POSTED ON APRIL 28, 2010:
Tea Party: Why the Right Doesn't Get It
It's the intellectual inconsistency, stupid
Larry Elder, a black conservative columnist and Tea Party speaker, has a piece out this week titled "Tea Party: Why the Left Doesn't Get It."
Setting aside the question of why any African-American would vote Republican (did any Jews vote for the Nazis?), Elder's column unintentionally reveals the intellectual inconsistency of the Tea Party.
For liberals, the question about the Tea Party concerns the timing of its origin: February 2009. Where, they ask, were these self-declared deficit hawks when Bush and his Republican Congress turned Clinton's budget surplus into record deficits? Where were these advocates of small government when Bush hired the biggest roster of federal employees in history and created a new federal department -- the Department of Homeland Security -- that became a national laughingstock due to its incompetence? Where were these Constitutional purists when Bush suspended habeas corpus, built concentration camps and signed off on torture?
"As to Bush's non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending, (right-wing) people did complain -- lots of them and frequently," Elder points out.
And he's right. There was grumbling. I remember.
But there weren't anti-Bush rallies, much less scary guys showing up at presidential appearances brandishing automatic weapons. Under Bush, of course, said scary guys would have been declared "enemy combatants" and tortured into psychosis like Jose Padilla.
"Better late than never," Elder lamely retorts.
Another right-wing columnist, Jonah Goldberg, goes so far as to call the Tea Party "a delayed Bush backlash."
But 57 percent of Tea Partiers say they like Bush. Huh.
On most of the policies Tea Partiers claim to deplore -- deficit spending, expansive government, the bank bailouts -- Obama is identical to Bush. The only difference between the two men is the color of their skin. Which makes lefties think anti-Obama racism is the Tea Party's true driving force.
As Paul Butler wrote in the New York Times: "No student of American history would be surprised to learn that when the United States elects its first non-white president, a strong anti-government movement rises up."
"Slanderous hogwash," Goldberg calls the charge that the Tea Party is motivated by racism.
If not racism, then what?
Stupidity. Or at least intellectual dishonesty.
Elder's qualifier that righties didn't like "Bush's non-defense, non-homeland security domestic spending" is revealing. Bush's two wars and tax cuts for the wealthy will account for a staggering 70 percent of the federal deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. (Obama's bailouts will cost five percent.)
Either you're against deficits, or you're not. Making an exception for optional military spending -- neither the Afghan nor the Iraq war was necessary -- is like saying you adore sharks except for all the sharp teeth.
My leftie friends find the Tea Party frustrating. They applaud Tea Partiers' distrust of government, their willingness to take to the streets to express their grievances. If only the Left had their energy!
Progressives also find much to like in Tea Partiers' calls for a return to core values embodied by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. But only in theory.
The Tea Party's selective Chinese-menu style approach to constitutional purity and small government is appalling. They're loud and proud when it comes to the right to own guns, yet oppose or remain silent when it comes to the right of gays to sleep with whomever they want -- and marry him. They decry government intrusion in the form of healthcare reform, but have nothing to say about the fact that the NSA is listening to their phone calls and reading their email. They complain about illegal immigrants but not about the corporations that hire them. And what should be more terrifying to opponents of big guvmint than reserving the right -- as Bush did and Obama does -- to assassinate American citizens just for fun? (The Tea Party is silent on this too.)
If the Tea Party is to emerge as a potent force in American politics, it will need to develop a coherent platform with broad appeal across class, party and racial lines. An appeal to fiscal sanity, constitutional freedoms and a government that keeps out of our bedrooms could form the foundation of a new majority. Otherwise, the Tea Party will be remembered as the latest incarnation of the nativist white wing of the GOP (c.f. "angry white males" circa 1995).
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