One of the strangest media narratives in American politics today is the idea that the Tea Party Movement represents some sort of disenfranchised “center” that wants the two major parties to play nice and work together on compromise policies to address the country’s problems. Maybe that’s true of some grassroots Tea Party participants, but it’s simply not true of its activist leadership.
If you want fresh evidence of how silly this narrative has become, check out Dave Weigel’s report in the Washington Independent of a meeting at FreedomWorks involving a variety of Tea Party leaders, aimed at drafting a new “Contract with America”-type document for this fall’s elections.
You should read the whole thing, particularly if you are under the illusion that the Tea Party Movement is easily distinguishable from the right wing of the Republican Party. But here’s the most important passage about the discussion:
When all of this was boiled down, the activists came up with three goals. The first: “No tax & spend incumbent goes unchallenged.” The second: “Take over the Republican Party,” which meant scouting out “strategic opportunities to put fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate.” The third: “Fiscal conservatives will take back the House and Senate”….
The less popular items were ones that smacked of federal government intervention in the economy. The group voted down a tight term limits rule, a “Committee on Constitutional Authority” that would rule on whether bills passed muster, and waivers from the EPA “in order to allow states flexibility in establishing environmental priorities.” That prompted activists to argue that they should simply support abolishing the EPA. After no one supported a “corporate welfare commission” to scour wasteful spending, Pennsylvania activist John Stahl suggested that the movement campaign against corporate welfare altogether. And Stahl worried that the Contract was missing a major action item.
“There are assaults underway by the Obama administration, and others, on our Constitutional right to vote,” said Stahl. He rattled off examples — the motor voter law, giving the vote to “anybody who’s on the dole,” amnesty to undocumented immigrants — and argued that it needed to become an issue or there would be “a lot of disappointed people out there.”
Now “abolishing the EPA” is not exactly one of those consensus, bipartisan ideas that gridlock in Washington is holding back from immediate implementation. “Abolishing corporate welfare” altogether sounds nice, but if serious, that means eliminating any tax incentives for socially desirable business behavior, which Democrats have long embraced as a fiscally responsible alternative to direct government spending, and which most Republicans have avidly defended as a form of “tax cuts” that can never be rescinded.
And while rolling back voting rights for poor people, “people on the dole,” or legal immigrants has long been a rhetorical staple for the hard-right faction of the GOP, it’s not “centrist” in any conceivable way.
Some will object that no particular group speaks for the Tea Party Movement, and that’s true, but the more activists sit around with conservative Republicans planning a “takeover of the Republican Party” and promoting radical policy positions aimed at eliminating government initiatives that go back to the New Deal, the more it becomes apparent that genuinely “centrist” Tea Party fans are getting used for a very different agenda. That’s worth understanding, particularly since the “takeover” of the Republican Party under discussion all across the Movement looks like an effort to push on an open door.