The Serious Problem With the Tea Party "Philosophy"

As we enter what will be ugly negotiations over a climate and energy bill in this country over the coming months, there are sure to be angry outcries of government overreach and intrusion. And we know where the hub of those protests will be coming from: the Tea Party.

So it's worth looking at who these folks are, and the NY Times yesterday did us all a big favor by reporting on poll results on these citizens. The title of the article, in what was a very kind interpretation of the data, was "Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated."

Yes, Tea Partiers are a bit wealthier and educated, but the poll also makes clear that they are whiter, male-er, angrier, and well, more racist -- 25% believe Obama favors black people over white (vs. 11% of the general public) and they are "more likely to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people" (yes, that pesky history of slavery, repression, and civil rights issues). But all of that demographic data, while interesting, is a side show. The core of this movement is an un-nuanced, unthinking belief that government should be smaller no matter what.

This perspective is making it hard to do anything of scale in our country, such as building and investing in infrastructure (e.g., a new energy grid) or pass broad legislation to tackle as big a problem as climate change. Imagine a Congressman proposing that we spend what China is laying out on high-speed rail ($300 billion in the next three years) or even the hundreds of billions we need to spend on crumbling infrastructure. He or she would be pilloried by Fox and likely run out of office.

I could easily be wrong, but I don't think we used to debate whether we needed things like roads, bridges, sewers, and rail. Republican President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System after all. Without infrastructure, led by government, we can't grow and evolve (but that's the point of the movement isn't it?). So now we've got a rising portion of people thinking government equals bad, full stop.

What's really interesting about the article is to see how disconnected from reality the Tea Partiers are about what government does for them (see my earlier post on what small government means in reality). So, the point of this blog was actually just to share the end of the Times article, which made me laugh out loud. Enjoy...

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security -- the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on "waste."

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

"That's a conundrum, isn't it?" asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. "I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security." She added, "I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

We're going to have trouble having real, substantive debates in this country if we're not reality-based. As I read quotes like that, I think, well, it's better to laugh than cry.