Monday, May 03, 2010

A Mad Tea Party

There is an undeniable "Alice in Wonderland" quality to Democratic spin on the meaning and nature of the Tea Party movement.
"This piece of rudeness was more than Alice could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Dormouse fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her...`At any rate I'll never go there again!' said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!'
- Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
It is very very important to Alice Democrats that the Tea Party not make sense and be of no consequence. As long as the Tea Party is of no consequence, it is perfectly reasonable to just turn their back and walk away. But... why do they keep looking over their shoulder? Perhaps the nagging fear of what it means to Democrats if - just if - it is a legitimate movement. Best not to think of that.

So we are treated to endless and increasingly creative efforts to demonize and characterize the Tea Party movement in a negative light. The left framing of the Tea Party has the distinct smell of "lets throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" desperation. We are simultaneously lectured on why the movement is both extremely dangerous and completely unimportant. The framing runs the gamut of "phony populists" (ably deconstructed by Tully in a recent post), Fox News controlled puppets, neo-Nazi radicals, a privileged country club set, rednecks, terrorists, a side show, stupid people, racists, affluent educated elitists, an over-hyped media construct, bullies, fear-mongers, illegitimate, animals, unimportant, dangerous, kooks, seditious, disconnected from reality, fascists, closet Arizonans and worst of all - Republicans. No matter that many of these labels are mutually exclusive and impossible to be true at the same time. Democrats have taken the White Queen's advice to heart:
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
I'm not saying that libertarians, conservatives and Republicans are any less self-serving or better at articulating exactly what the Tea Party movement is about, but at least they are not aggressively and childishly insulting. I mean, is it possible that the tiresome epithet "teabagger" can still be considered edgy and amusing among the cognoscenti in the progressive echo chamber? Apparently so - watch Chris Matthews split a gut laughing at Bill Maher's comedic "teabagger" genius:

Would the GOP love to co-opt the movement? Yes, certainly. But - just guessing here - I suspect that being wooed by Republicans feels better to Tea Partiers than being spit in the face by Democrats.

Frankly, I don't think the hodge-podge of interests that make up the Tea Party movement is all that hard to figure out. It is a group that self-selects by prioritizing one issue above all others - federal spending and the deficit. Get past that issue, and there is little policy agreement among the Tea Party factions. But that does not really matter, because in 2010 they agree one issue trumps all others - It's the spending, stupid.

In contrast to the disparagement from the left, the Tea Party is getting a lot of advice from the right. Some of it is pretty good.

Richard Viguerie - a self-described old-school conservative has this "advice for the tea party":
  • Be independent
  • Go on a policy offensive.
  • Pressure institutions to change.
  • Get involved, then stay involved.
  • Avoid the third-party trap.
"Most important, tea partiers must remain distinct from both political parties. The GOP would like nothing better than to co-opt the movement and control the independent conservatives who are its members. But we must keep in mind that perhaps the single biggest mistake of the conservative movement was becoming an appendage of the Republican Party."
John Samples, author of the "The Struggle to Limit Government" put his "advice to tea partiers" in a video:

Ed Morrissey distills Sample's advice, and dissents:
  • Republicans aren’t always your friends.
  • Some tea partiers like big government.
  • Democrats aren’t always your enemies.
  • Smaller government demands restraint abroad.
  • Leave social issues to the states
"Democrats may not always be opponents to Tea Party instincts, but their current leadership is completely antithetical to those values. That is why endorsing Democrats for Congress in this cycle, even conservative Democrats like Walt Minnick in Idaho, is probably a bad idea. If Democrats keep their majority in November, Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team will keep control of the committee chairs and the agenda in the House. The only way to get rid of that leadership is to elect people other than Democrats to Congress this year, and that means Republicans."
Sample replies to Morrissey:
"I said in the video that Tea Party people should recognize that “Democrats are not always the enemy.” Morrissey rightly says I should not talk about enemies in domestic politics. He adds that the current House Democratic caucus does not deserve support because its leaders favor expanding government. He’s right. Divided government is what we need now. However, I had in mind the more centrist Democrats that supported the tax and spending cuts of 1981 and the tax reform of 1986. I am urging Tea Party people to avoid becoming too partisan. Perhaps some of them will still be in Congress in 2011."
Sample is right. So is Morrisey and Viguerie. The Tea Party must be independent of both political parties, and they need to vote straight Republican in the 2010 mid-terms.

The Tea Party will never be a majority and, at best, can hope to field a 6%-12% general election swing vote in a largely polarized partisan electorate. But that is enough to shape the political landscape if the movement can organize into a predictable voting block. To do that, they need an organizing principle. I have a suggestion - voting consistently for divided government. This is a voting heuristic that speaks directly to the Tea Party's signature issue - out of control federal spending. Divided government has been shown by economists, political scientists, and historians to limit the growth of spending. and the growth of the state.

My advice to the Tea Party, is the same widely ignored advice I proffered to politically impotent libertarians as a prescription for their embarrassing electile dysfunction. Paraphrasing from that post:
What is needed, is an organizing principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote. That organizing principle exists. It is voting for Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain the growth of the state. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately. More importantly, it can collectively be implemented individually regardless of Tea Party faction and independent of major political party leadership.

Whatever the percentage of the electorate that the Tea Party represents, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for divided government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.
The divided government vote in 2010 is a straight Republican vote for the Senate and House of Representatives. If the Republican Party succeeds in retaking the majority in either legislative branch, the divided government vote in 2012 is to re-elect Barack Obama. Will the Tea Party take my advice? Go ask Alice:
"One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." - Lewis Carroll - Alice's adventures in Wonderland

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

Amen to the following:

Whatever the percentage of the electorate that the Tea Party represents, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for divided government, they immediately become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.

