Tea party in the raw: 'Do not tell me I am wrong'

Followup: A member of the taxpayer revolt sees government — wrongly — only as failure

November 10, 2010|By Dan Rodricks

Soon after he read my Sunday column, in which I listed the things that deserve the tea party's anger — increased poverty, the loss of manufacturing jobs, stagnant wages, the decline of labor unions, the concentration of wealth, the destruction of the middle class — George Newman dropped me a line. It was one of many letters I received in response to the column, only Mr. Newman's came with a dare:

"I dare you to print this email wholly and entirely without an edit. My guess is you won't.:"

Oh, yeah? Watch this:

"The tea party is angry about all the items you listed in your article. They are angry for this reason: The federal government, over the time periods you are quoting, has spent trillions of our dollars to correct social problems. Instead of results, we only have failure and a bloated, unproductive, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that thinks more of its internal needs than results on the street. Do not tell me I am wrong, because I have personal experience managing unproductive and self-serving government bureaucrats.

"Your assumption that we have not tried enough government intervention is laughable. Because we have done nothing else but a steady dumbeat of increasing government intervention. We could have saved the money and done just as well. The middle class would not have needed their current rescue because they would have gotten to keep more of their own money over the past 40 years to pay their mortgages with, and send their own kids to college. Instead we have taxed the middle class dry in an effort to feed a class of bureaucrat that has no interest in solving problems.

"The tea party does not trust its own government to come up with a solution because of a track record of failure. The tea party also trusts no statistic that the government comes up with to perpetuate its bureaucratic nature. Wake up, Dan. The overbearing authority is federal, state and local government. Go do your job and 'speak truth to power' and 'question authority.' That's the power of the press, and it is sorely lacking.

"Question Authority Now,

"George E. Newman"

One thing comes through clearly: Mr. Newman hates government; he sees it only taking and not giving. There's an epidemic of this myopia among those who call themselves tea partiers.

"The writer has a selective vision regarding the role of government in U.S. history and in modern society," wrote Michael Reisch, Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland, to whom I had forwarded Mr. Newman's letter for comment. "He ignores the many accomplishments that government has produced. A short list would include (in no priority order): the transcontinental railroad; the interstate highway systems; the national and state parks; public libraries; public schools and public higher education, Social Security and Medicare, which drastically lowered the rate of poverty among the elderly and relieved their children and grandchildren of much of the financial and emotional burden of their care; public health measures that prevent disease, ameliorate its effects and research potential cures; improved environmental standards; consumer and product safety standards."

Mr. Newman beats the same horse the supply-side economists, champions of the free market and trickle-down Republicans like to beat: Government encourages sloth and dependence, government hinders commerce and keeps businesses from being profitable. In this way, the tea party sounds just like the corporate-political establishment it claims to challenge.

"The letter writer chooses to overlook the fact that the combined impact of tax and spending cuts and deregulation since 1980 (in other words, a diminished role of government) has greatly increased socio-economic inequality," Mr. Reisch added. "He chooses to overlook the fact that the income and estate tax burden on Americans has declined in the past 30 years, particularly the past 10 years, and that the primary beneficiaries of such changes are the very wealthy.

"Finally, he chooses to ignore how the deregulation of the economy, most recently the housing and financial sectors, produced the current economic crisis.

"What is most disturbing about the author's perspective … is that it proffers no plausible solutions to the widely acknowledged problems which exist: e.g., unemployment, a decaying physical infrastructure, 50 million Americans without health insurance, the need to revitalize American education, climate change."

In that regard, the tea partiers are just like the Republicans now in charge of the House of Representatives — plenty of complaints about government, no plausible solutions.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM.

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