Within the last few years, a phenomenon emerged to become among the most formidable forces in contemporary American politics. It goes by the name of "the Tea Party movement."
Supposedly, the Tea Party movement is not affiliated with either of our two national political parties. Rather, it is composed of millions of ordinary Americans who, jealous as they are of the liberties bequeathed to them by their progenitors, find intolerable the gargantuan proportions to which the federal government has grown.
This, at any rate, is the conventional account of the genesis and character of the Tea Party movement.
I once endorsed it. Sadly, I no longer can.
It is my considered judgment – a judgment, mind you, from which I derive not the slightest satisfaction – that the Tea Party movement, like the so-called "conservative media" of Fox News and talk radio, has become, if it hasn’t always been, an organ of the GOP.
Those who would convict me of treating the Tea Party movement unfairly on this score shouldn’t be so hasty.
Contrary to the assertions of their leftist critics, that the glaring profligacy of George W. Bush and his Republican-dominated Congress failed to give rise to the Tea Party most certainly is not the function of a lack of sincerity on its members’ part. Still less can this be attributable to some perceived racial animus that the latter have toward the current occupant of the White House. As far as broadening the scope of the federal government is concerned, it is true that Barack H. Obama exploited the trends initiated by his predecessors, both Democrat and Republican alike; yet, understandably enough, both the rapidity and the aggressiveness with which he sought to strengthen this Colossus provoked the backlash that is the Tea Party movement.
The Republicans spared no occasion, and no expense, to feed Leviathan – and yet the Tea Party never came. But it is a mistake to think that this is what warrants concerns regarding Tea Partiers’ declaration of neutrality vis-à-vis political parties. The suspicion that the Tea Party movement is essentially an arm of the Republican Party is not rooted in what it may or may not have done in the past; the suspicion is fueled by what self-identified Tea Partiers are doing right now.
It hasn’t been uncommon to hear Republicans, whether politicians or "conservative" media personalities, wax repentant over having "lost their way" during the years that the vast apparatus of power was at their disposal. In reality, though, the only thing for which the Republicans are sorrowful is that they lost the dominant position that they once held. This, at least, is by far the most reasonable conclusion that we can draw, for genuine repentance demands that the penitent come to terms with his specific sins. This Republicans have singularly failed to do.
And yet, Tea Partiers continue to give them a pass.
Anyone who doubts this need only consider the GOP’s presidential primary contest.
If Tea Partiers really are concerned about affecting a dramatic reduction in the size and scope of the federal government; if they really want to deprive the government of much of its sustenance – i.e. "spending"; and if they really want to restore the constitutional republic to which our Founders gave birth and, thus, the liberty that this entails, then it should be obvious to all with eyes to see behind which of the candidates they should be throwing their unqualified support.
That candidate, of course, is Congressman Ron Paul.
In fact, truth be told, if it is the substance of a candidate’s ideas and his or her determination to realize them to which they ascribe importance, there isn’t a single other contestant in this race at whom Tea Partiers should glance twice.
My sympathies lie with Dr. Paul, of course, but it would be a grave mistake for his detractors to dismiss my verdict simply as a function of those sympathies. There are some very good reasons – i.e. considerations that, whether they ultimately embrace them or not, reasonable people must concede are legitimate – for the judgment that, by the professed standards of the Tea Partiers, Dr. Paul is their candidate par excellence.
As of this juncture, it seems that there exists a chasm of considerable depth between, on the one hand, Tea Partiers’ rhetoric of "limited government," "lower taxes," and "less spending" and, on the other, their resolute failure to specify so much as a single program from the Bush era that they wish to revoke. In this respect alone they are indistinguishable from the Republicans who they support.
This brings us to our second premise: to judge from the presidential primaries, one could be forgiven for thinking that Republicans haven’t changed their spots at all. True, thanks to the tireless labors of Dr. Paul, some Republicans, like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, now recognize the need to make the occasional derogatory reference to the Federal Reserve; but outside of that, none of the candidates sound any differently now than the GOP presidential candidates of 2008.