It is good times for the Tea Party movement.
I am not talking about winning Republican Senate nominations in Delaware, Alaska, Kentucky, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and without firing a shot in Florida. Nor am I talking about a Christian Science Monitor poll last week that found a near majority of Americans view Tea with sympathy (http://bit.ly/a9yDrM). No, I am thinking this morning’s New York Times, which announced – front page, lead story – that the administration is weighing rescue strategies for Democrats in the current campaign casting “the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists.”
Your first reaction may be, “This is news?” Vice President Joe Biden launched the “they’re extremists” campaign several weeks ago with his “not your father’s Republican Party” quip.
You would have thought that the administration’s mouthpiece had more sense than to use a variation on an old GM advertising slogan to attack a movement that the GM bailout helped to ignite. But then this is the Obama administration – the most politically tone-deaf in memory – and Joe Biden, who more than lives up to the historically low expectations for vice presidents.
You may also be asking, “Which hand (left or right) has the extremists?” Trillion dollar bailouts, trillion dollar budget boosts, trillion dollar deficits, trillion dollar seizure of each American’s health care whether that American wants the government to control his or her life and death decisions or not: These are marks of extremism for which it is hard to find a precedence in American history.
As former Secretary of the Treasury (as well as of Labor and State, and director of the Office of Management and the Budget, and dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business Administration) George Shultz and other economists pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week (http://bit.ly/98LSSY), this administration is driving the nation towards permanent deficits that exceed the one year peak of World War II. Such levels would cripple our economic growth for decades to come, transform our national ethos from one of independence and striving to dependence and passivity, and end our status as the world’s economic and security superpower. If these policies are not the marks of extremism, what is?
So the morning headlines that the administration is after them are good news for the Tea Party and its sympathizers. It was alarm at government spending as well as what that spending implied for future taxing and growth that got the Tea Party started in the first place. Every time the administration has tried to dismiss those legitimate and serious minded concerns, it has merely seen the movement grow in response. Now, the idea is, apparently, to package this counterproductive message into an ad campaign. Genius.
But the desperation politics of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid crowd aside, something deeply consequential is going on and it is not confined to the United States.
In Britain, Germany, almost in Australia, and in a number of other countries parties and coalitions have taken power in the last two years dedicated to rolling back government spending and reducing government power. Despite misreading the forces that led to its election, the Obama Administration came to power for the same reasons, public disgust at too much government spending, taxing, and controlling.
Now the president‘s mantra is that the Republican’s started the spending spree. And in this he and the Tea Party agree. In the past decade, voters who wanted to see government and its spending limited came to understand that many office holders elected under the banner of limited government had walked away from that commitment once they got to Washington. That is why there is a Tea Party. And that is why the president is in such trouble. Many of those voters expected in the Obama administration a return to the later Clinton-GOP Congress years, which they remembered as a time of spending restraint and budget surpluses. Instead they got the exact opposite.
For decades political scientists have debated the reason for the great movements of American politics. Could it be demographics or values or industrialization or what? I believe that every great movement in the American political alignment (I suspect this is true in other democratic countries, as well) has been driven by changes in the global economy. Following the collapse of the European economy in World War I, the policies appropriate for our rising and remote country were no longer appropriate, and after about a decade our politics caught up. By the early 70’s, Europe had recovered from the two wars. New policies were needed, and about a decade later our politics adjusted.
The Obama administration has tried and spectacularly failed to return to the 1930s political paradigm. They will now try to scare the rest of us back to their political future. They will have money. They will be loud. They will not succeed.