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Sunday, April 25, 2010

BALANCING HEALTHCARE, PUBLIC POLICY AND POLITICS: Why the Tea Party Movement Makes the Left Nervous

Balancing Healthcare, Public Policy and Politics with Linda de Seife

On April 15th, tax day, I attended my first Tea Party in front of Town Hall in my community of about 60,000 residents. All in all, it was a pretty sedate affair. It drew about 200 people, some from neighboring towns. Mostly, it was comprised of known Republican activists. Many of the speakers were Republican candidates for statewide office. We were welcomed by our First Selectman (the New England equivalent of mayor). Both my friend and I were surprised that he would publicly support the tea party movement. And, there were a couple of known Democratic leaders who quietly listened, but were subsequently quoted in the local paper, defending their President’s policies.

Prior to rally day, the national tea party movement sent e-mails containing instructions on behavior and warning about potential rowdy infiltrators seeking to paint the movement in an unfavorable light. By preparing, and outing these hooligans, the tea party organizers almost guaranteed that they would not show up. Good for them!

Whether through infiltrating rallies or trying to marginalize the movement, as the President and his supporters have, my question is, “why do they feel it necessary?” What are they afraid of?
Maybe they’re afraid of these statistics:

  • An April 13th Rasmussen poll indicates that 24% of U.S. voters say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement. Another 10% say they have close friends and family who are.

  • 48% of voters now say that the average tea party member is closer to their views on major issues than President Obama. 52% believe that the average tea partier has a better understanding of the issues facing America than the average Member of Congress.

  • Just 21% of voters nationwide believe that the federal government now enjoys the consent of the governed.

Add to this the results of a new Pew poll which finds historic levels of unhappiness about the federal government and its role in Americans’ lives. Only 22% said that they can trust the federal government always or almost always, the lowest level in 50 years.

While this level of discontent is a worry for all incumbents, two factors should cause more worry for Democrats: first, they have the most to lose; and, second, the Pew poll also found that the discontent runs more deeply among Independents and Republicans. Those who are highly dissatisfied say they are absolutely certain to vote. Historically, passion and intensity are strongly correlated to turnout and results, especially in mid-term elections.

What else are the tea party bashers afraid of? Maybe what they’re afraid of is that a majority of the American people is not buying in to their culture of dependence. Michael Barone’s April 19th commentary in the Rasmussen Report nailed it. “The Obama Democrats’ vast expansion of the size and scope of government is really not just about economics. It is really a battle about culture… (they) see a society in which ordinary people cannot fend for themselves. They are trying to permanently enlarge government and increase citizens’ dependence on it.”

The tea partiers, on the other hand, believe in the culture of independence which motivated the Founding Fathers and which has enabled America to become the most productive and prosperous nation. We believe in American exceptionalism, Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on the hill.”

Barone further points out that Obama won election in 2008 with a “top-and-bottom” coalition – those dependent on government transfers and benefits, and those in what David Brooks calls “the educated class.” Obama barely exceeded 50% among those between the two extremes. These are the believers in the culture of independence who are fueling the tea party movement.

Although the tea party movement is a grass roots, decentralized one, their message comes together in the “Contract from America” (See for more details.) The #1 plank in the contract is protect the Constitution. This is followed by: reject cap and trade, demand a balanced budget, enact fundamental tax reform, and restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington.

George McGovern learned the power of the “silent majority” in 1972. When almost half of voters say that the average tea party member is closer to their views than the President is, today we are a not-so-silent majority who support the moral values of the culture of independence and the constitutional values of limited government based on the consent of the governed.

Archibald Mac Leish said, “Criticism in a free man’s country is made on certain assumptions, one of which is the assumption that the government belongs to the people and is at all times subject to the people’s correction and criticism.” The criticism has been loud and clear. November should bring the correction.

Quote of the Month: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
-- Ronald Reagan

For more information, please visit Linda's TNNW Bio.


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