Tag: Tea Party

The Tea Party and Foreign Policy

There has been an on-going discussion recently about the Tea Party’s foreign policy views and how this might influence the upcoming election and new members of Congress.  In an essay at the Daily Caller last week, the Heritage Foundation’s Jim Carafano addressed this question and the claim that the new “Defending Defense” initiative— led by Heritiage, AEI, and the Foreign Policy Initiative—is aimed at co-opting the Tea Party movement (for more on the substance, or lack thereof, of “Defending Defense,” see Justin Logan’s response here).

Over at The Skeptics blog, I take issue with Carafano’s assessment of the Tea Party’s foreign policy views:

With respect to Carafano’s assessment of the Tea Partiers’s views on foreign policy and military spending, most of what he puts forward is pure speculation. Little is actually known about the foreign policy views of a movement that is organized primarily around the idea of getting the government off the people’s backs. It seems unlikely, however, that a majority within the movement like the idea of our government building other people’s countries, and our troops fighting other people’s wars.

Equally dubious is Carafano’s claim that the Tea Party ranks include “many libertarians who don’t think much of the Reagan mantra ‘peace through strength’ ” but an equal or larger number who are enamored of the idea that the military should get as much money as it wants, and then some. Carafano avoids a discussion of what this military has actually been asked to do, much less what it should do. By default, he endorses the tired status quo, which holds that the purpose of the U.S. military is to defend other countries so that their governments can spend money on social welfare programs and six-week vacations.

Tea Partiers are many things, but defenders of the status quo isn’t one of them. This movement is populated by individuals who are incensed by politicians reaching into their pockets and funneling money for goo-goo projects to Washington. It beggars the imagination that they’d be anxious to send money for similar schemes to Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo, and yet that is precisely what our foreign policies have done – and will do – so long as the United States maintains a military geared more for defending others than for defending us.

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Overstating Differences Within the Tea Party

In a long essay in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, “What the Tea Partiers Really Want,” University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt argues, as the subtitle puts it, that “the passion behind the populist insurgency is less about liberty than a particularly American idea of karma.” Taking his cue from Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe’s claim in their new book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, that tea partiers “just want to be free, … so long as we don’t infringe on the same freedom of others,” Haidt notes that his research shows that while self-described libertarians agree most strongly with that view, liberals are not far behind, in contrast with the social conservatives “who make up the bulk of the tea party,” who are more tepid in their endorsement of that idea.

So why are libertarians and conservatives largely teamed up in the tea party? Haidt doesn’t really answer that question. Rather, his main aim, as noted, is to show that the tea party’s moral passion is not so much about liberty as about “an old and very conservative idea” of karma, which “combines the universal human desire that moral accounts should be balanced with a belief that, somehow or other, they will be balanced.” In other words, “kindness, honesty and hard work will (eventually) bring good fortune; cruelty, deceit and laziness will (eventually) bring suffering. No divine intervention is required; it’s just a law of the universe, like gravity.”

Yet in “the last 80 years of American history” the welfare state has undermined that moral balance, Haidt continues, nowhere more clearly, recently, than with the Bush bank bailout, using taxpayer dollars, which Armey and Kibbe claim was the real start of the tea-party movement.

Listen, for example, to Rick Santelli’s “rant heard ‘round the world” on CNBC last year and its most famous lines: “The government is promoting bad behavior,” and “How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” It’s a rant about karma, not liberty.

Haidt is certainly on to something here. And he develops and illustrates his thesis in some detail, including how the modern liberals’ focus on equality, and their attraction to government programs securing it, makes them uneasy with this karma, separating them from libertarians and conservatives. But he also argues that research that he and a colleague have done on “the five main psychological ‘foundations’ of morality” shows that “libertarians are morally a bit more similar to liberals than to conservatives,” leading him to conclude that it’s not clear how long the tea party blend of libertarians and conservatives can stay blended.

I won’t go into the details of Haidt’s five main psychological foundations of morality, except to say that, at least as presented in this essay, they raise as many questions as they answer. I will add, however, that lumping people into even self-identified ideological groupings is always problematic, since any such “group” will be constituted by individuals with a range of views and tendencies. Moreover, and more important, the contrast Haidt draws between liberty and what he calls karma is doubtless overdrawn. After all, the “libertarian” focus on liberty and the “conservative” focus on “karma” most often come to the same thing, at bottom. The “conservative” notion of individual responsibility, coupled with positive and negative sanctions, is fully realized only in a regime of liberty of a kind that “libertarians” have long promoted. In fact, to flesh that out more fully, the Journal has another useful essay this morning on the editorial page, Peter Berkowitz’s “Why Liberals Don’t Get the Tea Party Movement.” Much to think about as we cruise to the elections little more than two weeks away.

How Herbert Hoover Didn’t End the Depression

Joshua Green writes in the Atlantic, after discussing the Austrian economists’ views in 1929 on what to do about the not-yet-great depression:

Herbert Hoover’s Treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, offered similar counsel, famously urging Hoover to “liquidate” and “purge the rottenness out of the system.” But this failed to stop the catastrophe.

That’s true. And you know, here’s a general rule: Absolutely nothing that a treasury secretary says to a president will affect the real economy if the president ignores his advice and does something else.

Hoover didn’t cut federal spending, he doubled it. He established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He propped up wages and prices. Indeed, he launched the New Deal. And Green is right: In the face of these policies, Mellon’s memos to Hoover failed to stop the catastrophe.

The rest of the article, about Ron Paul as “The Tea Party’s Brain,” is pretty interesting.

Can We Take the Truth?

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is Alaska Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller correct to suggest that the federal minimum wage is unconstitutional? And beyond that constitutional question, is this a wise political strategy?

