In the end, our history tells us that the New Deal and the Great Society were essentially aberrations in the larger American saga of governmental timidity. The fear of not doing something has occasionally outweighed the national inclination not to act. But only rarely, and, it has become obvious, not now.
That fact is what the tea partyers have going for them — not, as they claim, adherence to self-defined and bizarre constitutional principles or a groundswell of anger at an intrusive government, but rather an appeal to the basic American fear of government action at all. Though they purport to be a bold new populist force in the American polity, they are actually a timid old force.
And that’s a problem. Because change is only a slogan, because Americans don’t have the political will to encourage their government to act boldly when necessary, and because we shrink from addressing the things that assail us, we aren’t likely to get the car out of the ditch we’re in anytime soon. And while Americans cling to their self-image of intrepidness here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are on target to demonstrate at the polls that we are anything but.