Posts Tagged ‘ tea party ’

What does the Tea Party stand for?

I’ll admit it, there are some things that I get about the Tea Party, but mostly, the thinking of Tea Party members is somewhat of a mystery to me. I understand the populist anger against an increasingly dysfunctional government and an anemic economy. What I don’t understand is Tea Party politicians’ proposed solutions to our problems.

Mostly, this is because the Tea Party very often contradicts itself and their actions rarely live up to their rhetoric. In theory, the Tea Party is in favor of low taxes, cutting the deficit, setting the Constitution as the revered document at the center of government, giving the government back to “We the People” (as opposed to special interests) and promoting states’ rights.

Now that the Tea Party has elected many members to Congress and has a couple preferred Presidential candidates, we can judge how its actions match up to its stated goals. The results are not pretty, and mostly just confuse me.

States’ rights

The Tea Party may claim to be for this in theory, but in practice, it gets more complicated. Turns out, two of the Tea Party’s favored candidates for President, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, do not want states to decide on the legality of gay marriage. After initially endorsing states’ rights il/legalize gay marriage, both have said that they favor a national, constitutional amendment against gay marriage. On abortion as well, Perry and Bachmann have taken stances that appear to indicate that they want abortion to be illegalized on the national level. These stances have not hurt them with the Tea Party base at all and have probably helped the two candidates. On these issues, it appears the Tea Party opposes states’ rights when it is otherwise convenient for them.

Giving the government back to “We the People”

Tea Party members seem to have quickly forgotten all that talk of getting rid of special interests in Washington. Dana Milibank recently looked into the only bill that Tea Party Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia has proposed since entering Congress. Scott filed his bill on behalf of a big agricultural grower in his district who was illegally discriminating against American workers to hire Mexican migrant workers. Scott’s bill would make it much harder, if not impossible, for abused workers to sue when their rights are infringed upon.

Likewise, Rachel Maddow recently chronicled the law adjustments and bureaucratic hoops Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped through to let one of his top contributors build a uranium dump site in Texas. Nevermind the fact that this radioactive dump is built perilously close to a source of Texans’ drinking water.

It just seems that Tea Party politicians don’t care about sticking up for the little guy.

Putting the Constitution first

For a group that prides itself on its reverence for the Constitution, the Tea Party sure has a lot of proposed changes to the Constitution. In particular, Tea Party members seem to want to repeal amendments 14, 16 and 17  to the Constitution and to add a few more, for good measure. What kind of “Constitutionalist” party is this? It seems like Tea Party types would rather scrap the whole thing than put the Constitution up on a pedestal. How can a movement say that it wants it government to be “based on the Constitution” when it also wants the Constitution to be changed so fundamentally?

Lower Taxes

The Tea Party has staked its entire populist message on the fact that it wants low taxes. This is one of the hallmarks of the Tea Party movement. Which is why I find it very curious that the Tea Party arose in a period where taxes are lower than they have been in modern history. Taxes (which Tea Partiers claim are too damn high) are at their lowest point since 1950. How very curious…

The other contradiction that has recently emerged is that Tea Partiers do not actually want lower taxes, well at least not if you’re poor. Turns out, Tea Partiers want to raise taxes on the poor. The Tea Party only wants lower taxes for corporations and the rich.

Cutting the Debt

Tea Party members always lament the deficits  that the government has  been running in recent years. However, they also stand in the way of solving those deficit problems in a responsible fashion. The Tea Party wants to continue the irresponsible Bush tax cuts, which is the principal driver of our long term debt. They also want to eliminate the IPAB which, contrary to the Tea Party’s claims, is about the best chance we have for getting our Medicare costs under control.

The Tea Party does not really want to deal responsibly with our mounting fiscal issues. Their proposed solutions are to cut spending on the poor and vulnerable, cut investment in the future and to privatize and voucherize Medicare. I suppose this could just be considered a policy difference between myself and the Tea Party on how to reduce the debt. But when your policy proposal for fixing the debt involves implementing or repealing policies that will reduce the debt and then using the fiscal calamity that results from your policy choice to justify huge structural changes to American society, I think its safe to say you are not serious about debt-reduction.

The only explanation I have for all these contradictions is that the Tea Party is not a a new political movement, but rather a revival and re-invigoration of far-right wing thinking, and Republican politics.

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If the Tea Party loves the Constitution so much, what are all these proposed amendments?

One of the myths surrounding the forming of the Tea Party in 2009 is that thousands or millions of Americans were horrified by how far the US government had strayed from the Constitution. These patriots wanted their government to “return” to a strict adherence to the words of the US Constitution. As explained by Freedom Works, a Tea Party group,

“The Constitution of the United States was promulgated and enacted by the most knowledgeable political philosophers and citizen-politicians in the history of the world… Starting with the Constitution, the law prevails, not the proclamation or arbitrary decision of a ruler, government bureaucrat, the enforcer or judge…

Without a doubt, this renewed interest in the Constitution has occurred because Americans know the federal government is out of control.  Outraged by corruption and special interest politics, Americans want smaller and limited government.”

