Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nervousness About the Tea Party

Michael Gerson editorializes from the perspective of those GOP insiders who are nervous about how the Tea Party's candidates will affect their political future. Although his general attitude toward the Tea Party movement is one of condescension, Gerson's rhetorical questions are posed to candidates, not to members of the movement - the Republican Party appears to believe that it can coopt the Tea Party movement, but is worried that the political candidates associated with that movement will capture the movement's enthusiasm, and push (or pull) the movement in a direction that is not compatible with the Republican Party's long-term interests.

His column could be viewed as trying to identify wedge issues that would separate some of the Tea Party's candidates from the larger group. Do the candidates believe that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and that they should be abolished? Do they believe immigration diminishes the nation? Do they believe their rhetoric about armed resistance to the government's social programs?
Most Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are understandably concerned about the size and reach of government. Their enthusiasm is a clear Republican advantage. But Tea Party populism is just as clearly incompatible with some conservative and Republican beliefs
At Tapped, Paul Waldman comments on Gerson's column,
Is the Tea Party the new religious right? By which I mean, the grassroots group the GOP uses to mobilize voters, then once in office, keeps serving up symbolic expressions of love without much to show in the way of actual policy goodies, while hoping to keep the crazies under wraps. The fact is that the Republican establishment has always been a bit uncomfortable with the religious right, as much as they need them to win elections. And that establishment may become increasingly unsettled with the Tea Party.
I sense that Gerson would like the Tea Party movement to become a new religious right. A reliable Republican voting bloc that can be kept inside the "tent" through a series of promises and mostly token gestures that don't interfere with the party's larger agenda. What he seems to fear is that the movement will not be coopted, and that its candidates will split the vote resulting in Democratic victories at the polls, or that it will not be content with tokenism and, to maintain a relationship, the GOP will have to adopt positions that are inconsistent with its long-term political viability.

As one would expect from Gerson, he takes no responsibility for the role of his former lord and master in creating the present economic debacle, what a more honest man might deem the cracked foundation upon which the Tea Party movement was built. He does not appear to be sufficiently reflective to consider his own role in the Bush Administration, although I grant that speechwriters are largely fungible. He snarks, "The Democratic political nightmare is now obvious and overwhelming", never mind that the nation continues to reel from an economic collapse and record deficits that started on G.W.'s watch, and that the policies that could have had the most impact on the recovery were broadly opposed by Republicans - he speaks for a party that appears to see benefit in perpetuating economic hardship and has no discernible ideas of its own for how to turn things around. (We're promised a set of ideas sometime in September, about three years late by my measure, timed for the election and not as part of a genuine policy initiative.)

In short, it's pretty typical stuff for Gerson, reflecting the worst aspects of the Republican Party's elite: How to save the Republican Party and ensure that it gains and holds power, even if it represents a policy void, a party with no ideas and no agenda to help or improve the nation.

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