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Category Archives: Tea Parties

  • Tea Party voters’ embrace of Rick Santorum largely perplexes me.  I feel completely baffled as to how these individuals think, and don’t know how to learn.  Will Charles Murray’s book help on this front?
  • This post from the Cato Institute and this and this from Ezra Klein have me thinking that the difference between right and left on fiscal policy is much smaller than I’d thought.  Is it just me, or are these gaps remarkably small?



Neither full-blooded libertarians nor allegedly liberty-loving tea-party enthusiasts really care much about governing. Libertarians, accustomed to dwelling on the margins of American politics, participate in elections without hope of electoral success, if they participate at all. For them, presidential campaigns offer at best an occasion to preach the libertarian gospel to the wary public, and the more table-pounding the better. As for the tea partiers, they seem less interested in practical policy solutions to America’s problems and rather more interested in fighting a culture war over what it means to be authentically American. Unless ostensibly liberty-loving conservative voters become convinced that the sensible liberalisation of drug and immigration policy is implied by the inspired language of the Constitution of Independence, the eagle will not soar for Mr Johnson.

I’d find this pessimistic take refreshing were I in a bad mood.  But it occurs to me another approach would be to try to build momentum for Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign.  Look, if you want to see a political candidate get elected because of X, Y, and Z, and you recognize that not enough other people care about X, Y, and Z to elect that candidate, then the best response would be to try to convince all those people that X, Y, and Z are important.  I file this defeatism under failure of marketing creativity.

Hey everyone, Ross Douthat’s back.

Commenter I am not writes:

It’s an empirical question as to how much leeway a proprietor has to influence debate without losing eyeballs. What I think the leftist analysis misses is that proprietors aren’t the only ones exploiting this leeway – editors and journalists are too.

This is an empirical question, and it’s one I’d like to see studied in greater depth.  (If you’re aware of existing research, please post links.)  I would think that political polling firms, largely dormant when elections are further away, would be interested in studying the interaction between policy preferences and media.  And if not polling firms, then perhaps academic social scientists.

On the broader point of media influence, I agree that media figures–owners, editors, writers, bloggers(!?)–have the power to influence people.  I think that the liberal narrative I hinted at earlier can be paraphrased as: conservative media power is both more concentrated and, as a whole stronger, than liberal media power.  Or in contrarian moderate terms, American conservatives, on average, tend to be lower down on the vertical axis of my two-dimension political axis.  That is, the average American conservative is more to accept the arguments that a small number of conservative media figures proclaim than is the average American liberal.

I’m sympathetic to this broad claim, with the relative abundance of low-quality, high-popularity conservative media serving as evidence, but the extreme version of this position–that all tea partiers are mindless drones that can be converted to any position at any time at the whim of four people–is wildly absurd.

Matt Yglesias speculates over what (who) drives tea party members:

Suppose there’s some sellout that John Boehner wants to implement…he sits down in a room with Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Donohue, and David Koch and persuades all three (sic) of those people that this is the right way to proceed…coordinated action among a very small number of people can cut the oxygen off from the tea party fire any time they want to.

This follows a common narrative amongst the left, which says that the tea party movement, or conservatives generally, are largely controlled by their media consumption.  If Rush and Fox News say X, then conservatives/tea 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 of thinking and unthinking conservatives, whose views tend to align with a range of conservative figures.  Yes, to some extent, media figures influence the grassroots.  But simultaneously, media consumers have considerable influence on media.

Suppose, for instance, that Rupert Murdoch and Rush Limbaugh spontaneously decide that Americans ought to move to Nebraska.  They shift their programming and constantly present arguments for why Americans should move to Nebraska.  Does it follow that Americans move to Nebraska?  Some might.  But more likely, conservatives would simply find different media outlets that better reflect their views and attitudes.

The tea party phenomenon is, I think, a fairly complex movement that has a basis in legitimate concerns about the governance of the country.  To dismiss the movement as being completely subject to the whims of a small number of power brokers is, I think, a pretty serious mistake.

Drawing from my breakdown of fiscal conservatism into four separate positions, I’ll explore and evaluate the recent tax compromise between the president and Republican leaders.

1.  For balanced budgets, and against deficits.

Extension of tax cuts + extension of tax credits + increase in unemployment benefits = Massive fail.  Grade: F

2.  For smaller government, meaning lower taxes and lower government spending.

On net a win, since the tax cuts exceed the increase in spending.  Grade: B+

3.  For reducing the percentage of the tax burden placed on the wealthy.

On net a win, since tax cuts are heavily skewed towards the wealthy.  Grade: A-

4.  For government spending that has a demonstrable return on investment, against wasteful spending that does not.

The payroll tax cut seems like the best idea, since it adds incentive to hire.  By contrast, further extension of unemployment benefits reduces incentive to work.  As for the income tax cut extensions, my sense is that there’s fairly little difference, ROI-rise, over who pays taxes.  People have ideologically-driven preferences, and fiscal conservatives lean towards shifting the tax burden away from the wealthy, but I don’t see this as being for efficiency reasons.  Grade: C

It will be revealing how fiscal conservatives break on the compromise.  If tea partiers come out in favor of the deal, they belong in groups 2 and 3.  If they oppose it, they belong in groups 1 and 4.  Thus far, they’re pretty quiet.

She says it’s wasteful spending.  She also thinks it’s not going away, because of this:

[Repeal would] have a pretty nasty effect on housing prices.  Even people with little or no mortgage would be adversely affected by a price drop in their largest asset.
It’s as if McArdle is unaware that a large mobilization of voters is suddenly interested in sensible ways to cut government spending.  Heck, the tea party movement began with this:
How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?
Isn’t this exactly the outrage you’d need to overturn a popular policy?  Instead of harping on the tea parties, or ignoring them, thinkers should throw them good policy ideas.

Is the tea party driving Republicans towards more sensible spending cuts?  Who predicted this?

I’ve been advancing the notion that the tea parties contain a legitimate political argument–fiscal conservatism.  If this is true, tea partiers should abandon politicians who run from the opportunity to implement fiscal conservatism.  In the house, tea-party Republicans are revealing their true colors.  Congressman Jack Kingston places the challenge:

“Anybody who’s a Republican right now, come June, is going to be accused of hating seniors, hating education, hating children, hating clean air and probably hating the military and farmers, too,”
Of course, Republicans who dodge the issue will be accused of not being fiscal conservatives, which may be even worse for their re-election chances.
See commentary from Tyler Cowen and Kevin Drum.

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.