The Tea Party and Washington: Year One

In the year since the Tea Party arrived in Congress, the movement has managed to change the debate on Capitol Hill, but not the way Washington works.

The Tea Party has stopped President Barack Obama and the Democrats from bailing out profligate state governments, from passing new so-called “stimulus” spending, and from raising tax rates. It has even begun to win bipartisan support for major entitlement reform.



However, the Tea Party has failed thus far to stop the overall growth in the size and cost of government. It passed over a dozen bills that would accelerate economic growth and create new jobs, only to see those bills languish in Harry Reid’s Senate.

In both the debt ceiling and the payroll tax debates, the Tea Party saw its sensible bills rejected in favor of absurd compromises--then found itself being blamed for congressional gridlock.

The key to the Tea Party’s fortunes has been its relationship with the very establishment it dislikes. Where it has found common ground--for example, with House budget chair Paul Ryan--it has been able to promote its agenda of limited government. But when the Tea Party has clashed with Republican leaders--starting with key Senate races in 2010--Democrats have won by dividing conservatives from moderates, House from Senate.

The Obama camp is exultant about its political victory in the payroll tax debate. They do not care about the substance of the issue; if they did, they would worry that lower payroll taxes are gutting the Social Security system. They simply want to win--on any issue, at almost any cost.

As Democrat strategist (and convicted felon) Robert Creamer wrote today: “People follow--and vote--for winners....Human beings like to travel in packs.”

That remark, equating voters with animals, betrays the contempt Democrat leaders have for the American people--a contempt packaged more subtly in the misleading, divisive term “middle class.”

The United States is not a class-based society. Democrats adopted “middle class” to disguise redistributive tax-and-spend policies from the voters who had rejected them, in much the way that “progressive” came to replace the tainted “liberal.”

President Obama’s re-election campaign is largely based on contrived class warfare. His message has been amplified by a media that eagerly repeated the false "1%" meme of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tea Party, reading Madison instead of Marx, has lacked the language to respond. And the likely Republican presidential nominee, Gov. Mitt Romney, has simply capitulated to the Democrats’ “middle class” conceit.

American voters want an alternative, which is why Rep. Ron Paul’s rhetoric about liberty is winning support in Iowa, despite his controversial social views and his reprehensible foreign policy. Other candidates, who might have bridged the Tea Party-establishment divide, have abdicated not only the race, but the debate. Without clear leadership and strategy, the Tea Party may fail--and the country may pass the fiscal point of no return.

The Tea Party still needs leaders outside Washington, like Sarah Palin, to help carry its message. It should fight Obama’s class war, but on conservative terms, focusing on the “crony socialism” through which Obama enriches his friends at the expense of broader economic growth. That strategy will appeal to voters--and will encourage new leaders with the right political priorities to emerge from the establishment’s shadow.

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