The Nation's Pulse
By Jeffrey Lord
Hush puppies and the Tea Party.
The Republican run House of Representatives passed a debt limit plan last night 269-161. With Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords returning from death's door to cast a yes vote. Good for her.
You always think of these things together, right?
No? Well, you should.
Hush puppies, for those coming in late, were once the casual shoe of choice in the late 1950s. By the 1990s they were pretty much vanished, disappeared to the fashion twilight zone along with tri-corner hats and powdered white wigs for men. They sold somewhere in the neighborhood of a pathetic 30,000 pairs a year, usually out of small family-run shoe stores in the small towns of off-the-beaten path America. The company that made them -- Wolverine -- was on the verge of giving up with the once iconic shoe from the Eisenhower-era that was, in 1950s beatnik lingo, "nowheresville" by the time of Bill and Hillary.
And then something peculiar happened. Something very much like what has been happening in the House of Representatives the last several days.
Out of the blue, hush puppies were becoming hip in the hippest clubs and bars of Clinton-era Manhattan. Impatient customers began scouting those small town shoe stores and scooping up the remaining supply. A prominent fashion designer was seen clad in them, another called Wolverine wanting to feature them in his spring collection. So did another. One L.A. fashionista mounted a 25-foot inflatable basset hound (the basset hound the Hush Puppy symbol) on the roof of his store, bought and gutted the building next door and turned it into a hush puppy boutique. One movie star of the day walked in personally to pick up a couple pairs of puppies. By 1995, sales had skyrocketed from the lonely 30,000 sales a year to almost half-a-million. The shoes were winning prizes as "best accessory" from fashion big wigs. And on and on it went.
If you've read author Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling classic of a few years back called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, you will recognize this hush puppy story as Gladwell's. Along with other seemingly odd topics like Paul Revere's ride or the sudden drop in the crime rate of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Gladwell posited the idea that:
…the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, or, for that matter, the transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth, or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.
When three characteristics combine -- "contagiousness, the fact that little causes can have big effects… (and) that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment" -- a "tipping point" occurs.
Hush puppy sales take off. Crime falls through the floor. A book sails on to best seller list. Or, as Gladwell also notes, a Boston silversmith's determination to spread the news of an impending British attack "mobilizes an entire region to arms" and an entire revolution is launched. And so on.
To which, this morning, it must be said after that 269-161 vote in the House last night: America has reached a new Tipping Point.
An epidemic of conservatism is sweeping America. And thanks to the Tea Party, yesterday disgracefully accused of terrorism by Vice President Biden (he the vice president in an administration terrified of calling real terrorists terrorists -- seriously!), the country will never be the same again.
Let's start with Gladwell's point of contagiousness, or, as he says in illustrating the point, the importance of understanding that epidemics are an "example of geometric progression."
Remembering that some 40 years separated the popularity peaks of the hush puppy, it should be noted that 78 years have separated the serious and seemingly permanent rise of Big Government from today. From Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to the presidency of Barack Obama is a long time. And Big Government -- the idea that, in the vernacular, "tax and spend" can just sail on endlessly -- seemed like an impregnable fortress of an idea.
But like the hush puppy epidemic, along the way Gladwell's "little causes" began to multiply.
Some seemed insignificant in the day, others of moderate or even large consequence. Here's a partial list:
• 1938: Ohio Senator Robert Taft gains political celebrity as a devout opponent of FDR's New Deal, winning his first Senate race in the anti-New Deal election year of 1938. The same year Democrats lose a record 72 seats in the U.S. House and 6 in the U.S. Senate. Taft loses three bids for the GOP presidential nomination -- in 1940, 1948 and, most spectacularly, to the moderate Republican General Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. But the idea germinates of the GOP as the natural home of political conservative opposition to Big Government.
• 1947: Regnery Publishing, a publisher of conservative books, is created in by Henry Regnery, the father of Alfred Regnery, now the publisher of The American Spectator.
• 1951: William F. Buckley Jr. becomes an unlikely bestselling author at the age of 25 with his first book, God and Man at Yale, published by Regnery. The book is highly controversial, the first serious allegation that a major American educational institution has abandoned its cultural founding principles for a far-left leaning liberal secularism.
• 1955: Buckley creates National Review magazine, the publication designed to promote the cause of conservatism in a culture where Big Government and its left-leaning accoutrements have become the cultural norm. Famously, Buckley declares his intention of "standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'"
• 1961: Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, having delivered a speech at the 1960 Republican National Convention demanding "let's grow up conservatives," authors a bestselling book called The Conscience of a Conservative.
• 1964: Goldwater defeats liberal GOP Establishment choices, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, for the GOP presidential nomination. Losing in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson, Goldwater's nomination victory continues the Taft transformation of the GOP from a party of "dime store New Deal" moderates to conservatives.
• 1966: Actor Ronald Reagan, whose nationally televised speech for Goldwater electrified the budding conservative movement, is elected Governor of California.
• 1967: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. founds The Alternative, a conservative magazine that evolves into The American Spectator. The magazine features conservative intellectual and political thought, spotlighting writers such as Tom Wolfe, Thomas Sowell and George F. Will among many. Also appearing in its pages: Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point.
• 1976: Former Governor Reagan challenges incumbent GOP President Gerald R. Ford for the Republican presidential nomination, specifically challenging as a conservative champion. Reagan loses in a tight battle.
• 1978: New York Congressman Jack Kemp gets the Republican National Committee to endorse classical economics -- "supply-side" or "growth" economics -- as the official position of the national party.
• 1980: Reagan wins the presidency in a landslide and the 8-year "Reagan Revolution" begins.
• 1988: Rush Limbaugh begins his nationally syndicated talk radio show, quickly establishing himself as the premiere talk radio conservative in the land.
