Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I'll Pass on the Tea

With the election today there's quite a few opinions shooting around the web particularly about the Tea Party. With all the rhetoric flying around the issues at stake have mostly flown under the radar. I think its time we really sat down to take a look at the Tea Party, some of its more well-known members, and their campaign platform.

First off let's take apart the platform the Tea Party has chosen to stand on. They have defined it by five broad slogans in the Contract From America that they will identify the constitutionality of every new law, demand a balanced federal budget, simplify the tax system, audit the federal government for constitutionality, and finally repeal Obamacare.

Now identifying the constitutionality of every new law is a great sounding idea and auditing the federal government for constitutionality dovetails with that perfectly. Who wouldn't like hearing that a party is promising to demonstrate where the constitutionality of their actions come from, on its face that stance is perfectly reasonable. This of course assumes this plank is only what it says on its face. The question not answered by this nice slogan is a pretty basic one: who determines constitutionality? There are multiple competing schools of thought as to what interpretations of the Constitution are the right ones. This plank practically begs the question of who is the final arbiter and by what measure are they determining something to be Constitutional. After all there is that pesky little "necessary and proper clause" which gives Congress the power to take any action that is deemed necessary for the United States.

Now most Tea Partiers will respond, "We'll interpret it exactly as written and not take anything out or put in things that aren't supposed to be there." If that is the case then why does Christine O'Donnell doubt the constitutionality of separation of Church and State which is clearly spelled out in Article VI section 3 and again in the First Amendment? If the Constitution is inviolate holy writ then why are there so many Tea Party candidates clamoring for an amendment to remove birthright citizenship? How can one claim on one hand the Constitution is sacred and untouchable one minute then the next start trotting out their plans to edit and rewrite very important parts of the allegedly untouchable document? It also leads me to question how consistent the Tea Party and its candidates really are on what is and is not a valid interpretation if they are so willing to break out the whiteout.

Now demanding a balance federal budget is one of those perfectly reasonable things to say on its face. In this one especially the devil is in the details. For all the shouts of "Cut spending!' and "the deficit is out of control!" or "People are tired of runaway federal spending!" there are very few that actually detail how this balanced budget is going to happen. When coupled with the cry against excessive taxes adds an additional element to the campaign for a balanced budget. Once you take one half of the budget process, namely raising revenue, off the table then all you are left with is cuts. Lots of cuts. Namely several hundred billion in cuts.

So what elements of the federal government are going to be rolled back that won't cause further pain and harm down the road? If you cut unemployment you are going to make several million people homeless in very short order. If you cut Medicare you'll end up with a lot of seniors going into bankruptcy thanks to medical expenses they can't afford. If you cut Social Security, the sacred cow of American politics, then you can bet those seniors who would have been badly off with the Medicare cuts are going to be even worse off now. "But we'll eliminate waste and pork!" the deficit hawks cry. The largest source of waste, the Pentagon, has been clearly made off-limits and never touched by the Tea Party. Once you take the Five Sided Pork Palace out of the equation then you're left with nowhere near enough waste to bring the budget close to balancing. Pork spending, for example, is estimated by the CBO to constitute maybe 5% of the federal budget. Cutting pork from the federal budget would have about the same effect for balancing the budget as repainting the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Simplifying the tax system is another great slogan. When asked about how they would do it the common Tea Party response is to replace the allegedly unconstitutional income tax (which by the way is authorized by Constitutional amendment) with a nationwide flat tax. The biggest problem with this idea is that implementing it would kill any possibility of a balanced budget. A flat tax code, unless it had rates of at least 35%, would not be able to pay all of the federal government's outstanding obligations for basic things like the deficit, the interest payments on the national debt, or even keeping the lights on. For such a system to work most of the federal government would have to be eliminated. That includes things like funding for the Interstate highway system, the military, funding for already cash-strapped schools, veterans' benefits, money for food inspections to make sure that Oscar Meyer doesn't decide to slip sawdust into their hot dogs, federal law enforcement, and of course keeping federal prisons open and the lights on.

Now to get to the big ticket one: repealing Obamacare. First off this is an empty promise. There are no election projections that show the Tea Party as having any shot at capturing 2/3rds of both chambers of Congress, the number needed to override a presidential veto so the odds of this happening can be safely said at least for the next two years as being somewhere between slim and none. The blanket repeal of Obamacare ignores a lot of the details in the law in the drive to overrule what has been defined as a "socialist" program, little things like kids being able to be on their parent's coverage until they're 26, banning denial of care based on pre-existing conditions, excessive rate hikes, and other nasty practices that the insurance industry loves so much. Now I think the health care reform act falls far short of where it should be and didn't do enough to address the issue I DO like those provisions. I like them very much. Throwing out all of HCR would toss out what reform is worth mentioning in the bill.

What gets me most about the Tea Party is those five slogans is their entire list for how to fix the country. No concrete proposals, no specific ideas for actually addressing the issues in front of us, just lots of great marketing slogans. Running a government is far more complicated than just shouting, "protect the Constitution!" and "No new taxes!" until you're blue in the face. The claims of taking back government from a Marxist Fascist (two mutually contradictory ideas) dictatorship tend to ring hollow when you have candidates who refuse to speak to the press, have journalists arrested by private security, regularly allude to using "Second Amendment remedies" or that "violent uprising is on the table", and that we are a Christian nation regardless of little things like freedom of religion. When you have candidates who shout for freedom and stifle it on the campaign trail or worse yet call for open violence as an acceptable political option that makes me question if their stances are nothing more than a handy pose to get into power. Talk is cheap, action is not.

Now as far as Pagans are concerned I think the forces that brought the Tea Party to center stage are a serious danger to our community. The demagoguery of people like Glenn Beck has incited fear of America being taken over by invisible enemies, that the rats are in the walls and chewing their way in. They cry we must go back to our past, to being a truly Christian nation, and reclaim America from the alleged plotters. They encourage a naked us vs. them kind of thinking that is very good at excluding people from the public process, particularly those who are already on the fringes. People like us.

Whether the Tea Party calls for it or not, their us vs. them, all or nothing rhetoric, campaign stances, and actions have inflamed dangerous passions in our country. This kind of politics requires an Other to oppose. Unfortunately, given the relative poverty and lack of influence in our community, that makes us all too easy a target.

Also posted at http://politics.pagannewswirecollective.com/2010/11/02/ill-pass-on-the-tea/

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