The Treatment

When Conservatives Play Make-Believe

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Paul Waldman, today, writing at the American Prospect:

The only problem is that there is no tyranny to rebel against. President Barack Obama isn't rounding up his opponents. He isn't punishing them for their free speech. He hasn't even raised anyone's taxes, save for a boost in the federal cigarette tax (we await the event where the tea partiers dump cartons of Marlboros into the Chesapeake). So what are the outrageous crimes that have driven the right to shout "Enough!" until their faces turn red? In the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Obama passed a large stimulus bill. And he might pass health-care reform that could extend coverage to those who don't have it, all while preserving the private insurance system. He's also embraced a market-based initiative for reducing greenhouse emissions. Not exactly a program that would that would offend the delegates of the Continental Congress. What has driven conservatives to distraction isn't tyranny -- it's the oldest political complaint in the book: The other guys won and are attempting to implement their agenda.

Yet when conservatives criticize the administration, today's playacting revolutionaries imagine themselves heroes of liberty, bravely staring down the forces of oppression. This notion must be called what it is: a puerile fantasy. The tea-party sign-waver is not the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. The conservative blogger is not Jacobo Timerman, exposing the barbarity of the Argentine junta only to experience it himself. The activists and operatives and think-tank denizens are not Vaclav Havel, or Ken Saro-Wiwa, or Nelson Mandela.

And they sure aren't Washington, James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson. Precisely because they live in the country those American visionaries made, the Founding Father fetishists risk nothing by objecting to the current administration, no matter the apocalyptic language they use to clothe those objections in glory. They are participants in public debate in the world's oldest democracy--nothing more, nothing less. It's a fine thing to be, but it doesn't make you a hero. And putting on a tricornered hat won't make it so.

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