Why Howard Dean Is Wrong In Seeing Any Value In The Tea Party Movement

Howard Dean has made many liberals wonder whether he ever did really represent the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party with his comments on the Tea Party:

“I actually approve of most of what the tea party is doing… I think it’s great to have individuals reach out to take their own responsibility for their own [future] and lashing out against government that has really forgotten them… but I also believe that there is a fringe of racism in the tea party, which unfortunately for the tea party that is focused on” by the media.

If you look at this superficially, his comments on individuals lashing out against the government might make sense. What Dean misses is that these people support conservative government and only lash out against liberal government (or their misconceptions of what the government is doing based upon misinformation spread by people like Glenn Beck). They weren’t out protesting against the economic policies of George Bush which created this economic mess. They weren’t out there protesting against the abuses of civil liberties, Republicans lying us into an unnecessary and foolish war, or the expansion of power for the Executive Branch. However when faced with a center-left Democrat (who actually would be center-right in Europe) they scream of an imaginary socialist threat

It actually would be a good thing if we had a fiscally conservative movement which was rational in their review of Democratic spending proposals and which didn’t carry all the other baggage of the authoritarian right. Unfortunately the Tea Party fails badly on both counts. Rather than providing a useful opposition which forces the Democrats to justify their spending before offering approval, the Tea Party blindly oppose everything.

There is a wide variety of individuals in the Tea Party movement but none of them have shown any grasp of how the budget really works. There is very little discretionary spending in the budget and in order to reduce the deficit as they demand three things must be done: 1) raise taxes, 2) slash military spending, and 3) slash spending on entitlements. Few, if any, in the Tea Party would go for either the first or second. Some would support cutting entitlements but this would launch a schism in the movement as others would protest any cuts in their Medicare.

The other problem remains that, even though the Tea Parties officially stress economic issues, these people have not suddenly dropped all their other views. The Tea Party is just today’s name for the far right wing of the Republican Party. This is just another reenactment of Rockefeller versus Goldwater in 1964, with both sides now considerably far to the right of both of them. Obviously there are no liberal Republicans such as Rockefeller on either side, and Barry Goldwater rejected the social conservatism seen in the Tea Party when he declared himself to be a liberal in his later years.

Andrew Sullivan explained how there isn’t any common ground between left and right in responding to a post by Jesse Walker:

If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?

Yes, they are, for the most part, emphasizing economic and fiscal issues, which is wonderful, even though they have no actual realistic plans to cut spending by the amount they would have to if taxes are not to rise. But that does not mean they have in any way forsaken the social issues substantively. Name a tea-party candidate who is pro-choice. Name one who backs marriage equality. Name one who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning next year. Name one who has opposed torture. Name one who has the slightest qualms about police powers. Name one who would end the military ban on gays serving openly, and take even the slightest political risk on any of these subjects.

I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you’re dreaming.

Despite taking symbolism from the American Revolution, keep in mind that in any analogy to the revolution the far right would be the Tories, opposing  the revolution and opposing liberals who share the ideals of the Founding Fathers.