The Congressional mid-terms have generated an exceptionally polarized House of Representatives; more left-leaning Democrats and more Tea Party right-leaning candidates have found their voice in the new House. And now the Republican Party is going to have to figure out how to deal with a significant dissident movement within its own ranks, one that threatens to make the GOP look like the party of “no” and one that will only tolerate an unelectable ultra-conservative presidential candidate in 2012. While not all Tea Party adherents are Republican, virtually all of those running under a Tea Party banner in 2010 did so under a GOP aegis.
The movement is hardly homogeneous (ironic choice of words), but understanding what the general movement stands for is worthy of consideration. Wikipedia: “The ‘Contract from America’ was the idea of Houston-based lawyer, Ryan Hecker. He stated that he developed the concept of creating a grassroots call for reform prior to the April 15, 2009 Tax Day Tea Party rallies. To get his idea off the ground, he launched a website, ContractFromAmerica.com, which encouraged people to offer possible planks for the contract.
- Identify constitutionality of every new law
- Reject emissions trading
- Demand a balanced federal budget
- Simplify the tax system
- Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality
- Limit annual growth in federal spending
- Repeal the healthcare legislation passed on March 23, 2010
- Pass an 'All-of-the-Above' Energy Policy
- Reduce Earmarks
- Reduce Taxes”
Christian evangelical positions – on issues ranging from gay rights to abortion to school prayer to intelligent design – have filtered into large segments of this political movement, such that the overall impact of Tea Partiers has evolved into the GOP’s most conservative elements. What started out as a “get government out of my life because it doesn’t work” movement has now addressed fiscal and social issues.
And let’s face it, whether you agree with the Tea Party movement or not, as an overall concept, they have a very good point: government has failed the American people. We seem to have elected members of the House and Senate who seem to represent special interests (who are their main campaign contributors) and not the general public (whose campaign contributions are sporadic and not dependable, particularly in the earlier phases of campaigning), and since so much legislation is carved around loopholes to benefit strong commercial lobbies, perhaps getting government out of people’s lives is just another way of saying “stop the special interest legislation.” As I said, they have a very good point, although the expression of the detailed Tea Party philosophy may be at odds with the wishes of the majority of Americans and is most certainly out of step with international pressures to curb greenhouse gasses.
Nevertheless, Wall Street has fallen in love with the Tea Party movement, since they represent both de-regulation and lower taxes, corporate America’s sacred cows… even though lower taxes have resulted only in the rich and corporate America’s hording cash and not hiring extra workers with the surplus, and de-regulation is exactly what precipitated the global meltdown based on unregulated derivatives and unmonitored over-borrowing. The Street could care less about social issues if they get the financial laissez faire they seek.
You can see that the mainstream GOP has been forced to cater to this new movement, embracing the easy button when it came to extending the Bush-era tax cuts and reluctantly are coming to grips with the elimination of earmarks (the more savvy incumbents know how to move those special allocations into other legislation and still appear to be on the bandwagon of cutting waste). The GOP appears to have built most of their going-forward efforts on repealing “Obamacare,” but public sentiment for large sections of that legislation may shift dynamically by the time 2012 rolls around, and if the Republicans have guessed wrong and tied too much of their future options around this strategy, they may have some serious issues by the next election.
So what is the GOP doing to make it look like they are responsive to the Tea Party movement? The December 30th Washington Post reveals the plan: “When Republicans take over the House next week, they will do something that apparently has never been done before in the chamber's 221-year history: They will read the Constitution aloud… And then they will require that every new bill contain a statement by the law maker who wrote it citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed legislation… The reading of the Constitution will occur on Jan. 6, one day after the swearing in of Speaker-designate John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The 4,543-word document, including all 27 amendments, could be read aloud in just 30 minutes. But the exercise probably will last longer.”
Of course the problem is that the Constitution is always subject to interpretation (and the U.S. Supreme Court, not the Congress, is the final arbiter of its meaning); it’s hard to say that a document that was written and primarily amended in the late 1700s is a static body of law carved in immutable granite. Under that view, the Air Force has no constitutional basis. So requiring a constitutional basis for every new bill actually doesn’t add anything and stirs prolonged debate among people who are hardly constitutional scholars. In addition to reading the document itself, to be completely in synch with the Constitution, they would have to read (and understand!) the hundreds of volumes of Supreme Court interpretative decisions. Would you trust folks who have never read a statute to interpret the cornerstone of American democracy with nothing more than their opinions to guide them through the process?
The Post suggests what’s really happening as the “old-pro” GOP leadership attempts to placate these passionate neophytes: “ ‘I think it's entirely cosmetic,’ said Kevin Gutzman, a history professor at Western Connecticut State University who said he is a conservative libertarian and sympathizes with the tea party… ‘This is the way the establishment handles grass-roots movements,’ he added. ‘They humor people who are not expert or not fully cognizant. And then once they've humored them and those people go away, it's right back to business as usual. It looks like this will be business as usual - except for the half-hour or however long it takes to read the Constitution out loud.’” And so it is going to be most interesting watching the politicos dealing with what were elected to be the anti-politicos… drama at its finest.
I’m Peter Dekom, and true legislative and constitutional reform probably needs to be addressed at the most fundamental level of campaign finance before anything else occurs.