The Awkward Moment When the Tea Party Realizes They’ve Been Pawns

women-tea-partyRemember when the Tea Party first came out? Remember the signs? Remember how easy it was to accuse them of reactionary racism? And remember what Tea Party folks were saying in their defense? I’m sure many of them were genuine, and may not have wanted to associate with some of their own racist founders (like Dale Robertson ), but I’m not so sure about the TP culture as a whole. No, they argue, we’re about fiscal responsibility and better government, not racism. You’re about big business, we pointed out, noting their ties to the Koch Bros and others. Noting that they’re given seed money and marching orders from big money lobbyists. No, we’re grassroots, Tea Partiers protested. We are of and by and for the people and not for the elites and Washington scum! And only now are they starting to realize how wrong they were.

According to the Tea Party Patriot’s Facebook page:

The Tea Party Patriots’ mission is to restore America’s founding principles of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets…
Tea Party Patriots is a coalition of ordinary American citizens from all political affiliations that believe in free-market values who are concerned about the direction of this country’s fiscal policy.

That’s it. Fiscal responsibility. It has nothing to do with targeting programs for social uplift. Nothing to do with derailing access to medical help for the working poor. No, because that would be fiscally irresponsible for the long-range health of the country. That would be suicidal for an economic system that needs healthy workers and an operating infrastructure, right? Nothing worse for the US than to be locked down to a failing medical system and forcing chronically sick people into bankruptcy. That would be reckless and could lead to failing debt. And the Tea Party keeps repeating that it’s against reckless debt.

It’s this patently false commitment to “fiscal responsibility” that allows the Tea Party to claim to be pro-family, pro-freedom, pro-mother, even. Though if they were pro-mother, you’d think they’d be working for better rather than worse treatment of moms and poor families. But no, their job is to unrelentingly shackle us to horrible policies that advantage the very rich and exploit the majority of us.

If they were pro-fiscal responsibility, wouldn’t their politicians be focusing on dismantling the bloated US military? Wouldn’t they focus on ending corporate welfare?

And so what happens when grassroots activists are reliant on not just clam bakes and member dues, but on puppet organizations and SuperPACs like FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund? These groups themselves were founded by a merging of big business, out-of-touch billionaires, and Beltway insiders – not the kind of grassroots, Jane Everywoman-led movements the Tea Party likes to act like.  Jim DeMint founded the SCF; Dick Armey founded FreedomWorks. And while The Club for Growth precedes the Tea Party by about ten years, its entrenched pro-big business and anti-union policies line up nicely with TP philosophies. Even as TCFG is funded and led by billionaires and political insiders.

When your own political candidates say unforgivable stuff about rape and pregnancies, are unredemptive deadbeats, or like showing off x-ray pictures of their gunshot-victim patients on their Facebook page; when you realize that they’re just as corrupt as the pols you’re planning on dumping, if less effective; when you realize that the SuperPACs keep focusing on infighting with “impure” Republicans, you tend to lose faith in the righteousness of the movement. This in addition to the horribly inept, baffling, distracted, self-promotional, and frankly embarrassing Louie Gohmert, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, et al. who already represent the Tea Party in the public imagination.

Even Tea Partiers have to be sick of their politicians. Gridlock, innumerable Obamacare repeal attempts, and repeated Benghazi hearings  aren’t stopping the debt clock and aren’t jump-starting the economy. Weren’t we told that’s what the Tea Party aimed to do?

No, that’s what some Tea Partiers wanted. But they were mere pawns. Sorry, guys. But I have faith enough of you will figure this out by the end of the year to call it quits.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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  • Matthew Reece

    “But they were mere pawns. Sorry, guys. But I have faith enough of you will figure this out by the end of the year to call it quits.”
    They appear to have done so in North Carolina. Following the victory of Thom Tillis in the Republican primary against Tea Party opposition, enough Tea Partiers have gotten behind Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh to help give him 11% in the latest PPP poll. Haugh is about as close to an anarcho-capitalist as one will find in the Libertarian Party, so this gives me some hope.

