Would you attend a church where the pastor hated God? Would you take your dog to a vet who hated dogs? Would you take your child to a sitter who hated children?
It seems inexplicable to do any of these things, yet the Republican Party's courtship of the Tea Party does exactly that. The Tea Party not only hates government, but it appears to be comprised of people who cheer at public executions, is willing to leave accident victims die in gutters, and they boo American soldiers who happen to be gay. Are these the values and beliefs of the Republican Party? Or, is the GOP cynically using the Tea Party as a tool to win elections?
In some respects we hope it is the latter. It is one thing to quietly hold deeply convicted and reasoned ideas about the death penalty, for example, and quite another thing to indecently celebrate the grievous failure of an individual, or a society, depending on your point of view. If it is the former then nothing distinguishes a Republican from the Yabo who loudly belches throughout your daughter's wedding.
Evidence that the Tea Party is a mere tool may be seen in how Congressional delegations have exempted agricultural subsidies from any deficit reduction strategies. Our own state of Arkansas serves as a good example.
Between 1995 and 2010 Arkansas has received $10 billion dollars in subsidies, making it the 8th most heavily subsidized farm state. Most subsidies--$8.53 billion--have been to commodities producers, mostly rice and cotton farm operations in the central and southern parts of the state. The balance of the $10 billion has been $994 million in crop insurance payments, $393 million in conservation subsidies, and $420 million in disaster related payments.
Who gets this money? According to the USDA, corporate farms--about 10% of the total number of farming operations--get 81% of it while 77% of Arkansas' farmers--family farms and not corporations--get no subsidy at all.
Our lack of surprise at the tawdriness of these details is only made piquant by the Tea Party's blindness to meaning. A case in point is one of their new deficit fighting heroes, Congressman Steve Womack.
Womack represents Arkansas' 3rd Congressional district, which includes Carroll County, one of the most rural counties in the 3rd. Since 1995, Carroll County's farmers have received $4.46 million in subsidies out of the state total of $10 billion; in 2010 the total dollar amount of subsidies in the county was $67,000 and change, and the average payment was about $285 to small, family farms and about $3,800 to a couple of larger producers in the Green Forest Area.
This tells us that subsidies make a negligible contribution to Carroll County's farms or farmer well-being and have virtually no impact on employment or job creation. It should certainly tell Tea Party members--and everyone else--that Womack's refusal to cut farm subsidies shows that he isn't really serious about changing Washington's tax and spend ways.
We've seen this story before. Twenty-five years ago the Republican Party began its courtship of the Christian Right and has largely succeeded in owning that constituency, despite the fact that it has failed to deliver a single large-scale legislative victory on behalf of social conservatives. Now, they've hood-winked the Tea Party with the promise of low taxes and no deficits. "Honey," they say, "I'll love you in the morning."
None of this should be construed as a defense of the Democratic Party or of Barack Obama. Ordinary rank and file Democrats have finally caught on to the fact that President Obama's gentrified, post-industrial agenda of cheap money and near zero interest rates have simply depressed the savings of middle class Americans while simultaneously rewarding America's financial aristocracy with boatloads of cash.
Similarly disingenuous has been the Administrations Job's Bill. With the possible exception of infrastructure improvements--which are inherently short term--everything else in the Bill is a rerun of old mid '70s make work programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA); this is the sort of approach that you might expect from the Executive Director of a local Community Action Agency. As an economy changing initiative from the President of the United States it is brain dead.
One way the Obama Administration intends to pay for the emperor's new clothes is to cut allowable rates for charitable deductions. This strategy is so bad for local government, local communities and local organizations, that it would deserve a firestorm of protest if it wasn't already dead on arrival.
Instead of neutering decent and effective ways to support non-profit and charitable organizations, why hasn't the Administration gone after agricultural subsidies instead? I suppose we could come up with an answer.
If there is an honest candidate running today it is probably Ron Paul, but the problem with Libertarian thinking is that so much of it is magical and child-like. It is well and good to promote small government and deregulation, but too little government and an unlimited free market looks an awful lot like Somalia. Up until now, at least, our political parties have always been able to strike a governing balance between that of East Africa and the People's Republic of Laos, and still be honest brokers of the people's will. Libertarians for the most part refuse to admit that.
What voters seem stuck with in this dismal political season are haters of government, magical thinkers, cynical users, and the intellectually vacant. I suppose this is how third parties are born.