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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Tea Party’s Retreaded “Ideas”

This item is cross-posted from Progressive Fix.
For all the talk about the Tea Party Movement and its demands that America’s political system be turned upside down, it’s always been a bit hard to get a fix on what, exactly, these conservative activists want Washington to do.
To solve this puzzle, it’s worth taking a look at the Contract From America process — a project of the Tea Party Patriots organization, designed to create a bottoms-up, open-source agenda that activists can embrace when they gather for their next big moment in the national media sun on April 15. The 21-point agenda laid out for Tea Partiers to refine into a 10-point “Contract” is, to put it mildly, a major Blast from the Past, featuring conservative Republican chestnuts dating back decades.
There’s term limits, naturally. There are a couple of “transparency” proposals, such as publication of bill texts well before votes. But more prominent are fiscal “ideas” very long in the tooth. You got a balanced budget constitutional amendment, which ain’t happening and won’t work. You got fair tax/flat tax, the highly regressive concept flogged for many years by a few talk radio wonks, that has never been taken seriously even among congressional Republicans. You’ve got Social Security and Medicare privatization (last tried by George W. Bush in 2005) and education vouchers. You’ve got scrapping all federal regulations, preempting state and local regulations, and maybe abolishing some federal departments (an idea last promoted by congressional Republicans in 1995). You’ve got abolition of the “death tax” (i.e., the tax on very large inheritances). And you’ve got federal spending caps, which won’t actually roll back federal spending because they can’t be applied to entitlements.
My favorite on the list is a proposal that in Congress “each bill…identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.” This illustrates the obliviousness or hostility of Tea Partiers to the long string of Supreme Court decisions, dating back to the 1930s, that give Congress broad policymaking powers under the 14th Amendment and the Spending and Commerce Clauses. More broadly, it shows the literalism of Tea Party “original intent” views of the Constitution; if wasn’t spelled out explicitly by the Founders it’s unconstitutional.
We are often told that the Tea Party Movement represents some sort of disenfranchised “radical middle” in America that rejects both major parties’ inability to get together and solve problems. As the “Contract From America” shows, that’s totally wrong. At least when it comes to policy proposals, these folks are the hard-right wing of the Republican Party, upset that Barry Goldwater’s agenda from 1964 has never been implemented.

One comment on “The Tea Party’s Retreaded “Ideas”

  1. William R. Everdell on

    Add to the Tea-Party ideology the almost ancient views — so startling to Alexander Hamilton and Woodrow Wilson (and those who paid attention in Economics 101) — that (1) a sovereign people’s government can and should operate without debt, and that (2) a sovereign people’s government should not own (or even regulate) the banking system and the money supply.
    So thanks, but there needs to be a lot more of this kind of analysis. There’s a lot of simple ignorance out there, and if people on this site know, they need to try to teach. (So says, at any rate, this history teacher from Brooklyn.)


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