Tea Parties: A First Step to What?

Mon, 14 Sep 2009 15:37:47 +0000

I have not been part of the "Tea Party" movement that has emerged this year. I don't feel like that movement provides the basis for a way forward in governing this country until it comes to grips with its recent past; namely, its nonexistent or muted protests to the fiscal policies of the Bush administration when taxes were cut ahead of any concrete plans for spending reductions to maintain budget balance. As I quoted in the spring, referring to the passage of Medicare Part D in 2003, "Where were the Medicare tea parties?"

Finally, this weekend, we had protests in Washington against the expansion of government participation in health care markets. As I have argued, we should more plainly describe the so-called "public option" as a buy-in to Medicare for all. And it would be ridiculous for people who envision a smaller government than we currently have to think that the so-called public option is anything other than the first step toward a new health care entitlement. There is just too clear a history of growth in entitlement programs after their inception and to little specificity in the President's speech about reforms like the risk adjustment mechanism for exchange-participating plans that are essential to preventing the public option from being the only option once it is established. If that is the motivation for the protests, then count me in. That the train is six years late in leaving the station is no reason not to get on board now that it is heading in the right direction. Health care reform ought to be proceeding at a more deliberate pace with a better case being made by its proponents.

But that train is not likely to carry the Republicans back to office for the long term. It only stops the other side from making things worse. It does nothing to build the foundations of good governance beyond the first election where it may be exhibited next year. Andrew Sullivan says it very well in response to his "Dissent of the Day" post:

Sure, Obama isn't ideal. I'd like a carbon tax rather than cap and trade, drastic 1986-style tax reform, and an end to the government subsidizing employer-based insurance plans. I'd also like marriage equality in every state and a flat tax and an immediate end to the military's gay ban. But unlike so many of these tea-partiers, I also realize that in real politics, you have to construct a solid coalition for all this and make arguments for it consistently (as Reagan did for decades) and have some credibility. But the GOP has been doing he opposite, fighting wars - cultural and military - instead of attending to basic fiscal responsibility and limited government. You cannot just pivot on a dime without some accounting of the recent past. Well, you can, but you look so partisan and so two-faced you'll only persuade people by ratcheting up fear and hysteria to drown out the actual issues.

His whole post is worth a read. See also this post from Diane Lim Rogers at EconomistMom, "What Exactly Are They Protesting?"