Radically bitter tea

The danger behind the Tea Party’s “Contract from America”

The tea party movement has come a long way since its inception. Emerging in 2009 as a reaction to bank bailouts and the looming health care reform, the movement originally appeared to be a highly localized and disorganized group angry with the increasing size, power, and spending of the federal government. They seemed to resuscitate the ghost of the old “states-righters” around the time of the Civil War. Due to the extremely localized nature of the movement, many believed that the party would quickly disintegrate. Unfortunately, they were wrong ­— instead of falling apart, it has mutated into a virus that is taking hold of many voters and Republican politicians throughout this country.

In the beginning, they lacked a set of clear legislative goals. Everyone knew they were opposed to large government and huge deficit spending, but that doesn’t sound so different from the standard Republican platform. Now, however, the Tea Party has told America what they want: the “Contract from America.” But does this contract support the Tea Party’s populist, grassroots claims, and does it represent the will of the American people? Let’s take a look at the Contract and see how it compares to what most Americans want.

1. Protect the constitution.

Specifically, the party would require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that justifies Congressional intervention. This is both unnecessary and a waste of time. It is Congress’s job to make laws, which, for the record, is explicitly stated in Section 8 of the Constitution. Any attempt to limit this power is itself unconstitutional, and is a task already given to the Supreme Court.

Ryan’s Rating: Useless

2. Reject cap and trade.

Under the guise that regulation increases unemployment, raises prices, and weakens the United States’ global competitiveness (none of which they can adequately back up), the Tea Party wants to ignore the fact that temperature isn’t our only climate problem. Funny how they leave out the part about motivating companies to look for alternative energy sources and consumers to adopt them. Evidently, the Tea Partiers would perpetuate our addiction to foreign oil and the destruction of the planet through global warming.

Ryan’s Ruling: Defer to Al Gore

3. Demand a balanced budget.

This idea sounds great when headlines use the word trillion, but whether or not you agree with the Bush and Obama bailouts, there is no denying that without them, this country would be in a depression right now.

Ryan’s Ruling: Dangerous

4. Enact fundamental tax reform: Adopt a single and fair single-rate tax system.

A flat tax would make the poor poorer and the rich richer. Any given percentage of a low-income, impoverished family’s income is far more valuable than the same percentage to a family making six figures. To give an example, $100 could make or break a poor family, but a family earning over $100K would likely not even notice a missing $100. Mocking the length of the internal revenue code, the Tea Partiers would require that a new tax code be no longer than the US Constitution. Yet this is simply an attempt to spark patriotism and fieriness in those who read the Contract; there is no logical reason why a new tax code should have that many words or fewer.

Ryan’s Ruling: Oppressive

5. Restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington: Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states or local authorities, or ripe for wholesale reform or elimination due to our efforts to restore limited government consistent with the US Constitution’s meaning.

There are quite a few issues here. Broadly stated, the idea itself is excellent. Indeed, something similar was promised by President Obama during his campaign. However, what the Tea Party thinks should be cut is very different than what most Americans would think. Notice the bit where they identify “programs better left for the states or local authorities.” The Tea Party has advocated eliminating both the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. It is not necessary to go into why either change would be disastrous. In addition, it is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. They have the final word on what the document means, not the Tea Party.

Ryan’s Ruling: Cutting Wasteful Spending? Sure. The Rest? End of United States as We Know It

6. End runaway government spending: Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.

Seems to me that this could pose a problem in wartime or in an economic crisis when massive stimulus is required.

Ryan’s Ruling: Dangerous

7. Defund, repeal, and replace government-run health care.

They later clarify how they want to replace the current system: free-market health care. Translation: Wall Street-style, pure capitalistic health care. Right, because at this point we all know that deregulation of industries and letting private companies do whatever they want, including discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, or denying health care altogether, leads to a fair and equitable health care system that gives those that can’t afford it what they need.

Ryan’s Ruling: Downright Stupid

8. Pass an “all of the above” energy policy: Authorize the exploration of proven energy and reduce regulatory barriers to all other forms of energy creation.

Translation: Drill, baby, drill. Deregulate the oil industry and drill wherever there’s oil. Now that’s truly insightful, since we all know how unlikely that is to end in disaster (as long as you don’t live along the Gulf of Mexico). Not to mention that such a policy would just accelerate the death of the planet. We should be investing in alternative, clean energy, not more oil and coal.

Ryan’s Ruling: Suicidal, on a Planetary and Environmental Scale

9. Stop the pork: Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.

If Congress ever gets a 2/3 majority on a controversial bill, I will… well… it doesn’t really matter what I would do because that will never happen. Witness the gridlock in Congress in recent months, where the filibuster allowed the Republican Party to prevent the extension of unemployment benefits for those who desperately needed them. Some may think “Yay! End to wasteful spending!” While I certainly agree that earmarks need to be brought under control, killing them altogether is not the way to do it. Earmarks are not all evil, despite their portrayal as such. This is how congressmen bring money and projects into the states they were elected from. They can create jobs, build infrastructure, and fund other state and local initiatives — the very state and local initiatives Tea Partiers seem so fond of. If earmarks are eliminated, state funding is starved. And another thing that will never happen is the government having a balanced budget.

Ryan’s Ruling: Counterproductive

10. Stop the tax hikes: Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes (the estate tax), currently scheduled to begin in 2011.

It’s interesting how so many of these Tea Party goals are written in a way that seems appealing to people precisely because they’re written in a way that prevents them from being fully understood. Simply put, this implies extending the Bush tax cuts forever. To sum up what the Bush tax cuts were: tax cuts for the rich, making the wealthy wealthier. While having taxes cut seems great, tax cuts of the magnitude the Tea Party is advocating would starve the federal government (which I’m sure would make the Tea Partiers happy) and increase the gap between rich and poor, accelerating the deterioration of the already vanishing middle class; and with it, the cornerstone of democracy.

Ryan’s Rating: Moronic (three cheers from Wall Street)

I hope that I have “refudiated” many of the Tea Party’s dangerous and un-American initiatives. In addition to the points listed above, the Tea Party has also advocated repealing the 17th Amendment (direct election of US Senators), abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency, repealing Wall Street reform, privatizing or “phasing out” Social Security, and ending Medicare as it exists today.

But perhaps the most frightening aspect of this insane movement is that it is catching on among elected officials. Senator Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.), for example, said that he would like to change the 14th Amendment so that people born in the United States do not automatically become citizens. For a group of people that supposedly place such value on the Constitution, they sure are interested in changing and repealing vital parts of it.

Perhaps the Tea Party movement will pass. Perhaps it will gain steam. I don’t really know. I do know that if the Tea Party gets what they want, America as we know it today will be over. The Tea Party’s vision of a perfect America is one where we can destroy the environment and the rest of the planet, where unregulated corporations and the obscenely rich have all the power, and where the states gain power comparable to what the South had under the Confederation. I agree that the federal government needs to cut back on wasteful programs and spending, but it needs to be done in a responsible manner — a manner that upholds the principles that this country was built on. Be careful how you vote in November.