Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Tea Party Approach

What’s the best way to approach the Tea Party? If the whole thing is just ridiculous, then the options are a) make fun of them, or b) apathy. It is a huge movement, and I hesitate to write them off without some analysis, despite their lack of focus and general goofiness.

The Tea Party is apparently a loose association of dissatisfied Americans who fear the massive federal deficit, oppose higher taxes, and seem to have a bone to pick with government in general, specifically president Obama as the representative of bureaucratic evil.

Well, all that is fine. I don’t have a problem with the existence of this political movement. It’s actually refreshing to see a significant amount of citizens who routinely make headlines by peacefully assembling and airing their grievances. Of course they’re angry – if they weren’t they probably wouldn’t bother showing up, right? Where was all this righteous anger when we were torturing people?

The issue is that it’s difficult to understand clearly the grievances, and once partially understood, the reasoning behind them. Let’s break it down.

The Deficit

I don’t know anyone who ponders the well-being of the country and comes to the conclusion that everything is just fine with the deficit. Of course it’s a huge problem. Entitlements make up somewhere around half of the budget, yet when polled the majority of Tea Party members don’t want their Social Security or Medicare benefits cut. Well neither do I. But I’m not running around Washington D.C. dressed as Ben Franklin, holding a picket sign featuring Obama sharing a banana with Stalin while screaming incoherently about deficits and the Constitution.

And hey guys, what about military spending? It’s a massive part of the budget too, around $800 billion a year, yet most Tea Party folks seem to accept this spending without protest. I understand the idea that we must defeat our enemies at all cost, but I’m not sure about the effectiveness of developing 20 new $11 billion aircraft carriers in the interest of defeating guys in caves.

Until Tea Partiers embrace a holistic approach to the deficit, which would include spending cuts in all areas, including entitlements and military spending, it’s impossible to take this aspect of their complaint seriously. This leads to the next area of Tea Party angst, which is taxation.


I don’t think opposition to higher taxes represents some sort of selfishness within anyone except for the wealthiest among us, who know how to game the system and do so quite effectively. Your average Tea Partier is more concerned with how their taxes are applied, and the effect higher taxes could have on the economy. It’s a “taxation without representation” argument, which is why the Tea Party moniker was applied in the first place. No problem there; we all want to know where our money is going and why, and we should have questions.

The problem is that if you’re part of a movement which is mostly concerned about deficits and have done any homework on the issue, you should realize that higher taxes are inevitable if you expect your representatives to do anything about the deficit. Spending cuts, higher taxes. That’s how the deficit is fixed. You can’t support every military adventure the U.S. embarks on, expect your Social Security benefits to be paid in full, refuse to cut spending in these areas, refuse to accept higher taxation on even the wealthiest members of our society, then whine about deficits. Well you can, but that sort of behavior is sure to expose your idiocy.

Also, why all the anger directed at Obama over taxation? Taxes haven’t been raised, they’ve been cut. Even the wealthiest among us, while not having their taxes cut, have enjoyed the same tax rate that was present when Obama was inaugurated. 40% of the hated stimulus package involved tax cuts, including the Making Work Pay tax credit. Nobody in this country has had their taxes raised during the Obama administration’s time in office.* This isn’t a matter of opinion; look at the actual bills that have been passed. I’m all for criticizing the president, any president, but it’s a good idea to include substance within the criticism. Otherwise, why would you expect to be listened to?

Not to say that Obama is above criticism; there’s plenty to complain about. But setting him up as a piñata to beat on whenever you’re angry about something isn’t legitimate. It’s intellectual laziness.

I read the coverage of the recent Glenn Beck rally, which reportedly was peaceful and largely apolitical. It seems as if it was some sort of revival, though the title of the (speech?) was “Restoring Honor.” Our honor as Americans must be restored, which should start by adhering to agreed upon laws regarding torture and Constitutional guidelines with respect to conduct of war. When people break those laws, they should be prosecuted. That’s the honorable thing to do. The best defense of America is to uphold agreed upon laws. None of that was an aspect of the rally, which isn’t a surprise, although you would think that a gathering of concerned Americans would realize that laws create the fundamental freedoms we enjoy, and that wanton breaking of them endangers those freedoms.

What I don’t understand about the rally is this: If it wasn’t about politics, then why was the Tea Party involved? There’s nothing wrong with public prayer service, it’s a basic freedom, but the Tea Party is supposed to be about the direction of the country with respect to deficits and taxation. If that’s not what this gathering was about, what was the point of their attendance? I’m not sure.

The Tea Party’s presence at this event is indicative of its scatterbrained nature, at least in this nascent phase. It’s a confused, unfocused confederation of angry people who aren’t clear on what they’re actually angry about. Hey, anger is fine. Popular political movements can give hope that Americans still care about the direction of the country. But without substance, focus, or intelligent arguments, any political movement is meaningless. It will be interesting to see if this particular movement gathers anything but steam.


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  2. * That statement is wrong. One of the first bills passed was the SCHIP bill which expanded insurance coverage to include more children. Cigarette taxes were raised. The insurance mandate is a tax raise on anyone who doesn't have health insurance, although it would mostly be absorbed into whatever tax refund that uninsured individual would receive. Also there is a tax on tanning beds included in the health care bill. As the website pointed out, if you were a happily uninsured smoker who enjoys a good artificial tan when Obama was inaugurated, you got hit with a triple tax hike. When a person makes a definitive statement, that person (me in this case) should make sure the facts are straight. Otherwise there's no point in writing it unless you want to sell a million books.