The Tea Party Can't Save Us until It Saves Itself First
I first became introduced to the Tea Party on April 15, 2009 when a group identifying themselves as "Taxed Enough Already" held a demonstration at my City Hall. I could not help but note that they were upset about President Obama's tax policies even though (1) Obama had been in office less than three months and (2) about 95% of taxpayers would pay less than or the same amount of taxes than before Obama.
That summer, I went to a meeting composed mostly of those with people aligned with the Tea Party and listened to their thoughts. They deplored Obama for raising the debt and the deficit and judged his use of "czars" in his administration as unconstitutional along with other policies. Though President Bush, Obama's predecessor, also raised the debt and the deficit and used czars himself, I started to sense some of the Tea Party policies and what they wanted.
They appear to want fiscal responsibility, a "return" to following the Constitution and a desire to take "their" nation back.
Will these ideas "save" or improve our nation? No. While they may get Tea Party politicians elected, they are not enough to help our nation. The reason is simple: the ideas are vague enough to appeal to the electorate, but not specific enough to help our leaders make decisions that need to be made.
First of all, no one disagrees with fiscal responsibility. So, even those with whom the Tea Party members say they disagree with, like Obama, share the same vague idea of taxing and spending in a reasonable manner. And I do say tax and spend, for all governments have the responsibility of taxing their people and using the funds to spend on the people's behalf. When there is no disagreement, there is no debate.
The Tea Party should tell us how they are really different than Obama, the Democrats and the traditional Republican Party. As they have already expressed general disdain for taxes, they should explain what part of the budget they would cut, as Bill Maher implored a Tea Party member to do recently on "Real Time." If they want to cut entitlements, then who specifically will get Social Security, Medicare, etc. and who will be removed from these programs? They won't tell us the answers to these questions because they can count the votes they would lose as well as anyone.
Second, the idea of a "return" to the Constitution suggests that there is only one way to interpret it. But if that is true, why have there been so many 5-4 decisions on the United States Supreme Court? And why have old decisions, like Plessy v. Ferguson, been overturned by more recent decisions that have affirmed rights that had been rejected?
If the Tea Party means a "strict" view of the Constitution, they may have some explaining to do. This school of thought says that courts should not go beyond the words of the Constitution to make decisions. But this way of thinking runs into trouble when one considers that the "Exclusionary Rule" (which forbids illegally seized evidence from being introduced in criminal court against a defendant) does not appear in the Constitution at all. Neither does "filibuster" or the "Miranda Rule."
The Tea Party should tell us how they believe specific parts of the Constitution should be understood instead of implying that they have a monopoly on its interpretation. Of course, if they don't like the Miranda warning being given to criminal suspects, they lose voters who can recite the warning much more easily than they can recite the Pledge of Allegiance!
And lastly, talk of taking a nation back simply begs the question of whose nation we live in. Are any of us better than anyone else?
If the insinuation is that the United States is a "Christian nation," the Tea Party had better re-think its message about following the Constitution, which forbids religion as a test for public office and which forbids the establishment of any religion!
The Tea Party should talk about goals common to all of us and invite debate as to the best ways to reach these goals. They should show the courage of convictions by saying specifically what they want. And they should risk losing votes in the process.
In doing so, they may not save this nation, but they could find a way to get people from other voting groups to take them seriously, which would strengthen the debate for better policy.