Rather than being “outraged by corruption,”  it seems many Tea Partiers took a look at the Constitution and were outraged by what they saw there. For a group that seems to view the writers of the Constitution as demi-gods, Tea Partiers have a lot of proposals to change  what’s written in the Constitution.

For instance, I have heard lots of conservatives who would like to change the seventeenth amendment, so that we can no longer elect our Senators. They would rather Senators be elected by politicians in state legislatures.  It seems really strange that a movement which bills itself as the result of “the people” rising up against government wants to take power from the people and hand it to… the government.

Next, there are many Tea Partiers who want to change the fourteenth amendment, which famously gave citizenship to blacks after the Civil War freed them from slavery. It seems that many Tea Party members found out that this provision also gives citizenship to everyone born in America, even the children of illegal immigrants. As Dahlia Lithwick counters, “for many more Americans, the 14th Amendment represents what is best, not worst, about the constitution: its acknowledgement of human dignity and inclusivity, as well as the possibility for self-correction in the interest of forming a more perfect union.” That the Tea Party would seek to change an amendment so central to righting the wrongs inherent in our original Constitution, shows that something is sorely lacking in their world view.

Rick Perry, one of the Tea Party’s favored candidates for President has lain out seven  proposed changes to the Constitution. He  and many conservatives would like to see the sixteenth amendment repealed. The 16th allows the federal government to levy an income tax. Getting rid of this amendment would end one of the only forms of progressive taxation that we have in this country. All that would be left would be regressive taxes, which draw more revenue from the poor and middle class than from the rich. Apparently, all the Tea Party’s talk about lower taxes was only about lower taxes for the rich.

Add in the fact that the Tea Party is also pushing for a balanced budget amendment, and what you have is quite a confusing movement. On the one hand the Tea Party claims that the Constitution is practically a sacred text that deserves to be revered by politicians. On the other hand, Tea Party politicians and activists are claiming that there are many flaws in the Constitution and are actively pushing to amend  the Constitution in many ways. If this were any other movement, news coverage would say that this group was “hostile to” or “actively campaigning against” the Constitution.

I guess it just goes to show you that the Tea Party is no more “pro-Constitution” than progressives are. The Tea Party, like any other group, is pro-the parts of the Constitution that it agrees with, and anti-the parts of the Constitution that it doesn’t agree with.

Was this the “Tea Party Downgrade”?

Sen. John Kerry and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod made some waves over the weekend by “calling S&P’s action ‘essentially a tea party downgrade'” and saying “‘I believe this is without question the tea party downgrade. ‘This is the tea party downgrade because a minority of people in the House of Representatives countered even the will of many Republicans in the United States Senate who were prepared to do a bigger deal.'”

This elicited the predictable response from Republicans who sought to blame the President and Democrats for the downgrade. Who is right?

In my opinion (and hear me out here) it seems undeniable, whatever your political stance on the Tea Party, that the Tea Party and the broader conservative movement caused S&P to downgrade US debt. Here’s why: S&P said that they downgraded the US because

  1. We did not approve a sufficiently large debt-reduction package, and
  2. Political paralysis in Washington makes it unlikely that we will be able to get our long-term debts under control.

The Tea Party/conservatives are certainly to blame for reason #1. President Obama and Speaker Boehner had a deal worked out that would have cut $4 trillion from the debt, meeting S&P’s demands and averting a downgrade. Conservatives/Tea Party-ers in the House torpedoed this deal because it would have raised taxes on the richest Americans. Again, this is undeniable whatever your political leanings. If you think its always unjustified to get rid of tax breaks for the rich, then you should be (and probably are) glad that the Tea Party and conservatives stopped Obama and Boehner from solving our debt. But failure to reach a big deal probably was sufficient to cause a downgrade.

Reason #2 stems from reason #1. Of course partisan paralysis has been around since before  the Tea Party showed up, but it has gotten much worse in the past few months. As S&P noted, using the threat of default as a bargaining chip has never been done before, and rarely in history would conservatives rise up in fury against a deal that cut $4 for every $1 it raised in taxes. Conservative stalwarts such as Presidents Reagan and Bush I signed onto plans more liberal than that, but now conservatives refuse to pass a plan that even raises a dollar in revenues. The Tea Party is certainly to blame for this rightward lurch in the Republican Party and the paralysis that has resulted from this lurch. Again, that’s really undeniable no matter what your political affiliation is.

So sit back and take pride in your accomplishment, Tea Party. Your actions directly caused the US debt to be downgraded. Your refusal to accept any compromise has made our political system, which is based on compromise, almost completely unworkable.