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Here’s a narrative: A radical president came to power in the United States, gaining control of the white house, senate, and house or representatives.  With the opposition powerless to oppose his actions, the president rapidly expanded the role of government, made drastic increases to government spending, and in a real sense changed the fundamental nature of American democracy.  Eventually, a grass-roots conservative opposition took form, spread rapidly across the population, gained political power and began to pull back changes made by the radical president, George W. Bush.

Liberals weren’t the only ones wandering in the desert during the Bush administration; fiscal conservatives had no representation in office.  As a fiscal conservative, Obama isn’t any better.  Thus fiscal conservatives have every right to be angry, energized, and pushing for change of leadership.  The timing may seem conspicuous–where were fiscal conservatives when Bush was in power?–but their position is entirely valid.

Understanding tea partiers motivation is an imposing task; they have risen so rapidly that it’s difficult to understand what drives them.  They’ve been diagnosed as know-nothings, racists, and lunatics.  They’ve been said to follow Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the Koch brothers.  And surely, in a movement this large, some are, just as some small number of Obama supporters actually are socialists, communists, or members of radical groups.  But fiscal conservatives seem to be the ones effecting change: consider that senate winners Rubio, Toomey, Paul, and Kirk are legitimate thinking fiscal conservatives, while senate losers Angle and O’Donnell are not.

Racism, ignorance, and stupidity have no place in politics.  Fiscal conservatism is sorely need, and thus far it seems to be the primary beneficiary of the tea parties.



  1. The title of this post says “Tea Parties,” but you’re talking about fiscal conservatives. If you want to include Kirk as an example of how fiscal conservatives won in the midterms, that’s fine. But Kirk was not a Tea Party favorite; none of the major national Tea Party figures (Sarah Palin, FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express) endorsed him. He’s just a “moderate” Republican.

    I don’t even think Kirk is a great example of an outsider fiscal conservative coming in to clean up Washington. He wasn’t a deficit hawk under Bush: ‘The [Bush] deficits were “regrettable,” Mr. Kirk responds. But perhaps not avoidable. “The U.S. was under attack. We were in the middle of a recession. And we had to build things like the Department of Homeland Security.”‘ So, he was not a fiscal conservative under Bush’s recession, but apparently, now is the time to start cutting spending? Give me a break.

    As far as Rubio, the jury’s still out: he’s given lip service to being a “thinking fiscal conservative,” I suppose, in that he has jumped on board with some of Paul Ryan’s policy ideas. But he hasn’t indicated how he will pay for them:

    Paul is not a legitimate thinker; he belongs with Angle and O’Donnell. But Toomey has potential:

  2. Joe, my aim is to present fiscal conservatism as a plausible explanation of the tea party movement. By the movement, I mean the overall surge in grassroots Republican/conservative enthusiasm, rather than any particular incarnation of the tea party label.

    Kirk, while perhaps not as extreme in his views as Toomey or Rubio, was nonetheless definitely the fiscally conservative choice in IL.

    While some of Paul’s views are well outside the mainstream, he earned an MD from Duke, ran a successful practice, and founded a couple non-profit organizations. I think that’s more than sufficient to differentiate his overall thinking chops from an Angle or O’Donnell.

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  1. […] the tea party driving Republicans towards more sensible spending cuts?  Who predicted this? « Robin Hanson on Public Policy LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. […] partiers will believe X.  This theory is viable, but as someone who’s done my own speculating about tea partiers, I’m pretty skeptical.  I tend to view tea partiers as some combination […]

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