Why Do Liberals Hate the Tea Party?
January 15, 2011 19 Comments
Why do liberals hate the Tea Party? It’s not a cynical hatred. It’s fully genuine. It’s not even, electorally speaking, in liberal self-interest to revile the Tea Party. They should be secretly cheering them on, since the Tea Party cost the Republicans at least two Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada. In Delaware, a very popular and electable Republican lost the Republican nomination to a controversial Tea Party-endorsed candidate, who then lost. In Nevada, the contest against Harry Reid should have been the Republican lock of the century, until a dicey Tea Party-endorsed candidate got nominated.
So liberals, one would think, might welcome this energetic “diversity” on the right, because it produces some unelectable Republicans and generally introduces rightwing splintering — a dynamic the left has long nursed with lament as exclusively its own.
Nor does the hatred seethe in an unbalanced power dynamic. The Tea Party does not control any organs of government, or even sport a single federal elected representative under its name. Until the 2010 elections, in fact, liberals controlled all federal organs of government (putting aside the difficulty of identifying the ideological leanings of the federal judiciary and how those ideological leanings might influence what could be called “federal policy” through the judiciary — but even here, President Obama’s nominations to the federal judiciary have been strikingly liberal). Relatively speaking, liberals are completely in control, not Republicans or conservatives, and certainly not the Tea Party. So power grievance politics cannot be an explanation.
What then accounts for not merely the distaste, but the often virulent revulsion, of liberals for the Tea Party? Is it because some tiny number of right-wing extremists might find a greater comfort in the Tea Party than elsewhere? Surely not. The instances of genuine extremist infiltration of the Tea Party are remarkably few — and generally ferreted out honorably. The ordinary folks and grandpas and PTA vice presidents that comprise the Tea Party are overwhelmingly people of good will. And in any event, surely the left wouldn’t forget its own extremist infiltration during the Bush years. I don’t believe liberals hate the Tea Party simply because of its distasteful margins — anymore than it would be fair to tar the left categorically because of its extremist elements. I believe they object to the Tea Party itself, to the phenomenon. I’m just having a hard time understanding why.
Part of the answer may be that liberals perceive the Tea Party as “more conservative” than Republicans — indeed, the very reason the Tea Party arose, because, in the words of a thoughtful liberal friend, “Republicans were not conservative enough.” The liberal disdain for Republicans then would be redoubled with respect to the Tea Party. I tend to go with this explanation, because it is simple and doesn’t involve either conspiracy theories or elaborate electoral calculations (e.g., if the Republicans and the Tea Party successfully married, then Democrats would be in trouble).
But is it accurate? Is the Tea Party really more conservative than Republicans? Tea Party-endorsed candidates and commentators have been unapologetic in their disdain for establishment politics. That has energized American politics with both a refreshing fright to the establishment, and a political naiveté — neither of which, I would think, liberals would find disturbing.
It is not at all clear that Tea Party-endorsed candidates and commentators emerge as more conservative than Republicans — anymore than it is ever possible to say with certainty that libertarians are more conservative than Republicans. It depends on the issues.
The roots of the Tea Party are clearly libertarian. The overwhelming majority of Tea Party sympathists simply think the federal government has gone too far.
Liberals who have expressed concern that Barack Obama hasn’t done enough are living on another planet. Barack Obama has been a remarkably effective President — so remarkably that many Americans were driven for the first time into electoral politics out of alarm that President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Majority Leader Reid were altogether too successful at expanding the federal government. The Tea Party, as well as Republican electoral success in 2010, is a direct result of a remarkably successful liberal agenda.
But the targets of the Tea Party and Republicans were different. Fortunately, we have stated platforms that illustrate this difference.
The Tea Party developed the Contract From America in 2009, finalized in 2010, based upon an on-line vote that narrowed 21 ideas down to ten, with 454,331 votes cast (the parenthetical at the end of each statement is the vote percentage for the statements).
- Identify constitutionality of every new law: Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does (82.03%).
- Reject emissions trading: Stop the “cap and trade” administrative approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of pollutants. (72.20%).
- Demand a balanced federal budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax modification. (69.69%)
- Simplify the tax system: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words – the length of the original Constitution. (64.9%)
- Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality: Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in an audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities. (63.37%)
- Limit annual growth in federal spending: Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth. (56.57%).
- Repeal the health care legislation passed on March 23, 2010: Defund, repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (56.39%).
- Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy: Authorize the exploration of additional energy reserves to reduce American dependence on foreign energy sources and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation. (55.5%).
- Reduce Earmarks: Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark. (55.47%).
- Reduce Taxes: Permanently repeal all recent tax increases, and extend permanently the George W. Bush temporary reductions in income tax, capital gains tax and estate taxes, currently scheduled to end in 2011. (53.38%).
Now this is interesting, “radical,” arguably, in certain of its particulars, like the balanced budget constitutional amendment, or the IRS-reducing proposal — but not really. Most of this is technical governance material — focused on federal budgeting and financing and overreaching in health care and energy — none of it the red meat for liberal revulsion.
Naturally, however, no Democrats signed the Contract. But many Republicans balked as well. Republicans produced instead their Pledge to America:
- Extending the temporary tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 for all taxpayers, including those for those earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples).
- A tax deduction for small businesses on up to 20 percent of their business income.
- A hold on all unspent funds authorized as part of 2009’s stimulus bill or the 2008 TARP legislation.
- Roll back government spending to 2008 levels, to save $100 billion while exempting “seniors, veterans, and our troops” from cuts; this would entail cutting 21 percent of the $477 billion budgeted for domestic discretionary spending.
- A hiring freeze on all federal agencies except those necessary to national security.
- A repeal of the 2010 health-care reform bill.
- Reform of medical liability and health insurance practices.
- A permanent ban on any federal funding for abortions.
- Honoring traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
- A requirement that Congress post all bills online three days before a vote.
- A requirement that lawmakers cite the specific constitutional authority that enables the legislation.
- A ban on trials on U.S. soil for detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay.
This is remarkable. Republicans produced a wish-list at once more credible and practical, befitting their pragmatic establishment status — and more conservative. The Tea Party, befitting its libertarian roots, had nothing to say about abortion or gay marriage or any other social issue — not even Guantanamo.
So why do liberals hate the Tea Party? I get, as a moderate Republican wishing the success of Republican candidates, why liberals might hate me. But the Tea Party in many respects is closer to a kindred spirit. Why the hate? Is it Sarah Palin?
This will sound ungenerous, which we’re not supposed to do anymore — but I believe many liberals latched upon Sarah Palin because it was a lot easier to indulge revulsion of a popular conservative woman given to sound-bite mishaps than to engage the particulars of Tea Party or Republican platforms.
I think there might be a lot more in common among some angry liberals and Tea Partiers than there is among either and establishment players of both parties.
UPDATE 1-15-2011: Bill Maher, contrasting the founding fathers and “tea baggers,” said “one is a group of exclusively white men who live in a bygone century, have bad teeth, and think of blacks as three-fifths of a person. And the other are the founding fathers.” Then, “I think it’s pretty clear that the founding fathers would have hated your guts and what’s more, you would have hated them.” Bill Maher and Paul Krugman need to go somewhere private and truly contemplate their perfections together.