Summary: Despite the Tea Party’s outcry against federal deficits, debt, and the size of government, results from a NY Times/CBS national survey of this movement taken earlier this year indicates that this is the very same crowd that voted down budget surpluses, smaller government, and secured entitlement programs in 2000 in exchange for unfunded supply-side tax cut policies that had already quadrupled the national debt between 1981-1992. This movement is not, nor has it ever been, about debt, deficits, taxes or healthcare. The Tea Party is hard right ideologically-driven. It is conservative America raging against a changing America, and this movement is being gamed by both Fox News and politicians for political and financial gain.
Between the years 1993-2000, our government had cut 20% (377,000 jobs) from the federal civilian workforce, making it smallest such workforce in 40 years. Federal spending, as a percent of the economy, was reduced from 22% of GDP in 1992 to 18% of GDP in 2001, its lowest level since 1966. Between 1998 and 2000 our country paid down $363 billion in debt and was on track to reduce the debt by $600 billion over four years, the largest four year debt pay-down in American history. Our country was in position to pay off all of its public debt within a decade and the national debt clock was turned off. In 2000 our government recorded a surplus without borrowing from Social Security or Medicare and by 2001 was on track for nine consecutive years of fiscal improvement, the longest such period in American history. Federal income tax for the middle class, as a percent of income, was at its lowest level in 30 years. Our unemployment rate had been reduced from 7.5% in 1992 to 4.2% in 1999, the lowest unemployment rate since 1969, and we had created more than 20 million new jobs (1) (2) (3). Smaller government, reduced federal spending, budget surpluses, deficit reduction, debt pay down, strong jobs creation, low unemployment and secure entitlement programs – a Tea Party dream list. It is worth noting that the backbone of these accomplishments was OBRA93, or the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, that passed both houses of Congress without a single Republican vote (4).
Yet, with results from a NY Times/CBS national survey conducted in April of this year (5) (6) showing that the Tea Party is largely representative of the ideologically-driven right wing of the Republican Party, it would have been this same crowd in 2000 that voted out the very policies that had given them what they now say they want. And they opted to replace those policies with the same unfunded supply-side tax cut policies that had already quadrupled our national debt between 1981 – 1992, that tacked on another $4+ Trillion in debt during the GW Bush years (7), and that left our country in a financially weakened position when our government had to step up as the spender of last resort to put the brakes on the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression. The survey shows that the word that best fits the mood of the Tea Party is ‘angry’. Angry about the policies they voted into place? The hypocrisy is enough to make one choke. I believe much of America should have a bone to pick with this Tea Party crowd that participated in voting out our surpluses, our balanced budget, and the financial security of our entitlement programs.
In his March 27, 2010 NY Times Op-Ed piece entitled ‘The Rage Is Not About Healthcare’ (8), Frank Rich noted that the red hot anger of the Tea Party crowd (that included racial and homophobic slurs being hurled at Congressmen, bricks being thrown through windows, vandalism, and death threats to elected officials) was disproportionate to the nature of the healthcare legislation. The bill’s prototype was the plan Mitt Romney signed into law as Governor of Massachusetts; it contained what used to be Republican ideas. Mr. Rich surmised that the healthcare legislation was not the main source of the rage. The anger predated the healthcare legislation and was evident during the campaigning of Barack Obama. He wrote that the legislation was merely a handy excuse to unleash the type of rage and extremism we saw in 1964 to a national reordering, where conservative America was facing a changing America – an America that now has its first African-American president, its first female Speaker of the House, a Latina on the Supreme Court, an openly gay Congressional committee chairman, and where non-Hispanic white births will be a minority by 2012. He concluded that we would have seen the same rage regardless of the legislation.
The results of the NY Times/CBS survey, published after his article, support Mr. Rich’s contentions. For a few examples, does Barack Obama understand the problems of people like yourself? Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the general public felt that he does versus only 24% of Tea Party supporters. Does Barack Obama share the values most Americans try to live by? Fifty-seven (57%) percent of the general public felt that he does versus only 20% of Tea Party supporters. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of Tea Party supporters felt that Barack Obama was ‘very liberal’ as opposed to only 31% of the general public. Whereas 1 in 4 Tea Party supporters felt that Barack Obama’s policies favored blacks over whites, only about 1 in 10 of the general public felt that way. Whereas 56% of Tea Party supporters felt that Barack Obama’s policies favored the poor over other classes, only 27% of the general public felt that way. Fifty-two percent (52%) of Tea Party supporters felt that too much has been made of the problems facing black people versus 28% of the general public. Regarding opinion of President Obama, Tea Party supporters had a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 7%/84% versus 43%/33% by the general public. Regarding opinion of the Democratic Party, Tea Party supporters had a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 6%/92% versus 42%/50% by the general public. Truth be told, a Democratic administration, especially one headed by an African-American president, was not going to get to first base with this crowd, regardless of the legislation.
The survey leaves little doubt about how the Tea Party supporters voted during the 2000 election as 66% of them, versus only 28% of the general public, always or usually vote Republican. Regarding current opinion of G.W. Bush, Tea Party supporters and the general public were polar opposites with Tea Party supporters having a favorable/unfavorable ratio of 57%/27% versus 27%/58% for the general public.
So when a movement votes down the very things they say they value, e.g., balanced budgets, debt pay down, smaller government, reduced government spending, in exchange for policies that had already demonstrated the ability to drive up national debt, I believe Mr. Rich was right. This movement is not, nor has it ever been, about taxes, healthcare, or smaller government – it is about conservative America raging against a changing America – it is about ideology, not issues. Others, such as Jacob Weisberg in his September 18, 2010 Newsweek article entitled “A Tea Party Taxonomy” (9), have concluded the same: “The Tea Party is fundamentally about venting anger at change it doesn’t like, not about fixing what’s broken”.
Now, about this ‘We the People’ business. The survey showed that only 18% of America identified itself as Tea Party supporters, that this movement holds more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally, and whereas 84% of Tea Party supporters feel that their views represented those of most Americans only 25% of the general public agreed. ‘We the people’? Hardly. The hard right, ideologically-driven, nature of this minority movement, that has offered no coherent solution to our current economic difficulties, is reflected in the extremist positions of candidates it has supported. This includes those who would eliminate the federal Department of Education (10), who would make abortion illegal even in the case of rape or incest (11), who believe that a limited government should not force private businesses to abide by civil rights law (12), who do not want to see our children ‘brainwashed’ into thinking homosexuality is acceptable (13), and who would abolish the federal minimum wage (14). And there is former Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams, his group having raised over $2.3 million this year in support of this movement, who was outed (by the Tea Party Federation, not his own group) when he penned a letter to Abe Lincoln from the ‘coloreds’ that emancipation wasn’t such a good deal (he also referred to muslims worshipping a monkey-god) (15).
Shame on Fox News for portraying the Tea Party as a mainstream movement and for manipulating this end of our political spectrum, along with politicians like Newt Gingrich with his Islamophobic rhetoric (16), for political and financial gain. And shame on the Democrats for allowing a vocal ideologically-driven minority to dominate the dialogue. Because it is during tough economic times that people can be drawn into the anger, and it is during low turnout elections that a highly motivated minority can carry the day. I believe Jon Stewart has a point, it is time to restore sanity to the political process.
Besides exercising my right to vote, there are two issues that are motivating me to the polls this year. First, I am angry, angry about losing our surpluses, our balanced budget, our debt pay down, the financial security of our entitlement programs, and throwing away an extended period of prosperity, all for the sake of ideology that was manipulated by greed. Secondly, I would hate to see the social ideology of some of these Tea Party candidates finding its way into legislation.