In his New York Times column last week, David Brooks contrasted "the educated class," which supports Barack Obama and his liberal worldview, with the tea party movement, "a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against ... the concentrated power of the educated class."
Many conservatives read Brooks as putting down the tea partiers. I think he was indicating distaste for both sides. "I'm not a fan" of the tea party movement, he wrote, but he also noted, "Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the year."
Still, it sounds like Brooks was indulging the conceit of so many liberals that they are, well, simply smarter than conservatives.
But when you look back over the surges of enthusiasm in the politics of the last two years, you see something like this: The Obama enthusiasts who dominated so much of the 2008 campaign cycle were motivated by style. The tea party protesters who dominated so much of 2009 were motivated by substance.
Remember those rapturous crowds that swooned at Barack Obama's rhetoric. "We are the change we are seeking," he proclaimed. "We will be able to look back and tell our children" that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
A lot of style there, but not very much substance. A Brookings Institution scholar who produced nothing more than that would soon be looking for a new job.
In retrospect, the Obama enthusiasts seem to have been motivated by a yearning for a rapturous, nuanced leader. Send that terrible tyrant with his tortured sentences and moral certitude back to Texas and install The One in the White House, and all would be well.
The Obama enthusiasts have achieved that goal, and perhaps it's not surprising that, as polls show, they're not much engaged in the details of the health care bills or cap-and-trade legislation or looming tax increases and the like. They, or at least most of them, were never much interested in those things anyway.
In contrast, the tea party protesters, many of them as fractious and loudmouthed as Brooks thinks, are interested in substantive political issues. They decry the dangers of expanding the national debt, increasing government spending and putting government in command of the health care sector.