The Tea Party gets a bad rap. It was mocked this weekend by the self-indulgent, incoherent Comedy Central rally in DC, supposedly to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. While some have said their rally meant nothing, I believe it was the encore performance of Bush-era contempt for those who were reasonably and genuinely concerned for safety in the age of Islamic terrorism. Oh, our “over-reaction” to 9/11, how funny that is. How funny that their rally coincided with the interception of numerous al Qaeda bombs from Yemen. So realistic those liberals (including Republican liberals like Bush and McCain), allowing in tens of thousands of Muslim Arabs after 9/11, while concerning themselves so punctiliously with the human rights of human scum down in GITMO.
That said, the concern with national security to the exclusion of other traditional conservative concerns after 9/11 has been a problem for the right. It’s not been a problem that national security became a concern. Bush clearly intended to defeat al Qaeda and took it seriously, even as he allowed his open borders liberalism to lead him into incoherence. But for the left, it was all just a big overeaction. We’re not really at war in their eyes. The enemy is just misunderstood or an echo of our own deep evil as a country.
The bigger problem for conservatives was that our post-9/11 prioritization of national security excluded the historical concern of conservatives for fiscal conservatism, a serious rethinking of the entitlement state, and the traditional concern for excessive debts. And that national security policy was made on explicitly liberal grounds of expanding democracy and maintaining high rates of immigration. The promise of the Tea Party movement (and its associated candidates) is that serious rollback of the entitlement state is now being discussed after a decade of Republican-led prolifgacy. And its criticism extends to weak-kneed Republicans like Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski.
Janet Daly observes the real import of the Tea Party movement:
It was widely known in Europe that the American Left hated George Bush (and even more, Dick Cheney) because of his military adventurism. What was less understood was that the Right disliked him almost as much for selling the pass over government spending, bailing out the banks, and failing to keep faith with the fundamental Republican principle of containing the power of central government.
So the Republicans are, if anything, as much in revolt against the establishment within their own party as they are against the Democrats. And this is what the Tea Parties (which should always be referred to in the plural, because they are not a monolithic movement) are all about: they are not just a reaction against a Left-liberal president but a repudiation of the official Opposition as well.
Nor are they simply the embodiment of reactionary social conservatism, which has been the last redoubt of the traditional Republican Right. There were plenty of people in New York who wanted to believe that Tea Partiers were just a new incarnation of the gun-totin’, gay-bashing right-to-lifers whom they found it so easy to dismiss as risible throwbacks. This is a huge political miscalculation, which quite misses the point of what makes the Congressional midterm elections this week such an interesting and historic political event. This is so much more than the predictable to-ing and fro-ing of party control midway through a presidential term. What the grassroots rebellion is really about is an attempt to pull the Republican party back to its basic philosophy of low-tax, low-spend, small government: the great Jeffersonian principle that the best government is that which governs least.
Of course, there is much radicalism among Tea Partiers, including a general concern for open borders and a sense of “shoving off” the guilt-trip they have endured from minority hustler politicians demanding more and more largesse and special treatment. The Tea Party should not restrict itself to fiscal conservatism or mere partisanship. It should not confuse itself, a la Glenn Beck, that a nonpartisan restoration of honor will do the trick. If the Tea Party leaders and their members would connect the dots of the open borders Third World invasion of America, the racial dynamics of affirmative action, the impossibility of “exporting democracy,” and the unsustainable American welfare state–as many have, individually–then real sustainable reform of our country and its health could occur.