Again, another great point raised at BigGovernment.com 2010 is no longer ephemeral- it is here, now. Let’s get the party started!!!!!
Tea Parties, Third Parties and the Republican Party
by Thomas Del Beccaro
The struggles of the Democrats and the Republicans are making news. The Democrats are learning that it is far easier to make campaign promises than it is to govern. As for Republicans, the party that loses the Presidential election often spends the off-year attempting to refine its message if not find a new message and new messengers. In the watchful eye of 24/7 cable news channels and the Internet, however, such political soul searching can appear rather untidy. As the calendar turns, the process remains unresolved for Republicans to say the least. Worse than mere overexposure, according to Rasmussen polling, despite Obama’s falling polls and Democrat divisions, the Republican Party would fare worse in an upcoming election than the Tea Party – a “Third Party” that, as of yet, does not exist. It is no minor issue because with the help of Tea Party activists, Republicans certainly can beat Democrats next year – without them they may not.
It would seem evident to many that the Tea Party movement should be the natural ally of the Republican Party. After all, the issues that inspire most Tea Party activists should not be inimical to Republican Party leaders. However, the fact that the Tea Party movement is at odds with certain aspects of the Republican establishment belies the greater issue as to why the Tea Party movement – and its potential to be a 3rd Party movement – arose at all.
It is worthy, as part of this discussion, to note that the rise and fall of third party movements and candidates is directly tied to whether voters perceive the existing parties as being successful. In this context, successful means providing effective leadership on the major issues of the day.
The Republicans should well know this lesson. After all, the Republican Party came into being because the Whig Party of the 1850’s and 1860’s was perceived as not willing to provide effective leadership on the most divisive issue of the day – if not the most divisive issue ever: slavery. Appearing too accomodationist to many voters, a third major party came into being under the leadership of Lincoln and others: the Republican Party – a party that, in time, took a decisive stand against slavery.
More recently, Ross Perot ran twice for President and gave life to the Reform Party. It is more than arguable that Perot handed Bill Clinton the Presidency by drawing so many votes away from President Bush in 1992. But did he? As a matter of history, Perot was more of a symptom of failed leadership by Republicans than cause of Clinton’s victory. The errors of the Bush Administration gave rise to a perception that the Republican Party was the party of higher spending and higher tax rates – a policy that led to burgeoning deficits. Bush 41 was not perceived as a leader in the wake of breaking his “no new tax pledge” and the Democrats were not exactly considered leaders on how to handle the deficit either. It is on such political battlefields that disgruntled voters take interest in a third voice – in that case, Ross Perot and his Reform Party.
Of course, the John Anderson presidential run should be noted as well. There was little doubt that in 1979 and in the beginning of 1980, the public’s view of both the Democrat Party and the Republican Party had dimmed considerably. Amidst double-digit inflation and unemployment, 20+% interest rates, and little in the way of Republican Congressional leadership to contrast Jimmy Carter failings, John Anderson ran as an Independent candidate for President. He came out of the gate with 25% in the polls – 6% higher than Perot’s highest ever finish.
Yet Anderson wound up not winning a single precinct. Why? Because Ronald Reagan ran a stirring campaign behind the theme that “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.” And with that, Reagan and his strong leadership and policies won two terms (three if you count Bush 41s’ first term) and there was no third party challenge until Bush Sr. ceded Reagan’s high ground of leadership as referenced above.
All of which brings us to the Tea Party movement.
The numbers of Independents voters is on the rise again. Voters everywhere believe the Democrat Party and the Republican Party are more partisan than effective. The Tea Party movement is an out-growth of that perception.
At its core, the Tea Party movement is a pro-liberty – limited government movement. Its activists continue to believe in Reagan’s cogent message about government. Beneath that over-arching theme, Tea Partiers by-in-large are motivated by four major issues. (1) excessive taxation, (2) out-of-control spending, (3) out of control Legislators who pass bills without reading them, and (4) the apparent lack of adherence/respect for our Constitution. None of those issues should be troublesome for the Republican establishment – yet there is anything but an easy alliance between the Tea Party movement and the Republican establishment. It is a wonder why that is so.
Excessive Taxation. The issue of burdensome taxation has motivated Americans from the time of the Boston Tea Party to today. Always a potent issue, many activists wonder why the Republican Establishment has lost their voice on this important issue. Keep in mind that the issue is not just that people don’t want to pay taxes because they are stingy. The issue is why aren’t Republican leaders making the case to the American people (1) that high tax rates defeat their own purpose (Keynes), (2) that “that our present tax system … exerts too heavy a drag on growth … siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power, [and] reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment, and risk-taking.” (Kennedy), or (3) that through tax relief we can grow the American economy (Reagan). Surely taking up that mantle – with clarity – is not a request that is too much for Tea Partiers to ask of Republican leaders.
Out-of-Control Spending. The issue of government waste and spending is of major concern to many activists around the country. Keep in mind that in 1964, the entire federal budget was roughly $130 billion and poverty was approximately 14%. The federal budget is nearly $4 trillion a year now. We currently make social welfare transfers of over $1 trillion per year. Yet the federal poverty rate remains around 14%. Disgruntled Tea Partiers (and Ron Paul supporters) know that intuitively even if they do not always know the statistics. Should not Republican leaders be exposing the stunning level of federal waste (including $1 in every $10 of Medicare spending) at every turn – even filibustering ever growing budgets which provide little return on investment? Is that request too much to ask? – let alone insisting they refrain from pork barreling themselves?
Reading the Bills. Federal legislation now exceeds 1,000 pages at a time. It is well beyond common knowledge that most politicians do not even read the bills upon which they vote. Given that so many congressmen and women are lawyers who would never expect their clients not to read the contracts they sign, is it really an exorbitant request of those same politicians to read bills before they bind us to legislation from which, incredibly, they often exempt themselves?
The Constitution. There can be little doubt that our Constitution is not interpreted as our Founders intended. Jefferson and Madison opined that the Constitution did not permit the Congress to tax people to build roads. Now, without so much as an amendment, we tax people to subsidize the purchase of cars that run on those roads built with tax dollars. In that light, many activists well understand Justice Scalia’s commentary that “The Constitution is not a living organism, it is a legal document. It says something and doesn’t say other things.” The question is whether Republican leaders believe the same or are willing to defend the same.
The reality of today is that the Tea Party movement is more than skeptical of whether the Republican establishment is willing to take a stand on those issues or whether they are more interested in playing Let’s Make a Deal with American principles. In other words, they do not believe that they are providing effective leadership on those important issues. Instead, they do things such as offering a Presidential candidate who wanted to buy up all the bad mortgages that government encouraged in the first place. A government response to a government problem – Reagan would not be pleased – and neither are Tea Partiers. If Republicans were providing effective leadership on those important issues, I would hazard a guess that there would not be a Tea Party movement today.
In the final analysis, Republicans never do so well as to defend freedom and the expense of government – when they run against City Hall instead of defending it. Not coincidentally, Americans never do so well as when freedom is protected from government. Reagan understood that and that is why he ran against the Washington establishment instead of encouraging it.
Unless Republicans regain that understanding, rather than winning next year with Tea Party support amidst the troubles of the Democrats, Republicans may well be alone wearing the Whigs of long ago.