  • Pipercat

    I think I may have a few things to say about Dr. Wolf…..

  • strayaway

    “That’s it. Fiscal responsibility.”

    No, three things were mentioned including constitutionally limited government but let’s get back to fiscal responsibility. The opposite of fiscal responsibility is lack of fiscal responsibility which is inferred as the better option in this article. Ultimately, a lack of fiscal responsibility fails. Money can be borrowed or printed, social security and federal pension funds can be raided. Our kids can be handed a bill for our present overspending. All sorts of things can be devised to postpone the inevitable. At that point, governments often step in with rationing, confiscations, pograms, or whatever bridges the gap. The goal should be to do what can be done by our constitutionally limited government in a fiscally responsible manner. Otherwise, we should gear up for a collapse of all those social service programs helping the poor although we can feel good about ourselves in the meanwhile by promoting fiscal irresponsibility.

    • Luke

      Well, “fiscal responsibility” does not only mean “not spending money”. It means acting thoughtfully.

      The TP talkers seem to love referring to fiscal matters as if it were a household budget. If you make X, and at any time you spend greater than X, then you’re a dummy. Fundamentally, that’s not without merit. It’s certainly simple and easy to grasp.

      But let’s say one makes $1,000 in a month and all the bills total $800. But this month, the roof needs repairs. It’s leaking and the floors are getting damaged. Let’s say the repair would cost $500. However, the cost of not repairing it could mean that the walls and floors get really damaged and that could cost $1,000 or more in the future, in addition to the roof that still needs repair. So it will cost $500 now, or $1,500 in maybe two months.

      In that position, whether dipping into savings or putting it on credit, the household will be at a deficit for the period if they choose to do the repair. So what’s dumber? Is it worse to fix the roof now and and spend a few months restoring savings or paying debt? Or is it worse to tighten the purse-strings and potentially end up paying much more? If we spend $1,300 dollars this month, but only made $1,000, does that automatically put us on the road to apocalypse?

      Ideally, one would have a rainy day fund for occurrences such as these. As a country though, we don’t. Remember in the early 2000’s when President Bush sent everyone refund checks? I do. And remember when the tax rates were all adjusted downward? I do. And how taxes on dividends and capital gains were slashed? And then we sent thousands upon thousands of troops all over God’s creation for what turned out to be a long time. Boy, that wasn’t cheap.

      Unfortunately, that is why we can’t pay cash for the roof now. We have systemic problems. They’re not all our doing, and they’re not necessarily things our parents could have predicted, but they’re here now and we’ve got to handle it. What do we do about the roof?

      With the country, it’s the same thing, only much bigger and the subjects are different. Obamacare is a hot topic. Spending money to try to improve the health of poor people (to put it broadly). Is that stupid? Most of the principles of the ACA are designed to get people treated in a preventative manner instead of in an emergent manner down the line when it is far more expensive. In either case, the populace ultimately picks up the tab, it’s just that this way it is more visible at the outset. The money spent here will, on the whole, give the nation a stronger and healthier workforce. That’s an investment, not charity.

      Infrastructure is similar. We’ve been blessed that a large portion of our roads have been built in the not-too-distant past. But that’s starting to not be the case anymore. We need to spend money on it, or they will fail. When they fail, the cost will be in human lives. At that time, the financial cost will also be greater, as the repairs will have to be performed immediately and not laid out according to a plan. As with healthcare spend, the money laid out in infrastructure will also pay dividends as larger and newer roads allow commerce to transit more smoothly. Also, and investment.

      Then there’s the war machine. The elephant in the room, so to speak. The US spends more than the cumulative total of several of her nearest rivals. The first two points could be completely absorbed by a portion of this budget that would be considered by most to be immaterial. However, I never hear this come up when I hear people talking about fiscal responsibility.

      The current administration essentially closed up two wars that had been going for about a decade. There are plenty of other variables, but the result is that the deficit in 2014 is about a third of what it was in 2009. It’s not ideal, to be sure, but one would be remiss to ignore that we’re still only 8 years removed from a very deep recession.

