Rand Paul and the Tea Party go to Washington

In my state, New York, thanks to the Tea Party favorite, Carl Paladino, Andrew Cuomo’s election as Governor was never in doubt.   In Delaware, thanks to Christine O’Donnell, Chris Coons easily became Senator, when it seemed that he was likely to lose against a mainstream Republican.  In Nevada, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who started and finished with low approval ratings, managed to be reelected, thanks to the Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle.  On the other hand, Marco Rubio in Florida, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Rand Paul in Kentucky each impressively were elected to the Senate, assuring that there will be a discernable taste of tea in that great deliberative body.

As Paul put it,

“They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s most deliberative body. Well, I’m going to ask them, respectfully, to deliberate upon this. Eleven percent of the people approve of what’s going on in Congress. But tonight there is a Tea Party tidal wave and we’re sending a message to ’em.

It’s a message that I will carry with them on Day One. It’s a message of fiscal sanity It’s a message of limited, limited constitutional government and balanced budgets.” (link)

The language is ugly, but clear.  The political discourse of the Senate is about to be challenged, and this is the body where the Republicans are in the minority.  It will be even louder and clearer in the House, which I admit I find pretty depressing, both from the political and the aesthetic point of view.  It’s going to be harder to actually deal with our pressing problems, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Indeed, it is in spheres of aesthetics and discourse that the Tea Party has been most successful.  It’s not a matter actually of how many races Tea Party politicians won or lost.  They won some and lost some, but from the beginning the Tea Party’s great success has been how it changed the public discussion about the pressing issues of the day.  In my next post, I will discuss this more fully, comparing the Tea Party with the Solidarity Movement in Poland, on the one hand, and the anti-war movement, the Dean campaign and the Obama campaign, on the other.

Response to replies

But before I close today, I’ll add a few words on the responses to my posts on the elections.  To date, most of the people sending in replies appear to share sympathy for the Democrats and a critical attitude towards the Republicans, with one exception.  I welcome differences of opinion and thank all the repliers for their contribution to deliberate considerations.  I am not surprised by the general commitments of the people replying.  I actually think it is important to breakout of partisan ghettos, but know that they exist.  I need to take seriously someone who does breakout, so first a respectful, and I hope not overly defensive, response to Billy.

He criticized me for the title, “The Results Were Expected.”  I agree it wasn’t the best choice. I was writing very quickly on the night of the elections and the next morning, and also involved with my teaching.  The line was actually my first sentence and I didn’t have time to formulate a fresh title, so I just moved it up.  Billy construed the passive voice as an attempt on my part to deflect the responsibility of any one party for the results, in a sense discounting the voting on Election Day for having any meaning that needed to be confronted.  Somehow the word liar came into his formulation, but I didn’t understand that.  But he did pose a serious question: “Does that mean that there was no point in voting?”  Perhaps if he read only the title his would be a significant criticism, but given what I wrote in the post and in the one preceding and following it, clearly it is not what I mean, even if the title was unfortunate.

On great and small politics, Billy wonders why I think that the Republican Party’s small as opposed to great ends are in tension, and he seems to accuse me of crass partisanship in this regard.  But my point is simple, and not just about tax cuts.  In principle, the Tea Party, and its faction of the Republican Party, are for small government, going as far as to suggest that the Constitution does not permit health care reform.  But the Constitutional argument of limited government against health care should also be applied, in principle, to Social Security, Medicare, and, slightly off point, to the provisions controlling private business discrimination against African Americans in the civil rights legislation.  With such a commitment to private freedom, we could indeed responsibly have the sorts of tax cuts the Tea Party imagines, and there would be no tension between Republican Party politics, great and small.  But clearly this will not happen.  Short of doing such things, all the Republican talk about seriously balancing the budget is empty.  And Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln and I all agree with Billy that people have a right to what they have earned, but that commitment doesn’t mean that we also don’t have a responsibility to contribute to the public well being, including the public’s health.

I agree with Scott: the idea that the wealthy are the only ones who contribute to the public good and economic growth is about as convincing as Marx’s  “labor theory of value.”  It is an ideological declaration, nothing more.  I am still looking for a responsible conservative, though.

As far as Boehner’s tears, mentioned by Eric, Alex and Iris, I don’t know what to make of them, particularly as a person who has delivered newspapers, swept sidewalks, waited on tables, cleaned public toilets and worked as a stock boy to pay for my studies.  I see that work as a simple fact of life, not something to get all sentimental about.  And on Iris’s point about independents, I too find them a puzzle, probably because I think a lot about general principles and not about small politics, more about that later.  As Michael Correy writes, the issue of how small and great politics are matched is a serious challenge and should have appeal beyond the partisan to the independent, involving very serious thought and practical action.  I am a Democrat and a strong supporter of Obama because I think he and the leadership of his party are the ones who are trying to do this.

I particularly appreciated Silke Steinhilber in her response to Congressman Boehner silly remarks about the health care law. Not only because I agree with her, but also because she draws the analogy to the German situation in a telling fashion.  We live in the world where mindless fiscal hawks have run wild.  They are not only taking public goods away from us and our children, but what they are doing makes no economic sense.  We have to control deficits in the long run, but public spending is a way of getting out of recessions.  And crucially such spending also contributes to private good, as Ms. Steinhilber and her daughter understand at their playground.

  • Scott

    Rand Paul is certainly not his father. He favors a non-interventionist foreign policy, but have many anti-war conservatives wondering about how anti-war he really is. And I notice that when it comes to social issues, he isn’t nearly as Libertarian as his father. In fact, some Libertarians don’t consider him a libertarian at all. I agree. If he really has no intention of reigning in the military industrial complex, nor extending civil liberties to Americans that are still deprived of theirs, then all Rand Paul’s rhetoric of liberty and limited government ring hollow. And how does he really intend on balancing the budget while cutting taxes? You can cut out all “discretionary spending” from the federal budget, that is the department of energy, the department of education, and so on, and defense spending, which is in fact a good bit of it, and still come up short in balancing the budget.

    So a question you must ask is, “As long as they get their tax cuts, gay being aren’t getting married, social programs are cut (which really does little to reduce the budget deficit), and there’s a republican in the white house, is the Tea Party going to fade away, are they in touch enough with reality to realize that fixing the country’s problems goes way beyond what appear to me, in context, as narrow interest?”