As Tea Party activists attend this weekend's convention in Nashville, it is safe to say that shrinking the federal government will be the principle they put forward. After all, to the extent that the group has an organizing principle, it is that Washington spends too much.
And yet, apart from the surging bills that Washington absorbs for health care, the surprising reality is that Big Government is not all that big by historical standards. Even with an economic stimulus, a bank bailout and two wars, non-medical spending by the federal government is a smaller percentage of the economy than it was during most of Ronald Reagan's administration.
Even though Reagan began paring back government, non-medical spending hovered around 20% of the economy during his administration. The reason for this is no mystery, even if it is not part of the daily political narrative. As the government's medical tab surged from $72 billion in 1980 to an estimated $912 billion in 2010, traditional government functions — things like roads, criminal justice and education — had to be more tightly controlled simply to avoid the kind of outlandish deficits we've seen in recent years. In other words, taking care of Grandma is expensive.
In just a few years, as the stimulus shrinks and the economy expands, government spending outside of health care will drop to about 16% of the economy, roughly where it has been since the mid-1990s.
Where government spending is concerned, the Tea Partiers are barking up the wrong trees. If their goal is to control spending, they should be demanding curbs in Medicare and answering President Obama's call for health care reform with counterproposals heavier on cost control. But, in my opinion, controlling government spending is not the main reason for the Tea Party.
Tea Partiers also say taxes are too high, but here, too, perception differs from reality, at least by history's measure. Because of the recession and the Obama tax cuts this past year, tax collections are at their lowest since 1950. In 2009 and 2010, tax receipts collected by Washington will total just 14.8% of the economy.
Tea Partiers seem to be promoting more partisanship, not less, by rejecting candidates deemed too likely to cross over and negotiate with Democrats. That is a recipe for more debt. If the Tea Partiers truly want to reduce the deficit, they would be demanding that the two parties work together. With the minority party always poised to attack when the majority sticks its neck out, nothing gets done. But reducing the deficit is not the real reason for the Tea Party. If it were, the Tea Partiers would have been out en masse during the Bush years when they racked up a 1.3 trillion dollar deficit.
This is not to say an uprising against Washington is not merited. Lawmakers of both parties are simply ignoring the nation's drift toward fiscal suicide. Nor is it the case that populist movements cannot serve constructive purposes. The last one – Ross Perot's presidential bid in 1992 – forced both parties to focus attention on the deficits, which then turned into surpluses under a Democratic President.
Until the Tea Partiers can channel their anger toward more productive solutions, the Washington spending machine will continue.
But it won’t happen, because…
Real Reason for the Tea Party
It is being said that "Old racists don’t fade away they just join the Tea Party movement."
Being white no longer guarantees you a pass to the front of the line. That is what is summoning up the hate and fear fueling the Tea Party movement. The shouts of “We want our country back” and “Our way of life is being attacked” say everything about this movement. Individuals who fought against the civil rights movement also make up the core of the Tea Party movement. They now see the Tea Party as a way to once again fight against what they see as the evils of letting everyone into this country.
“People who could not spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a Barrack Hussein Obama in the White House,” said former Colorado Republican Rep. Tom Tanceredo, as the opening speaker at the Tea Party convention. (Emphasis on the name “Hussein” is his.)
Tanceredo’s statement tells you what the Tea Party is really against. To me, they sound more like the movement that put Hitler in power. Well maybe that is a little over top, but I think that describes the Tea Partiers more than as a group of “Real Americans” because they only consider far-right-leaning, white, rural and small-town Americans as “real”.
Why do I think this? Because as I study this so-called “Real American” movement, I have noticed that many of those who were against the Civil Rights movement now have found a new voice. I recently read an article by the associated press in which the reporter interviewed a 61-year-old woman who repeated the Tea Party line “Our way of life is under attack” and was all too proud about helping ban books from the library in her West Virginia town. Yet, when asked, she didn’t really know who “they” were – other than the fact that she hated Obama. Another woman said, “We want our country back!” Translate that into “our white-ruled, white-dominated country.”
These statements alone tell everything you need to know about the Tea Party. Add to that the horrible, hateful signs that they carry in their demonstrations.
I am not saying all Tea Partiers are racist. Some just plain cannot stand it that the Democrats are in charge. But enough of them (probably a majority) are racist to make that the main reason behind the Tea Party.