties were just the most recent manifestation of what the Right always does when on the downslope of political influence. It is not unique and it is not surprising.
There has been much argument over exactly how grassroots these protests really were. Were they an authentic spontaneous reaction to the big government initiatives of Obama or were these protests manipulated by professional conservatives looking for an event to justify their opposition to the President?
Like many arguments there is a bit of truth on both sides. Top-down activist groups like Freedom Works and cheerleaders like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News clearly pulled strings and pushed buttons to get people out to their state capitols and town squares. It is also true that those people did in fact show up. Many of them average people angry that a culturally leftist President has seen fit to use the treasury to bailout those corporations and financial "masters of the universe" responsible for our economic predicament.
Critics point at this new display of anti-government sentiment and shout hypocrisy. They wonder where this outrage was when President Bush was raiding the treasury to pay for his compassionate conservatism and elective wars in the Middle East. Some authentic conservatives and libertarians at the tea parties retort that they have been consistent, that they opposed the big government Bush administration as much as they oppose the Obama administration.
And there's the rub. Some of these Tea Party conservatives, those of the Old Right and libertarian persuasion, did oppose the Bush administration. Indeed, these Tea Party protests look and feel very much like those Ron Paul rallies that sprung up organically during the campaign. This is not a coincidence.
The Paul movement started something on the Right. It tapped into an anger that had always been just below the surface. Now that economic conditions seem to have proved the angry ones correct, this movement has grown. The GOP and the professional conservative class, instead of trying to put out the fire on the Right to preserve their power, are stoking it. Now conservatives, who during the Bush administration were encouraged to be accommodating, are now being encouraged to release their true feelings about big government.
Professional conservatives are hoping that these grassroots conservatives and libertarians can be used, once again, as pawns against their political opponents and as foot soldiers in their eventual return to power.
It is, in essence, 1994 all over again. Just as Newt Gingrich melded the conservative movement with the Center-Right Perot populists to achieve power, today's professional conservatives will seek to ride this Tea Party wave of anger right back to power and promptly sell out that revolution, just as Gingrich and his cohorts did.
There is a difference between being anti-state and anti-Left. Anti-stateists believe that governments are essentially inefficient and encourage corruption. Their conservatism means to decentralize the power of the political elites — liberal and "conservative."
The professional conservative class is not anti-state. They want power. They want their hands on the levers of power in order to serve "conservative interests." But, in so doing, they leave in place government mechanisms that they oppose when controlled by their political opponents.
This Tea Party protest was, in its purest form, anti-state. It was a shot across the bow of a government who encouraged and then bailed out those corporate interests that left our economy in shambles.
For others, the protest was just an anti-Obama tantrum, a chance to throw bombs now that they no longer have to apologize for a President who called himself conservative.
So be enthusiastic about this "new" Rightist phenomenon if you want to, but if history is any guide, the professional conservatives will use and abuse these grassroots conservatives to get back into power, promptly sellout the principles of the movement, and then convince half of those they sold out that their betrayal is better than the alternative.
Perhaps this time will be different and authentic conservatives will throw off their professional conservative masters and show the country what true Old Right conservatism really is. However, if past is prelude, one should not hold their breath.