Realpolitik #3 – Why the Tea Party is a Puerile Movement

Less than a week ’til America goes to the polls, and I’ll weigh in with my last piece of pre-election analysis. As the title suggests, it’s a critique of the Tea Party movement. Here’s hoping the losses for the Dems aren’t as bad as forecasted.


Obama’s failure at the polls can be chalked up to a number of things. The economy, the tortuous passage of ObamaCare, the lack of action on climate change, conservative disinformation strategies, and the list goes on. But another, rather significant, movement that has really gained in popular currency during the Obama administration is the Tea Party movement.

For those of you who don’t know what the Tea Party movement is, I suggest you check out wikipedia for a crash course. If you can’t be bothered, basically it’s a grassroots populist movement originally formed in the 18th century. It’s ideology is concerned with ensuring government is small, taxes are kept low, spending is efficient and national debt and budget deficits are avoided wherever possible. Given Obama’s liberal spending policies and expansive social policy, it is thus no great surprise that the Tea Party has been gaining momentum over the past two years of his presidency.

A Tea Party march on the Capitol Building

Now, the libertarian movement is one with which I have a few disagreements, but none that inhibit me from viewing it as a legitimate philosophical school of thought. The Tea Party protesters, however, stink of hypocrisy. The movement is hypercritical of Obama’s healthcare reform legislation; they argue that it will drive up the cost of insurance premiums and force consumers into buying a product they may not want.

Let’s rewind to 2001, and the post-9/11 furore. The Bush administration acted quickly by signing into law the Patriot Act, a bill that dramatically reduced the level of privacy available to Americans by loosening regulations on the government accessing the financial records, phone bills and email history of notionally ‘suspicious parties.’ This legislation was met with widespread approval, and was seen (correctly) as absolutely essential to ensuring the security and ongoing prosperity of the American peoples. Yet when Obama introduces legislation that gives everyone at least a basic level of medical care should they fall ill, the Tea Party conservative are up in arms. It doesn’t make one iota of sense.

If we want to go back further in history, we can once again see examples of selective memory loss in the Tea Party movement. In 1981, Ronald Reagan was greeted with unprecedented fanfare for cutting marginal income tax by something like 25%. What gets much less attention as we look back is TEFRA – The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, passed just a year later. This was the largest tax increase in American history, estimated to increase the tax burden by some $37.5 billion per year. And yet, when conservatives who align themselves with the Tea Party rail against Obama for shelling out $800 million on the stimulus package and a similar amount on healthcare, they fail to remember that Reagan, by repealing his own election promises, earned the government 25 times the amount that Obama spent on healthcare and financial stimulus combined.

The Tea Party movement is a small-government, low-tax, low-spending conservative political movement. But even more than that, it is an anti-politics, anti-incumbency, anti-liberal movement. This is the crux of its ideological position, and this is the reason I am staunchly against the Tea Party movement.

Anti-politics is a juvenile way of conducting business. It selectively criticises policies advocated by usually Democratic administrations, and ignores the selfsame policies conducted by the small-government Republican Party. This is something the Republicans, led by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich & co. have advocated particularly well during this election cycle. One thing, however, is conspicuous by its absence: actual concrete policy platforms.

The Republicans, while very critical of Obama’s big spending policies, haven’t proposed any particularly durable policy alternatives; their opposition to the healthcare bill was based not on an urge to form bipartisan, centrist consensus, but rather to merely the delay the passage of the bill by proposing a bill they knew the Dems would not accept. The challenge for the GOP (and I am trying not to conflate them with the Tea Party here) is to show that they can actually effectively conduct politics when the ball is in their court, as I expect it to be after the midterms. Then, perhaps, we will learn a couple of things: a) were the GOP jumping on the Tea Party bandwagon because it helped their electoral chances? and b) will the Tea Party criticise the GOP should they try to expand government, particularly given the fact their most recent Presidential candidate, John McCain, is in favour of what will likely be an expensive cap-and-trade bill.

That’s Realpolitik for this week; next time I’ll have something to say on the midterm election results.


About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

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