The Tea Party Debate
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
1. The post on David Brooks is coming. But for now—due to popular demand—some comments on the Tea Party debate.
2. The problem with the Tea Party members is somewhat different from BIG THINK readers think: They're just too principled.
3. Example one: Romney was asked whether he was for the FAIR TAX (consumption tax). He patiently explained that it would be great for the rich and the poor, because the burden would fall disproportionally on the middle class. He got a pretty big Tea Party boo. Many Partiers believe that taxes on productivity (say, income) are immoral and even unconstitutional. (That's why Partiers have told me, with a straight face, that the 16th Amendment is unconstitutional.) They're all about the individualistic principle, and so sometimes not about the prudence or real fairness.
4. Example two: Romney tried to make Rick Perry look scary. Perry says in his recent book that Social Security is not onlly a "Ponzi scheme," but unconstitutonal (and so therefore should be abolished or devolved wholly to the states).
5. Romney presented himself, by constrast, as the humane and responsible reformer of Social Security and other entitlements. It's true that most people want these programs mended in order that they don't end up ended.
6. But the TEA PARTIERS are more with Perry here, and they see Romney as less about principle than expediency--especially when his insistent, incoherent defense of RomneyCare is added to the mix. And those Partiers might be close to half the electorate in Republican primaries.
7. Perry took one big hit on the level of principle. Bachmann made him grovel over his decision to give that anti-cancer vaccine to the schoolgirls of Texas. He said it was a pro-life move, but one thing principled conservatives hate these days is government using health and safety as an excuse to become more intrusive, especially when it comes to their kids. The whole thing, in Michele's eyes, was an offense against the principle of individual consent.
8. The liberal principle that corresponds to the the Tea-Party principle that the whole welfare state is unconstitutional is the idea of "welfare rights" (meaning the right to receive welfare), which was popular in the 1960s. Here's another version: People have a right to health care (which they don't). Social Security, in truth, is not unconstitutional, even if it turns out it was a very ill-considered choice. And Congress can provide for welfare or health care or not, according to what it regards as best and as affordable. (There are limits in both cases, of course—such as mandates.)
9. But those Tea Partiers are patriotic. So Ron Paul had a bad night with them. He seemed to say 9/11 was our fault, and that earned him a rousing boo.