The party at odds with reality

The Tea Party movement puts a superficial activist sheen on a worn-out story.

Thursday marked the beginning of a first national convention for the Tea Party movement. But this is no ordinary political rally; itâÄôs being run as a for-profit event by private individuals, complete with $549 entrance passes.
Sarah Palin, the keynote speaker of the event, was paid a hefty contract fee to attend. Make no mistake: this is not what grassroots political action looks like. There is very real and justifiable anger in this country all across the political spectrum about corporate bailouts, reckless spending, and a bloated, ineffectual federal government. Yet the Tea Party phenomenon, far from being the authentic grassroots conservative movement itâÄôs often painted as, only represents the latest attempt of conservative leaders to exploit that anger without really addressing the issues at hand. Under scrutiny, what is being billed as an anti-establishment revolutionary philosophy is, in fact, totally indistinguishable from the neoconservative party line of Bush-era Republican politics: smaller government, fiscal conservatism, and lower taxes for all. The only difference appears to be that this time, they’ve got homemade signs, and they’re shouting. Even the Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele, has claimed to be âÄúa tea partier,âÄù though it’s unclear what that might mean. Now, let me be clear that genuine fiscal restraint âÄî that is, an economic policy aimed at eliminating the federal budget deficit and reducing the national debt âÄî is sorely in need. The Bush administration was the biggest spender since LBJ in the 60âÄôs, though, so thereâÄôs no reason to have faith that the Republican party is capable of that kind of restraint. As far as other classically fiscally conservative policies go: if we can learn anything from the last decade, it is that conservative tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy policies leave the nation woefully and needlessly underfunded, while deregulated financial markets allow the greedy to exploit our financial system to the point of collapse. It is time to try a new approach to economic sustainability; if Tea Partiers or any Republicans want to be taken seriously, they need to explain exactly how they’ll do things differently this time, and why it will work. Until then, the Tea Party is much ado about nothing; it is a mask of disingenuous and misinformed populism drawn over the same old party line. It is championed, too, by the same shameless and unrepentant Limbaughs, Roves, and Fox News pundits who cheered on the last administration, even as it drove the country into the ground. By failing to distinguish itself in any meaningful way from the mainstream political right, the Tea Party movement only serves to reiterate the unwillingness or inability of conservatives to break with the failed and senseless policies that have plunged this nation into a profound depth of war, recession, and debt. Revolution it is not. Michael Pursell welcomes comments at [email protected]