I've heard many people say "What's the point of a third party? They can't win elections in America!" That may be true, but as numerous examples prove they can sure as hell DECIDE elections. Just ask Bush 41 and Al Gore.

Which gives them considerable sway when they can remain coherent and cohesive.

mw said...

"Which gives them considerable sway when they can remain coherent and cohesive." - Tully

Yeah. That's the rub. The vote has got to be organized around something to be a force for more than one cycle. They'll be a factor this year, because they are unified in opposition to the administration and party in power. Same dynamic that swept the Dems into power - opposition to the Bush administration. It'll get interesting in 2012 - then we'll see whether they'll continue as an independent force, or just vote the GOP into another stint of single party control.

Tully said...

... or alter the nature of the GOP itself for a while, as the Perot movement did, resulting in the '94 turnover in Congress.

Why, it's almost as if third parties arise in response to extreme oscillations of the political system that the two major parties are unable to respond to, resulting in an oscillation-damping negative feedback effect that tends to "steer" the system towards the center.


Eaglewings said...

AS much as I would like to agree with you on this I am not able to support a divided government. I am well able to support a LIMITED government but not exactly sure how to get there. The only thing I know for certain is that CONSERVATIVISM is the only antidote to the socialism we are rapidly approaching. Stopping the forward motion is only one step in a long list of things that need to be done to get the government back to it's limited roll as set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Voting for those who will strictly enforce the constitution is the only surefire way to reverse many years of socialism. Now is that even possible? I am not sure that it is but we must make a valiant effort anyway.

Imposing voter controlled term limits on all politicians will certainly help us ' we the people' keep a tighter reign on things IMO

Mark @ Israel said...

I think the tea party cannot be taken as unimportant and at the same time completely dangerous. Though, many label it negatively but it has its purpose for the future of the country. I guess, they don't just gather without a purpose. Hopefully, their gatherings would really result to something good for our country.

Mr. Coffee said...

Calling this "movement" a Tea Party does a great disservice to our forefathers who took part in the original Tea Party. You can masquerade them as bi=partisan or non-partisan, but the facts point to one group.
1. Palin speaks at these events. Mychelle Bachman "". Hannity signs books at "". NcConnell speaks"". In the last primaries, moderate Republicans beat out the fringe teabaggers.

The teabag has losy it's strength. Time to throw out the old bag. Wake up and smell the Coffee.

Eaglewings said...

Actually Mr Coffee the T.E.A. party was a gathering of folks who are fed up with more and more Taxes. Taxed Enough Already was the tag line TEA was the acronym and it later got morphed into tea party by those mostly on the left side of the aisle.

Initially I do not believe it was intended to be a POLITICAL party. I could be wrong but I don't think so.

Tully said...

Pretty much, Eaglewings. The Tea Party movement is not nor inteded to be a political party. Many are trying to latch onto the movement to harness it for their own purposes, few are coming even remotely close to success. It has no national leadership or organization, and is truly grassroots.

Roy said...

The Tea Party is not this legitimate movement. If the Tea Party really wants to reduce government spending, to reduce the size of government--then their protests need to stop dancing around the periphery of government spending.

The military industrial complex, empire, whatever you want to call it. That is where most tax dollars go--some 60% of discretionary spending by the USFG. This problem exists with both Democrats and Republicans.

The Tea Party "activists", by and large, would not touch the DOD budget. They don't want to give up the empire. Any move by the Obama Administration to cut back on the military industrial complex would be called out as a communist-liberal-unamerican move that threatens the country's very existence.

Until I see a big public move by the Tea Party to go after where the money is really being spent, then I will call the teabaggers what they really are. A group of Republicans who are upset they lost an election against a guy who looks different and are playing on some of the worst emotions and beliefs in the country.

So yeah. I call bullshit on the Tea Party.

mw said...

Roy here is a perfect example of your typical partisan Democrat who is taking a trip down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

For these Dems, this is all about de-legitimatizing the movement - because the prospect of this being a real movement in our center-right country forged in opposition to the pet policies of center-left Democratic partisans is just too horrible to consider. Better to pretend that these are all Republicans in disguise, or if that doesn't work - why they are all racists of course. Anything to avoid facing the fact that it is the One Party Rule Democrat's policies that are exactly what is being rejected.

Sure there are a majority of Republicans in the Tea Party movement joining libertarians, and various and sundry other independents. Just like there were a majority of Democrats joining libertarians and independents waxing eloquently for the benefits of divided government in the 2006 midterms. The majority of Dem partisans in the movement against One Party Rule Republican policies in 2006 were no more or less significant than the majority of Rep partisans in the movement against One Party Rule Democrats in 2010. The important segment is the 6%-12% of independents that voted against the Republicans in 2006 and will be voting against the Democrats in 2010.

It's the spending stupid. And you can't justify it by saying that Bush and the Republicans committed a venal sin so it is perfectly okay for Obama and the Democrats to commit a mortal sin.

Eaglewings said...

Roy as far as military spending is concerned that is the one place the constitution provides for federal oversight. I would cut out all domestic social programs before I would cut military spending.

Welfare and social security and medicare and Medicaid are all unconstitutional programs started by progressive socialists and have accelerated under Obama. Protecting the nation and providing for a military are powers granted to the federal government by the constitution.

Therefore to cut military funding would be against the constitution so of course tea party members would not hold that up as a legitimate course of action. Cutting out all unconstitutional spending would be higher on our lists of priorities.

To a socialist liberal like yourself you would cut constitutional powers to award more unconstitutional authority on a centralized government.

It is people like you the tea party members are trying to DEFEAT because your policies are bad for America. Don't believe me check out Greece, Spain, Portugal all places where socialistic policies have failed.