My response:

Joe Miller is absolutely right: The federal government has no authority under the Constitution to set a minimum wage – or to do so many of the countless other things it does today. When Nancy Pelosi was asked where in the Constitution Congress was authorized to order Americans to buy health insurance, she responded, “Are you serious?” That’s a mark of how little America’s political elites today understand the document they take an oath to uphold.

James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist 45 that the powers of the new government would be “few and defined” – a far cry from today’s Leviathan. How did the change happen? In a nutshell, the ideas of the Progressives – in particular, wide-ranging rule by elites – were incorporated in “constitutional law” (not to be confused with the Constitution), not by constitutional amendment but by a cowed Supreme Court following Franklin Roosevelt’s infamous 1937 Court-packing scheme. That opened the floodgates to the modern redistributive and regulatory state that so many Americans love so much today. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Rexford Tugwell, one of the principal architects of the New Deal, reflecting on his work some 30 years later: “To the extent that these new social virtues [i.e., New Deal policies] developed, they were tortured interpretations of a document [i.e., the Constitution] intended to prevent them.”

But that’s changing, if the Tea Party movement is any indication. The American people are waking up to the truth: The governmnet gives nothing that it doesn’t first take. It’s not Santa Claus. And whether the taking is in the form of money, property, or liberty, it comes to the same thing. So in answer to the question whether telling constitutional truths is wise political strategy, we’ll see. If the people can’t take the truth, it’s only a matter of time before we go the way of civilizations before us. Fortunately, we still have enough freedom to tell such truths.

GOP’s Pledge to America

The House Republicans’ release of its “Pledge to America” has been met with criticism from across the ideological spectrum. While excoriation from the left was inevitable, those who were hoping that the GOP would set out a detailed agenda for limiting government were also not satisfied.

The 48-page document contains more pictures of Republican members of Congress than it does evidence that the GOP is seriously prepared to cut spending. While the introductory commentary is designed to appeal to the tea party movement, the actual “plan” to return budgetary sanity to Washington is both timid and incomplete.

The following are some thoughts on the pledge’s “plan to stop out of control spending and reduce the size of government”:

  • The document immediately notes that the “lack of a credible plan” to tackle the mounting federal debt causes uncertainty for employers and investors. The problem is the GOP leadership doesn’t have a credible plan to address the debt, or at least this document doesn’t offer one.
  • It disingenuously promises to “cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” when in fact it only intends to do so for a small portion of the overall federal budget. The reduction would apply to discretionary, non-security spending, which only accounts for about 15 percent of total federal spending.
  • Not only does the GOP punt on the big-ticket programs like Social Security and Medicare, the document devotes an entire section to maintaining the interventionist foreign policy that is helping to bankrupt the country. The GOP doesn’t appear to understand that the American people are having an increasingly difficult time understanding why the government continues to take bricks out of our own economy in order to build nations around the globe.
  • The document says that the GOP will “root out government waste.” Waste goes with government the way peanut butter goes with jelly. Nancy Pelosi has made the same promise, which demonstrates the vacuous nature of the proposal.
  • The GOP says it will cut the operations budget of Congress. That’s fine, but the legislative branch’s budget is only about $5 billion.
  • Calling for an end to the federal government’s control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is a good idea. But that’s an easy position. They should instead be calling for an end to the government’s entire disastrous role in subsidizing homeownership.
  • The document calls for a freeze in federal non-security hiring. One would have thought the GOP would at least address exorbitant federal civilian employee pay. Freezing (or reducing) federal employment would take care of itself by eliminating agencies and programs, which is something the document doesn’t lay out a plan to do.
  • The GOP proposes to continue holding weekly votes to cut spending via its YouCut initiative. It’s a fine idea, but most of the cuts offered for consideration thus far have been relatively insignificant. For example, one of the cuts being proposed this week would “reduce funding for the wild horse and burro program to previously projected levels.” Not only would this only save $280 million over ten years, the GOP couldn’t even find the nerve to call for its outright abolition.
  • One piece of good news is that the GOP explicitly calls for the repeal of Obamacare.

With the Democrats content to irresponsibly promise more free lunches in the face of an unsustainable fiscal situation, it would have been refreshing for the House Republicans to square with the American people. However, with this document the GOP largely fell back on limited government platitudes.

GOP Sore-Loser Syndrome

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Does the Republican Party have a sore-loser problem?

My response:

Lisa Murkowski is Exhibit A of the GOP sore-loser syndrome. Poor little thing: She thought she was entitled to the seat. After all, Daddy gave it to her.

But she’s not alone: Charlie Crist, Bill McCollum, Bob Bennett, Bob Inglis, Mike Castle, Dede Scozzafava – all sitting on the sidelines, running against the primary opponents who beat them, or even endorsing the Democrat in the race. They confirm the Tea Party contention: They have no clue about the changes taking place beneath their feet. Lisa Murkowski talks about the bacon she’s brought back to Alaska. But unlike the people marching in Paris to protest moving the retirement age from 60 to 62, the growing Tea Party movement is marching across America with signs that say “We Want Less!” In other words, get out of the way so we can be free to plan and live our own lives.

Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, co-author with Dick Armey of the new book Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, has it exactly right when he says: “What you’re seeing in the Republican primaries amounts to a hostile takeover of the Republican Party – and I mean that in the technical sense of replacing a failed management and tired ideas.” It began, one could say, with slowly growing opposition to the two Bushes, who squandered the Reagan Revolution. It continued with the rejection, ultimately, of the Republican Congress that came to office in 1995, which in time forgot why it was elected as members grew far too comfortable in office. Today, the opposition to “business as usual” – to Republicans as “Democrat Lite” – has a full head of steam. A two-party system works only if the parties are distinct, standing on different principles. It’s taken a long time – since the New Deal – but that’s what we’re moving toward, and that’s good, because it gives voters a real choice.