Amidst panels and assorted conversations at the annual convention of the American Political Science Association, I am struck by how the very people who claim to be most eager to see a revival of American civic engagement and citizen activism are also the ones who seem most hostile to the Tea Party movement. What do they think civic activism looks like? A Norman Rockwell painting of a New England town meeting?
The fact is, the Tea Party movement is the best example of spontaneous, engaged, and constructive citizen activism we have seen since the civil rights movement. Some communitarian intellectuals may not agree with the opinions being expressed and the goals being pursued, but surely they have to admit that these are citizens moved to speak up by very public-spirited concerns, who are driven by a love of country and an extraordinary reverence for the Constitution, and who—by protesting peacefully, petitioning office holders, reading, and writing—are pursuing reforms of public policy. These folks aren’t bowling alone; they’re uniting to improve the country as they see it.
Yet somehow the people who claim to have been looking under every rock for some sign of life in American civil society refuse to consider that maybe this is the change they have been waiting for.