1. Ross D. judiciously notes that this large and diverse movement that is the Tea Party includes both strange and fringey and responsible and sensible elements. There are some Birchers, racists, conspiracy theorists, hyper-libertarians, and perhaps a few ex-witches. But the center of the Tea Party is about limited, sustainable government these days. That’s why the commercials this year are almost exclusively about economics, and, as movements go, this one is trying hard to be informed and un-demagogic.
2. But a Tea Party does not a majority make. The most enthusiastic and very anti-Democratic voting group this time, others studies show, is the old. The old are disgruntled, it seems to me, because they’re living in a world where they believe their money is not going to last as long as they will. The era of pensions is about over. Social Security was never enough, of course, but it’s going to be less and less. And the same with Medicare. Then, of course, there’s the gradually emerging birth dearth—with more and more older people dependent on fewer and fewer young (in a time when familial love is explaining less and less of personal behavior). The 401k alternative has always depended on the stock market defeating inflation by about two to one. Nobody has any confidence in that kind of future, and people feel put upon in having to tie their security to risky investments they don’t really understand.
3. So more and more people who are approaching retirement age now kind of know that retirement in prosperity will likely not be an option for them. They’ll have to keep working in a techno-society full of preferential options for the young. Many will be stuck with the indignity of downward mobility combined with increasing frailty or general vulnerability. We can say that older voters this time know enough to know that government can’t really promise them security, and that policies that promote general prosperity are most likely to benefit them. The great Founder of modern liberalism—John Locke—said that in a free country you’d better be rich if you’re going to get old, and, unfortunately in some ways, that’s probably more true and more difficult than ever.