Recently I’ve done a lot of referencing to the Tea Party. Most people know the name, but what are they? Who are they?
If you’ve only read this blog, you’d think they are a bunch of Southern gun-toting, racist, extremists from the right who don’t think Obama was born in the United States, want to kick out all illegal immigrants, misconstrue the history of the United States, are for spending on wars and against spending on health care, and would cut off social security for the most needy.
Fact: They aren’t all from the South.
Ok, that’s stereotyping. But the Tea Party is exceptionally susceptible to this kind of generalisation. Their public image and the way they conduct themself and the overwhelming demographics that make up the party just make it that easy. As well as convenient. They have rallies where you are bound to find racist signs in regards to Obama, they are staunch conservatives who cherish their right to bear arms and often talk about taking matters ‘into their own hands’, they blame all the problems they perceive on people who don’t agree with them (Democrats, lefties, illegal immigrants, Europeans, etc.), and talk about cutting spending to eliminate the deficit but can’t actually cite programs specifically so they denounce the whole social security system.
But enough about who the people are. That’s worth a post on its own (the stereotyping of the Tea Partiers, and what their public image is). Taking them apart could go on for a long, long time.
What is important for us is what their party stands for.
What does the party believe in? They believe in three principles that enforce all their more specific policies: Individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom. These principles, by themself, aren’t wrong and don’t make for a flawed party platform. It’s their interpretation that makes the Tea Party, itself, flawed. Not all of their policies (as you will see) are so ridiculous or flawed. But it’s the one or two or three that just sound stupid that makes this fringe group lose their credibility (as well as those easy-to-stereotype loons that preach these one or two or three things over and over again).
The party settled on ten points to make up the Contract from America (not the from – indicative of the self-importance that this party has placed on itself). 1000+ were submitted online by supporters, then narrowed down to 50, then to 10. They all align, I guess, with the three principles. But the problem is that to any objective person, they are on the border between stupid and ridiculous. They are, in full:
- Protect the Constitution – Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
- Reject Cap & Trade – Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation’s global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.
- Demand a Balanced Budget – Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.
- Enact Fundamental Tax Reform – Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution.
- Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government in Washington – Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities, or ripe for wholesale reform or elimination due to our efforts to restore limited government consistent with the US Constitution’s meaning.
- End Runaway Government Spending – Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.
- Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care – Defund, repeal and replace the recently passed government-run health care with a system that actually makes health care and insurance more affordable by enabling a competitive, open, and transparent free-market health care and health insurance system that isn’t restricted by state boundaries.
- Pass an “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy – Authorize the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation, lowering prices and creating competition and jobs.
- Stop the Pork – Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.
- Stop the Tax Hikes – Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to begin in 2011.
Like I said, read these by themself and they make for a good read.And there’s some substantial policy in there, let’s be honest.
What is interesting is they have a clear and outlined energy and climate change policy. More articulate and politically effective than what either the Republicans or Democrats have at the moment. Agree with the idea of ‘Reject Cap & Trade’ or not, you can’t deny that it’s a clear policy and that they provide an alternative to reduce pollution and increase self-sustainable energy options with the “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy.
It’s a viable alternative to a voting population who, frankly, have no idea where the Democrats or Republicans stand on the issue.
Similarly interesting is that they do the same with health care. They clearly say that they don’t want it (what the GOP does to …) and then provide a framework for an alternative (… the GOP doesn’t do this latter part). The key element to this is the transcending of state boundaries – an element the most liberal of senators proposed in the debates but was shot down because it was going ‘too far’ (a call made by other Democrats!). If the health care bill had been passed with this, it would have been so strong and so robust that health costs would have plummeted over a five year period. Instead, we are looking at a moderate drop in costs over ten years.
Again, it’s a viable alternative to the people who the Democrats neglected to sell (effectively) their own health care bill and to which the Republicans voted ‘no’ against every time, but never explained why.
Capping spending is one of those economic divide positions in the US. If you’re right, you want to cut spending to reduce the deficit to balance the budget. If you’re on the left, you want to increase spending to stimulate the economy to get out of the recession (which it is in all but technicalities). Again, clear policy as they state what the position will be (inflation + population growth). Agree or not, it’s clear and uncomplicated, which makes good for campaign spots.
