Unlike many right-wing commentators, I did not endorse the tea-party movement when it erupted. Nor, like a few unusually shameless media whores, did I rush to leap in front of the parade and claim that I was leading it. I did not even think of doing either because I concluded from the start that the tea party is a useless and incoherent political mirage that is unlikely to accomplish anything of substance. It is not elections but the subsequent actions of the officials elected that matter.
This is why, despite the Republican landslide of 2010 that saw an amazing 40 tea party-backed Republicans elected to the House of Representatives, I see absolutely no reason to change my mind about it. While many believe that the tea party was the primary source of Republican electoral success, this is a clear logical fallacy, specifically, the cum hoc fallacy. The fact is that the Republicans were all but guaranteed an epic electoral victory due to the unpopular actions of the Democratic Congress and the Obama administration, which is why I predicted that the Republicans would easily reclaim the House on July 14, 2010, months before most so-called experts began to seriously consider the possibility.
The media success of the tea party and the electoral success of the Republican candidates both resulted from the powerful, nationwide reaction to the unpleasant realities of Democratic Party rule. But the two successes were not the same, and indeed, we have already witnessed the division between core tea-party principles and Republican politicians that was always inevitable in the recent vote on the bill to extend three Patriot Act provisions that was supported by 31 of the 40 tea party-backed Republicans.
Now, there is no question that most of the grassroots participants in the tea party mean well. Their collective heart is generally in the right place. But, unfortunately, they are nearly as irrational and factually challenged as the left-wingers and liberals they correctly oppose. While the tea party’s electoral shock troops recognize that it is impossible for the government to continue paying out more money in domestic spending programs than it receives in tax income, they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that this is also true of spending programs that are justified under the guise of national security, military defense and foreign aid.
Money is fungible, so consider the latter. Even if you believe that it is somehow in the genuine American national interest to send $14.3 billion to the governments of Israel, Egypt, Columbia, Jordan, Pakistan, Peru, Indonesia, Kenya, Bolivia, Ukraine, India, Haiti, Russia, Ethiopia, the Palestine Authority, Liberia, Bangladesh and Bosnia every year, that is $14.3 billion that cannot go to fund the salaries of American soldiers, the educations of American children and unemployment stipends for the out-of-work. As paltry as that $14.3 billion may appear in light of the $1.4 trillion deficit, it is sufficient to cover the average annual Social Security payments for 1.1 million Americans.
So, if it is foolish to take taxpayer money and distribute it to elderly Americans, how can it possibly be wise to distribute it instead to various regimes around the world?
Moreover, once one takes into account the $775 billion spent on the Iraqi occupation as well as the $380 billion spent on the Afghan occupation, it quickly becomes apparent that the cost of playing imperial global policeman is not at all compatible with responsible fiscal governance, let alone small and limited government. Imperial overreach is by no means incompatible with democracy, for as Thucydides chronicled, it was imperial overreach and the invasion of Sicily that precipitated the end of Athenian democracy more than 2,500 years ago.
The Patriot Act votes are only the first in what will eventually come to be seen as a series of systematic betrayals of the tea party by the Republican candidates it backed. It is already eminently clear that the new chairman of the House, John Boehner, has no genuine commitment to either the U.S. Constitution or the small-government principles of those who helped put him into office. For, as we saw during the eight years of the second Bush regime, the differences between Boehner and Pelosi are primarily rhetorical and stylistic rather than substantive.
It is not too soon for the principled elements of the tea party to react strongly to the new Republican majority and make it clear that big government foreign policy is no more acceptable than big-government domestic policy because both roads lead to inevitable debt, default and national decline. The Republicans have thrown down the gauntlet, and now it is up to the tea party to respond. History suggests it will cave, as has every grassroots movement before it.