Some sparks of bellicosity are flying among Tea Partiers, but they are dampened by an awkward fact: The politicians and pundits calling most loudly for war are largely the elites who publicly and repeatedly derided the Tea Partiers as unwashed rubes. And the hawks' arguments for intervening in a civil war in North Africa spring from the same faith in government and distrust of the populous that drove the domestic big-government agenda that galvanized the Tea Parties.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was one of the earliest lawmakers calling for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone in Libya -- which is the same as going to war in Libya, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made clear. Kerry's hawkishness -- on display today just as it was in the buildup to our invasion of Iraq -- is of a piece with his faith in big government, which you see in his championing cap-and-trade energy rationing in the name of fighting climate change, and his earning an F from the National Taxpayers Union 16 of the last 17 years (he earned a D in 1996).
Underlying Kerry's faith in government is his evident distrust of the hoi polloi. Last year Kerry explained: "We have an electorate that doesn't always pay that much attention to what's going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what's happening." Of the Tea Partiers, Kerry said: "We've lost our minds. We're in a period of know-nothingism in the country, where truth and science and facts don't weigh in. It's all short-order, lowest-common-denominator, cheap-seat politics."
Kerry distrusts the people and thinks we all need government to tell us how to live. The same is true, unsurprisingly, of other Libya interventionists.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seems to take pride in poking conservatives in the eye: He sided with Kerry on climate change last year, bailed out the banks in 2008, and, referring to critics of his immigration policies, Graham promised to "tell the bigots to shut up." Last summer, Graham dismissed the Tea Party as "unsustainable," complaining, "they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out."
Today, he joins his friend and fellow "maverick" cap-and-trader, bailout backer John McCain in leading the unofficial GOP War Caucus. Graham uses Libya to needle Obama, warning of "grave consequences" and declaring, "refusal to act will go down as one of the great mistakes in American foreign-policy history." McCain, too, is beating the war drums.
Leading the platoon of pundits for intervention is neoconservative David Frum, who has appointed himself the responsible grown-up of the Right, which largely entails telling the Tea Partiers to shut up. Frum, after last November's election, praised "level-headed" moderates like Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk while attacking "ultra-radical Rand Paul" of Kentucky.
Frum snarled at the time: "The Tea Party radicals were supported by all the weight and noise of talk radio and Fox News." And Frum -- as he did in 2003 when trying to purge the "unpatriotic conservatives" who warned against an Iraq quagmire -- took on the role of ideological enforcer: "It needs to be pounded home: The radicals must not be allowed to claim the title of the real Republicans."
Kerry, McCain, Graham and Frum don't trust the people, but they do trust government. In fact, they sometimes show almost a fetish for government power. All four have, at one point or another, signed on to the global warming agenda Al Gore has described as a "Dunkirk" moment and "Apollo moonshot." All four men cheered the Troubled Asset Relief Program as a savior of the American economy and derided its critics as childish.
They talk of American Greatness, but they mean "federal government greatness."
Instead of a snake hissing "don't tread on me," these central planners would have the American people be a well-trained dog, ready to heel to a wise government master and sic on command.
Can this crew of Massachusetts liberals, big-government Republicans and elitist conservatives persuade the Tea Partiers -- until now opponents of the nanny state -- to join in the effort to manage the outcome of Libya's civil war?
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.