Stimulus Hypocrisy and the Tea Partiers

The Washington Times recently used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain letters sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by numerous Republican lawmakers seeking stimulus money for their constituents. All of these Republicans had publicly criticized the stimulus and voted against it.

Georgia Rep. John Linder wrote on his website in October that recent unemployment figures “only reinforce the fact that the $787 billion ‘stimulus’ signed into law eight months ago has done nothing for job growth in this country.” But just two weeks earlier the congressman had sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on behalf of a foundation in his district seeking stimulus funds in which he claimed “the employment opportunities created by this [foundation’s] program would be quickly utilized.”

Remember South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson who infamously shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s speech to Congress in September? Here’s what he had to say in a letter to Secretary Vilsack on behalf of a foundation in his district:

“We know their endeavor will provide jobs and investment in one of the poorer sections of the Congressional District.”

According to his spokeswoman, Rep. Wilson opposed the stimulus as a “misguided spending bill,” but wanted to make sure his constituents “receive their share of the pie.” That’s pretty much the same excuse the rest of the GOP lawmakers gave: the stimulus is bad but my constituents deserve their “fair share.”

So much for principles.

Speaking of principles, it’s stories like this that should give the burgeoning Tea Party movement pause before getting too close to GOP politicians. I spoke to a newly formed group of a hundred or so tea partiers in southern Indiana back in December. The vast majority was concerned about Washington’s spending addiction and Beltway encroachment on their lives. In the two hours I fielded questions, only one brought up illegal immigration and nobody brought up Obama’s birth certificate. They weren’t worried about Muslims and gays – they were worried about what the mounting federal debt meant for their children and grandchildren’s future.

Therefore it was disconcerting to read that the organizers of this past weekend’s Tea Party Convention in Nashville brought in Tom Tancredo and Sarah Palin to speak. Tancredo’s agenda was typically nasty and counterproductive, while Palin’s combined her formulated hockey mom shtick with a sophomoric jingoism that should have appalled devotees of limited government. Yet, according to the video of her speech, the crowd loved it.

Instead of spending $100,000 on Palin, I suggest Tea Party organizers bring in my colleague John Samples to speak at the next convention. (John’s worth $100,000 but can be had for considerably less.) John recently wrote a column, entitled “Tea Partiers Shouldn’t Date the GOP,” that every budding tea partier should read.

Here’s an excerpt:

The quality that gives the Tea Party movement its legitimacy is that it is so fundamentally illegitimate: outside the establishment, bereft of representation on K Street, and without an identifiable face to speak for it on Meet the Press. This is a movement that sprang deep from within the viscera of America, not from some political poll or focus group.

It is not Republican; it is not even conservative. It has no interest in debating the merits of No Child Left Behind, abstinence-only sex education or George W. Bush’s rationale for going to Iraq. Replacing a “spend and borrow” Democrat with a “spend and borrow” Republican is not the goal of the Tea Party movement.

This movement is simply saying: “We are fine without you, Washington. Now for the love of God, go attend a reception somewhere, and stop making health care and entrepreneurship more expensive than they already are.”

I hope John’s right because if the movement allows itself to become entangled with the same party that publicly eschews big government stimulus while groveling behind the scenes for a piece of it, the [Tea] party will be over.