      In the end, yes… The lack of fiscal responsibility does fail. However, it’s important to identify what is fiscally irresponsible so that we focus our behavior adjustments properly.

      Repairing a roof is not irresponsible. Investing in the health of the populace and our infrastructure is not irresponsible. And those are not just “feel-good” cash outlays either.

      Realizing that one has $200 extra dollars at the end of the month and spending it all on cotton candy is irresponsible. Realizing the country has a surplus and sending checks to every citizen is irresponsible.

      • strayaway

        Luke, I’m somewhat in agreement with you about fixing roofs but I don’t think that is our problem. You mention wars which went on longer than they should have including the Iraq war that never should have happened. That would be a good place to start. No more wars except if declared by Congress as required by the Constitution. Maybe we could add a war tax to spread the pain to someone other than our children. Then we could proceed with fiscal responsibility by ending federal programs, ownership, or involvements not supported by enumerated powers delegated by the Constitution. That ought to slash about a quarter or third of federal spending. Then we would have plenty of money to maintain a military, take care of our vets, repair aging federal highway infrastructure and all the other things allowed or mandated as being federal government responsibilities with some slack left over for the federal government to help develop new technology for the national defense, like Eisenhower and his interstate highways, and general welfare. All corporate welfare would come to an end. Useful parts of other federal programs could be taken over by states. That would mean higher state taxes but some redundancies like the Federal Department of Education could be largely eliminated. States could have affordable single payer health care plans if they so chose.

        So I think that a big step toward fiscal responsibility would be to begin following the Constitution. We could probably agree that step one of doing so would be to reduce the wars by requiring Congress to declare them and ending all corporate welfare.

      • Luke

        All good points, Stray. I think we probably agree on more than we disagree. I especially like the “war tax” idea. See, I think government spending gets out of control in some cases because it’s very difficult for most people to grasp that there is a theoretically finite amount of money that the government can spend. (we all know they can print money, but that’s a bad idea in the long term.) Also, the numbers end up getting so outlandish in terms of both revenue and expenditures that they lose meaning.

        That’s why I think your idea would be a good one. Many Americans fancy the US as the global police or as some sort of universal freedom fighter. So when anything goes wrong or any nation somehow displeases us, it seems to be cool and macho to send in the troops or go blow some crap up with no real thought about the cost. It’s like if anyone was allowed to go to a car dealership and just drive away and nobody would do any paperwork or even talk about pricing or cost until two or more years down the line.

        Instead, it would be nice if the President came on the screen and said “Look guys… Here’s what’s going on. We could do something about it, but it’s going to cost $XX. If we choose to act, each and every American’s tax burden will increase by X% this year. If you wish to act, then contact your representatives and see that they vote accordingly.”

        I also agree that there probably are plenty of federal programs that are either better handled locally or that we could do without entirely.

        My reply was intended to address that most TP talkers discuss fiscal responsibility and all they really say is that we should end or cripple just about any program intended to help the poor. (Welfare, the ACA, etc.) To that end, I guess there is a debate to be had about whether that stuff is best handled at the state or federal level. I’m not saying I’m right, but I believe there is an advantage to uniformity of rules throughout a system.

        Corporate welfare should definitely go away in almost all of its forms.

        A reasonable and livable minimum wage would eliminate a great deal of indirect corporate welfare. The only problem is that the wage would have to be variable based on location, and that gets complicated. However, it’s undeniable that ten bucks goes further in Kansas than California.

        Subsidies should also probably be reviewed more publicly and more frequently. Some industries don’t need them anymore. Contrarily, other industries sorely do, and the public might support them or shift priority if the information was more available and their voice was more easily heard.

        Lastly would be all the tax loopholes. If a company is based in the US and pulls in billions of dollars, but through some complex web of transactions ends up not paying any tax… That’s ridiculous. I don’t bemoan the companies that do it now. They are playing by the rules as they are written. The rules just aren’t good enough.

  • Sam Gompers

    Wait, I thought Tea Partiers were paid shills from the Koch Industry.