• 1990: President George H.W. Bush breaks his "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge and raises taxes. Conservatives abandon him and he loses re-election, winning only 37% of the vote.
• 1994: The GOP sweeps the congressional elections in a conservative tide, making it the House majority party for the first time since 1954. Newt Gingrich becomes Speaker of the House.
• 1995: Bill Kristol creates the Weekly Standard magazine, a magazine of "neoconservative" political and intellectual thought.
• 1996: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and Roger Ailes launch Fox News. It becomes the most-watched cable news channel in America, dwarfing rivals CNN and MSNBC.
• 2001: Sean Hannity's radio show begins national syndication. He is already the co-host of Fox TV's popular Hannity and Colmes. Hannity becomes the number two talk radio star in America behind his friend Rush Limbaugh.
• 2002: Mark Levin, a former Reagan aide and head of the Landmark Legal Foundation, begins his first radio show, now syndicated nationally.
• 2009: The "Tea Party" movement begins, formed by activists concerned over the size of U.S. indebtedness and the national deficit.
• 2009: Levin writes Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. The book sells over 1.2 million copies and becomes the informal bible of "Tea Party" activists, literally waved in the streets at mass rallies and saluted by Tea Party favorite Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
• 2009: Talk radio's Glenn Beck begins a television show on Fox that for a period becomes the hottest show in the five o'clock time-slot. The show lasts only two years, but in its heyday brings considerable attention to Beck and his particular brand of conservatism.
• 2009: Conservative activist film maker James O'Keefe's undercover videos of ACORN result in the congressional defunding of the controversial group after video shows members of the group aiding in prostitution and tax evasion schemes.
That's a fairly considerable if partial list of what Gladwell calls "little causes" -- some admittedly larger or smaller than others.
Yet the point remains: when you add everything on this list together, when you add the fact that one event has frequently spread its contagiousness or been pushed by, in Gladwell's vocabulary, "connectors" -- "people with a particular and rare set of social gifts" who have the ability to "spread" an idea like an epidemic, a Tipping Point is in the works. Henry Regnery, for example, published and made a star of Buckley, who befriended Reagan who inspired Limbaugh, who was befriended by Buckley and placed on the cover of National Review, with Limbaugh in turn aiding Hannity and Levin and Levin's book inspiring the Tea Party etc., etc.
What is evident in this explosive fight over the debt ceiling is what Gladwell calls the force of "geometric progression." The collective weight of it all from the election of Taft to Limbaugh, Hannity and Levin's latest radio shows and the appearance of the Tea Party marking an American "Tipping Point."
This is not the first time a "Tipping Point" has occurred in American history. The lead up to the tipping point that was the American Revolution was replete with incidents and powerful personalities stretching over a century and a half from the initial landing of the Pilgrims (literally sailing across the Atlantic to get out from under British control) to the first "Tea Party" in Boston to the rhetoric of Patrick Henry and the ride of Paul Revere. All these and more finally culminated in the "shot heard 'round the world" when Americans confronted the British militarily at Lexington and Concord. The world was never the same again, the once presumed eternal certainty of British colonial rule on its way to being shattered for good.
There are other "tipping points" -- one culminating in the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, another in the American civil rights movement, with more historical turning points beyond that. Each in their own way propelled by events large and small, championed by personalities famous and unknown.
But make no mistake.
Thanks to the Tea Party movement, Conservatism is on the verge of a major victory that dwarfs the technical and actual realities of whatever the details of the resulting deficit deal passed last night. Yes, there is a long, long way to go. But the idea that America doesn't, in fact, have to be governed for eternity as a debtor nation with a mammoth, out-of-control, ever-expanding government is winning the day. It is tipping the balance with increasing decisiveness against an idea that has become so much a part of conventional wisdom that even some conservatives, startlingly including, inexplicably, the Wall Street Journal, have displayed the wobblies at the thought of confronting the Leviathan. The WSJ's attacks yesterday against Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann and Sean Hannity, saying "sooner or later the GOP had to give up the hostage" -- follows another editorial in which the paper railed against Tea Party members as "hobbits." The paper, sounding like cranky British Tories in 1775 Boston rather than the bold, forward-looking paper that championed the much-derided ideas of Ronald Reagan, wildly bought into the liberal notion that the Tea Party from Hobbitville is somehow holding the government hostage, instead of the other way around. In fact Big Government liberalism has spent decades holding and trying to hold the average American hostage to all manner of outrageous tax rates, taxes and regulations on everything from capital gains to sex (in Harry Reid's Nevada) to soda, SUVs and poker.
Let me see if I understand this without drink, drugs or rock and roll: the Wall Street Journal is saying that because Senator DeMint, Congresswoman Bachmann and Sean Hannity are not caving to President Obama -- they are insufficiently conservative?
My oh my oh my oh my.
The view from here in Hobbitville is that our WSJ friends and other conservatives who seem inexplicably to have wanted to fold out of what Rush Limbaugh bluntly labeled "fear" are betraying nothing as much as an odd editorial-version of a Big Government, tax-and-spend Stockholm syndrome. The psychological shift where the hostage identifies with the hostage-taker. Oh please don't hurt me and I'll compromise!!!!!!!!!
The Tea Party not only would have none of this, the Tea Party's role in all of this marks the definitive and latest American "Tipping Point" -- a point when the balance is discernibly shifting and the world changes. And as that long list of conservatives and the events associated with them indicates, there are a lot of people over eight decades who deserve some thanks.
America -- and the eternally Big Government, tax and spend ideas of the American Left -- will never be seen the same way again. Which is precisely why the Left is writhing and foaming as this goes to Internet print.
The Tea Party is the new Hush Puppy. They are, to use a Gladwell example, Paul Revere. The message has been delivered with maximum impact. The revolution is here.
A new American Tipping Point has arrived.