The Tea Partiers are not what they seem. They say they’re about freedom, not party, that they just want government off their backs. They appear to attack incumbents of both parties. So why are they all Republicans?
Americans have just suffered through eight years of escalating government intrusion into our lives. The Bush-Cheney version of Republican government violated constitutional rights with impunity, especially in their first term, when Congress was also controlled by Republicans. Once their secret surveillance programs became known, even the Republican-nominated Supreme Court rejected these Bush policies.
The only consistent critics of these infringements on our liberties have been Democrats, notably Barack Obama. The transition in Congress from Republican to Democratic majorities in the election of 2006 and the election of Obama in 2008 have meant a reversal of Republican violations of the Bill of Rights.
Why doesn’t this matter to the Tea Partiers, whose arguments all appear to end with anger at “big Obama government”? Here’s why: both Democrats and Republicans believe in using government intrusion into otherwise private matters to accomplish their objectives, but unlike the Republicans, liberals focus on the marketplace.
One of the 15 commandments on TeaParty.org is “Intrusive Government Stopped.” The website of the Tea Party Patriots makes clear what they mean: “we oppose government intervention into the operation of private business.” This is a familiar Republican idea, but as in everything else, the Tea Partiers are extremists. Rand Paul, Senate candidate in Kentucky, criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for prohibiting private business from racial discrimination. Sharron Angle, who just won the Republican nomination for Senate in Nevada, wants less government regulation of off-shore drilling, as BP’s catastrophic well keeps pumping oil into the ocean.
Another commandment is “Government Must Be Downsized.” But this is not the libertarian mantra. The TPs demand more government control to achieve their goals: “traditional family values”, English as the official language, pursuit of illegal immigrants.
Like many extremists, the TPs are blinded by ideology. They don’t understand the relationship of government and big business. TeaParty.org demands more “pro-domestic employment”, which means restrictions on the export of our jobs by global corporations. They want “Political Offices Available to Average Citizens”, which cannot happen without government restrictions on corporate political contributions.
The Tea Partiers won’t admit that big business is on their backs and everyone’s back. Despite their concerns about taxes, they don’t seem interested in where the rest of their money goes. They are obsessed with their property, but they don’t want to think through the complex economics which determines what their property is worth. If Obama and the Democrats prevent big banks from ripping them off through credit card fees, they won’t talk about it, because it might confuse their ranting about big government.
The Tea Partiers really are only interested in getting government off their backs. They don’t care about our backs or anyone else’s backs. They don’t care about people who look or sound like they might be recent immigrants – they want the whole country to follow Arizona’s new immigration and anti-ethnic studies policies. They don’t care about people whose lives are endangered by corporations. Even faced with the deaths of 29 miners in West Virginia and 11 oil workers on Deep Horizon, they continue to attack regulation. They don’t care about our safety, as long as their “sacred” right to carry guns wherever they go is unlimited.
The Tea Partiers are wrong. The people they support will increase government intrusion into our private lives, under the guise of protecting us from enemies all around, and will help big business exploit our private resources.
In any case, they won’t change American politics. Despite putting pretty faces like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin on their posters, they’re way too unattractive. Like the guy who strolls into Starbucks with his gun, they might get a lot of attention, but they’ll make no friends.
Mr. Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (Palgrave, 2004) and Shanghai-Geschichten: Die jüdische Flucht nach China (Berlin: Hentrich und Hentrich, 2007).
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 15, 2010. Published with the author’s permission.