Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Tea Party Goes to Washington to Create a New Center

To hear the Democrats tell it, the Tea Party is "extreme." They even agreed in caucus to all use that word over and over again and no doubt their supporters in the mainstream media were instructed to hammer away at the label continuously too. The goal was to try to separate Independents and Moderates from the Tea Party by painting the Tea Party as extreme - which is what Independents and Moderates don't want to be. Many Independents and Moderates are basically confused about politics and illiterate about economics. They just want jobs and stability and not too many wars, although when there is a war they want to win it decisively and quickly.

So the Democratic strategy is clear: paint the Tea Party as extreme and hope to discredit "wild eyed and extreme" ideas such as balancing the budget by cutting spending and slowing the rate of growth of big government. The problem is clear, however, for the Democrats. Most Americans (upwards of 70%) don't think such ideas are "extreme." In fact, they think they are as American as apple pie and motherhood.

Thus, despite Democrats' (and their media and cultural elites allies') best efforts, we get polls like yesterday's CNN poll, in which 50% of Americans said that the Tea Party's influence is positive. (HT John McCormack at The Weekly Standard)

Let's look a little closer at the Tea Party phenomenon. What is it about? It seems to be centered on a belief in limited government and maximal individual freedom. I don't get the sense that the majority in the Tea Party want to completely dismantle the social safety net, but I definitely get the impression that they want to limit the future growth of the welfare state and roll back some entitlement programs, perhaps by means testing them. They don't want to see handicapped, elderly and sick people go without help, but they don't think that helping those truely in need requires or justifies endless multiplication of government bureaucracy, skyrocketing public debt or a government that costs higher and higher percentages of the GDP.

Now, I don't find any of this particularly extreme. It is a different choice than Europe has made. Clearly, it is the repudiation of the European social democratic welfare state and it is a uniquely American vision of government and society. The Democrats view Europe as "normal" and anything that fails to measure up to that vision as somehow inadequate. But anyone who actually dissents from acknowledging Europe as the obvious end goal is not just inadequate or a dissenter - such a person is "extreme." To be skeptical that we can get there immediately is all right, but to disagree on the destination in principle - especially on the basis of principle - is utterly beyond the pale for Democrats.

Within the Democratic party there is a spectrum that runs from the left - which is ideologically socialist and views European social democracy as too mild - to the center - which views European social democracy as immediately achievable - to the right - which supports moving incrementally and cautiously as far toward European style social democracy as is feasible. This third group comes from red states where their task is to get elected by voters, a majority of whom do not like the ideology of the Democratic Party. These are the so-called "Blue Dogs." For them the recent health care reform was too close to socialism for electoral comfort and many of them paid the electoral price for voting for it.

For the entire 20th century there has been a socialist party in America. It has, like the NDP in Canada, exercised influence far beyond its numbers. At certain points in the century the socialists have been separate from the Democratic Party and at other points they have worked within the Democratic Party. Right now, the socialists form the left wing of the Democratic Party. This is the New Left, which emerged in the 60s after the public acknowledgment of the crimes of Stalin did so much to discredit the Old Left. Having lost at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the New Left decided to get involved in the party at local and state levels and has wielded huge influence ever since.

Today, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is co-chaired by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (AR) and Keith Ellison (MN) and includes one senator (Bernie Sanders of VT) and 74 members of the House of Representatives (out of 193 Democrats - 38%). Although the November election resulted in a net gain of 63 for the Republicans, most of the Progressive Caucus members were returned because they come from the deepest blue states on either coast and in university towns. Thus, the House (and Congress as a whole) is much more conservative, but the Democratic congressional caucus is more tilted toward socialism than before.

The Tea Party is evolving into a party within a party much like the socialist leaning wing of the Democratic Party. The Tea Party Caucus, which began on July 6, 2010 with Rep. Michelle Bachman as chair now has 59 House members and 4 Senate members. A number of high-profile Tea Party favorites, such as Senators Marco Rubio (FL), Pat Toomey (PA) and Ron Johnson (WI), have declined to join the caucus, apparently because they still entertain hopes of taking over the Republican Party as a whole instead of functioning as an interest group within it. Whether they are justified in their goal or not remains to be seen.

I think that the Tea Party movement, unlike the Democratic Socialists of America, is a genuinely grass roots movement that represents the majority of Americans. The main role of the Tea Party caucus will be to balance out the extremes of the New Left in the Democratic Party and force the centrists of both parties to work together to avoid gridlock.

But this will not be easy because of the vast influence the New Left has within the Democratic Party. Like conservative Republicans, who hope to gain control of the entire Republican Party, they are working to make democratic socialism the center of the Democratic Party and to brand all limited government, libertarian, traditional conservative and social conservative ideas as "extreme."

In this environment, the Tea Party is a necessary bulwark against extremism and an authentically American populist movement that stands for continuity and tradition. Contrary to what the spin doctors would have you believe, the long term effect of the Tea Party on American politics will likely be to prevent the moving of the center of American politics to the left and even to nudge it back a bit toward the right. This would place the Socialists, not the Tea Party, outside the mainstream and make the status quo the center, conservatism the right and European-style social democracy the left.

This may not sound dramatic, but it will have huge, global effects if it happens.

1. It will save America from a sovereign debt crisis like the EU is currently experiencing.
2. It will likely prevent the implementation of homosexual marriage.
3. It will likely end the current abortion extremism by ensuring that a conservative Supreme Court throws it back to the States to regulate.
4. It will ensure that American military power does not decline and this will mean peace and stability instead of war and revolution for great swaths of the globe.
5. It will likely mean that Israel will survive instead of being annihilated in war.
6. And, finally, it will likely mean that as Islam overruns Europe, America will stand firmly as a place where Christians experience freedom and the ability to maintain institutions of higher learning and missionary outreach.

The Tea Party drives progressives crazy, not because it is extreme, but because it exposes their own extremism and their fundamental disconnect with mainstream American voters.


Peter W. Dunn said...

Craig: the Tea Party will be too late to save America, which is in a debt death spiral. But it may be there to pick up the pieces. The meltdown of the American economy caused by the debauching of the US currency will be the end of socialism. It may result in totalitarianism or perhaps renewed libertarianism, if the Tea Party gains power. American military will have to pull out of the world for a while, because without a functioning currency, the US will not be able to have a global military.

Craig Carter said...

Don't sell the US short. As Gandalf said about the world of men: There is weakness but there is strength too.

There is no doubt that Obama would rather see the US military scale back its worldwide operations. This would be comparable to the results in the West after the collapse of the Roman Empire except that the whole world,not just the West, would be affected.

Peter W. Dunn said...

The strength of men in the US lies with the Tea Party; that's for sure.

Peter W. Dunn said...

Craig: BTW, my most successful trade is shorting the US. I'm looking at this not as an ex-American with an emotional grudge, but as an investor, with desire just simply to determine how to make money from the trade. I realize you speaking figuratively when you say, "Don't sell the US short." I began writing off my US investments and selling short the US $$ the moment Obama announced his first budget.