Tax reform, stopping the pork, balanced budget (to a degree, because running deficits isn’t the worst thing ever) all sound good too. They gain traction with a population who is sick with a status quo that has never delivered on these things (for whatever reasons – which we will ignore when discussing the Tea Party because they choose to ignore the reasons too).
It’s when it comes down to ‘protect the Constitution’ and instituting a tax system that is no longer than the constitution, stopping all tax increases, and ‘Constitutionally Limited Government’ that things get silly. Someone needs to sit down the whole population of the United States and provide them a history lesson on the Constitution. Not who wrote it and all that jazz, but the fact that the Constitution is a complete document. There’s nothing in the constitution that says people, when flying on airlines within the United States, must have their tray tables locked and stowed and their seats in the full upright position during take-off and landing. But people are ok with that federal law. In fact, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the federal government having control over flight laws. But again, no one protests it.
Similarly, the Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to rule laws unconstitutional. But cases like this have been presented to them and laws have been ruled as such and struck down in the past.
The Constitution is immortalised in the United States far beyond its actual purpose and use. It’s served its purpose in establishing a government for an establishing country. Now the country is established, Americans need to think a bit wider. Thankfully there’s one party (Democrats) that do think beyond the Constitution, but often fall short in their aims. Americans, as a whole, need to move past the hallowed Constitution, or at least accept that it’s not a document that you can effectively govern a modern country with.
That’s where the Tea Party first sets itself up for ridicule. The next is no tax increases. Taxes need to be able to be moved. It helps with the economic system that they have. If the government started to provide more and more services to the population as a whole, then they need to move broad tax rates. It’s how you fund various programs. Similarly, it’s how you fund things like wars (if you’re an intelligent president) – you raise taxes (not necessarily income, but, say, on business or resources) to raise the money. Unless you’re running massive surpluses and banking the money in some phenomenal fix-term deposit accounts (I hear ING has good rates …). Being completely against all tax raises is so ridiculous that, again, the Tea Party loses favour with 90% of the economists out there.
And finally, the Tea Party talks about their balanced budget. That’s good and all, but how? They say cut spending across the board. Ok, so on military expenditure? On the funding to the troops? On border security? On airline security? To counter-intelligence and intelligence agencies? No no no, you don’t see them saying that. Instead it’s ‘welfare programs’. Unemployment benefits often gets hit straight away. Problem is, close enough to 10% of the working population is on these. Why? Because a Republican government oversaw the greatest economic meltdown that put these people out of their jobs. If you take away these benefits, you have a serious long-term economic problem. If you keep with the benefits, you have a medium-term budget problem. Neither are enjoyable, but surely getting some 20 million people into work in the next 5 years is better than having them unemployed for the rest of their working life.
But rarely does anyone in the Tea Party actually cite a program that can be cut and provides a good reason. They say “People shouldn’t rely on government for money.” True enough, but what if you have no other alternative. The government should provide the safety net that people need as the last resort. I think people would rather work and earn more than the government provides rather than not work and be worse off.
The Tea Party could get taken more serious if they had a viable way to actually balance their budget without abstract attacks on the worse off in the country. Similarly, the Democrats could actually balance the budget with a stiff upper lip and proper selling to the voters if they were serious about things. I will write a post about this next.
But, at the end of the day, the Tea Party isn’t portrayed as the party of loons because of policy alone. I’ve outlined their main planks, and some of them are very appealing to demographic that is motivated by the right-side of politics.
They are the party of loons because of their messengers. For example, Rand Paul, the darling of the Tea Party. He was interviewed by Rachel Maddow in a straight up-and-down interview. When she asked him if he supported the Civil Rights Act, he said he supported most of the principles behind it but defended the right for private businesses to carry out segregation and formal racism. He tries to gather himself, but he does enough damage to himself and to the Tea Party.
Don’t believe me? Watch it here:
Like I said, just the party’s policies don’t make this party a of loons.
The messengers do that job enough.