Distrusting Government: Tea Party Doesn’t Walk Its Talk

tea-party-arrow-350Tea Party adherents don’t trust government. They want less government, small government, maybe no government. For them, government can do no right. Everything that government bureaucrats do could be done better by private enterprise.

That’s the way most political commentary about the right wing goes these days. I think it’s partially wrong. Certainly Tea Party Republicans don’t trust our government: a Pew Research Center poll last month showed that only 3% trusted the federal government to “do what is right” most of the time. 55% of them said they were angry with the federal government, twice as many as among other Republicans or Democrats.

Conservatives talk a lot about shrinking government, but when they are in power they do no such thing. Federal spending increased in each year of the Reagan administration and each year of George Bush’s presidency. So did the federal deficit, which skyrocketed during both Republican presidencies. Rick Perry, Tea Party favorite and Governor of Texas since December 2000, has doubled his state’s spending since he took office.

Conservatives want government to stop doing some things and do much more of others. Their political targets for reduction represent liberal programs they don’t like. They hate that many of our state governments now allow marriage between homosexuals. They don’t want the federal government to prevent discrimination against homosexuals. When the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last week, only 10 Republicans voted for it, and 32 against. Speaker John Boehner says he won’t even bring the bill for a vote in the House.

They don’t want the government to prevent companies from polluting the environment. Only 22% of Tea Party Republicans have a favorable view of the Environmental Protection Agency, while 58% of Independents and 77% of Democrats view the EPA favorably.

Conservatives don’t want the federal government to use tax dollars to help the poorest Americans get by. House Republicans want to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. But the huge subsidies for big agribusiness were left virtually untouched.

Conservatives don’t want any government to restrict a person’s ability to buy an automatic weapon. TeaParty.org says “Gun ownership is sacred,” which is a strange statement from people who tend to take the Bible literally.

They don’t like the National Labor Relations Board, which tries to make sure workers are treated fairly. Republicans in the Senate held up President Obama’s appointments to fill vacant seats on the NLRB.

Small government works well as a rallying cry, but it is designed to mislead. Listen to Tea Party politicians, and you’ll get an earful about bigger government. Preventing abortions. Regulating marriage. Building walls around our borders. Forcing schools to tell Biblical stories as science. Continuing the war on marijuana, which has forced an enormous expansion of our prison system. Reinforcing the Patriot Act and its global network of surveillance.

TeaParty.org lists as one of its core beliefs that “Intrusive government must be stopped.” But just a little further along on that list is “Traditional family values are encouraged.” That is code for imposing an evangelical religious agenda on American politics. A Tennessee Tea Party group says its mission is “Putting God back in our schools – on our money and in our lives to govern our country.” A New York Times article in 2011 said, “The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.”

steve hochstadtTea Party supporters say they don’t trust government. If they had power, I believe they would use government to make their intrusive agenda into law. Suddenly the power of the state would be their friend. I don’t trust Tea Party politicians to shrink government.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on November 12, 2013
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About Steve Hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (2004) and Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich (2012), both from Palgrave Macmillan. He writes a weekly column for the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier and blogs for the History News Network. "His latest work is presented at www.stevehochstadt.com."