New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer has been one of the Tea Party’s most enthusiastic enemies. No sooner had the new conservative class arrived in D.C. in 2011 than Schumer began spoiling for a fight. He was virtually begging for a government shutdown from day one–and whenever Republicans caved to President Barack Obama to keep the government going, Schumer goaded them. He believed Democrats would benefit from any confrontation.
He was wrong.
Though Republicans suffered short-term political damage from the shutdown of the fall of 2013, voters had long since forgotten by November, 2014, when the GOP dealt Obama and the Democrats an historic defeat.
Now, Schumer–perhaps with his eye on replacing Minority Leader Harry Reid after the 2016 elections–has admitted candidly, in a speech on Monday at the National Press Club, that the Tea Party was right after all.
Specifically, Schumer admitted that pushing for Obamacare in 2009 was not a good idea–that the reforms only benefited a small number of Americans, while imposing costs on many. He also said that the 2009 stimulus “was not the bright spot it could have been,” partly because it was too “wide” (though he still thinks it ought to have been bigger).
These two major political events, he acknowledges, helped fuel the ongoing Tea Party revolt.
Of note: Schumer failed to list racism as a factor. Instead, he acknowledged that the Tea Party was motivated by political events. That is a profoundly important acknowledgment–and a sign that the leading lights of the Democratic Party know just how cynical a game they have played by introducing claims of racism into the political mix.
On that count, Schumer’s speech amounts to a vindication of the Tea Party–a sin the left will not soon forgive.
The left is also furious at Schumer for knocking Obamacare. Several former Obama staffers have vented their rage against Schumer on Twitter–and they have a point: he supported Obamacare enthusiastically at the time.
Like Hillary Clinton, who is desperately trying to shed any responsibility for foreign policy decisions Obama made while she was Secretary of State, Schumer is throwing Obama under the bus to save his own ambitions.
Conservatives, however, are also unimpressed. Matthew Clark noted at RedState that Schumer still “doesn’t get it.” Schumer’s prescription for the Democrats’ woes is not that they must re-think their approach to government but that they must “embrace government.”
Schumer still believes “the public knows in its gut that a strong and active government is the only way to reverse the middle class decline and help revive the American dream.”
He never describes quite what he means by “middle class,” and his concept of government is rather murky. Schumer says government’s job is “to stand up to…economic forces like technology and globalization.” Never mind that no government has been able to stop these developments without making its citizens vastly poorer or less free. And notably, Schumer does not think government should protect middle class jobs from illegal immigration.
Clark calls Schumer’s approach nothing more than spin. Schumer, he charges, recognizes “that the Left is losing the battle for hearts and minds over ObamaCare and in broader terms big government itself,” but is unwilling to reject those policies or principles.
Instead, Schumer proposes a political strategy: embrace government, take on a few special interests, produce a plan. Communicate better, he says, and the middle class will come running.
Clearly, there is nothing new in that strategy. It has been the Democratic Party playbook for the past several years. And it won’t work–not only because voters have become more skeptical of big government, and not only because conservative policies are succeeding in Republican-governed states, but fundamentally because the desire for material well-being is not actually what motivates Americans, nor what they look to government to provide.
That is what Schumer fails to understand.
He says the Statue of Liberty symbolizes “the American dream,” which he describes as “if I work hard I will be doing better ten years from now than I am doing today.” It is odd that a supporter of immigration reform would forget the Emma Lazarus poem at the foot of that statue–that the poor, huddled masses yearn to “breathe free,” not to enjoy the same false guarantees from which they have fled.
It was Barry Goldwater who observed, over 50 years ago, that “Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of men’s nature.” Schumer’s prescription for the Democratic Party’s revival cannot work, and it cannot inspire.
Yet he does seem to believe sincerely in what he is saying–including about the Tea Party. In that sense, Schumer’s message is both long awaited, and long overdue.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak