Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2011

THE LIMITED DEMAND FOR LIMITED GOVERNMENT.... When Tea Party Republicans first started raising a fuss in 2009, their interests were varied, but their overarching principle related to "big government." To hear the activists tell it, they feared a growing government that would encroach on American freedoms.

And I remember thinking at the time, "Where were you guys when Bush was tapping phones, reading emails, and conducting warrantless searches?"

I mention this because the Patriot Act, which vastly expanded federal power, is up for renewal in Congress, and the Wall Street Journal noted that the law is expected to be reauthorized, despite the Tea Partiers' "surge" that "brought to Washington a new legion of lawmakers suspicious of government power."

Jon Chait explained that the observation itself reflects confusion about what motivates the Republican base.

The fact that this is considered surprising or even newsworthy suggests a widespread misunderstanding of the Tea Party movement. It is not an anti-government movement per se. Tea partiers do castigate Republican leaders for spending too much, but so do Republican leaders. [...]

The Tea Party movement represents an intensification of the ideological forces within the Republican Party, not a change. Its anti-government impulses are focused almost entirely on those functions of government that involve redistribution of resources from the fortunate to the unfortunate. Civil liberties were not and are not on the radar.

Quite right. The Tea Party message is often incoherent and contradictory -- deficits are bad, but tax cuts that make deficits worse are good; health care reform is bad, but socialized medicine through Medicare is good -- but it's also extremely limited. When they talk about their fears of "government," what they're generally afraid of is benefits for those who aren't like them.

When civil liberties come up at all, it's only part of a hysterical, paranoid vision in which federal officials will put them in internment camps for not filling out Census forms.

As Adam Serwer noted, "[T]o the extent that 'power grabs' are to be feared, it is only in the context of expansions of the social safety net and federal gun regulations. If, on the other hand, you're worried about the limitless power of the surveillance state because such power has a history of being abused, it's because you're a criminal with something to hide."

Steve Benen 10:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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""Where you guys when Bush was tapping phones, reading emails, and conducting warrantless searches?""

George W. Bush was white.

Posted by: SaintZak on February 8, 2011 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Tea Party: "You know the people who believe that anything that is done for them represents social progress but if its done for anybody else it represents socialism."

Posted by: Stevious on February 8, 2011 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

The trick is to make the person sawing off the end of the branch see it is the one they are setting on .
In popularly themed notions the calvary , represented here by the Teu Baggeurs , come in and kill all the bad bad natives who lived here , illegally , for ten thousand years . Then the sweet natured evangelists come in and uncover any seekret Muslims and burn 'em .
Thats an awful lot of imagery to change .

Posted by: FRP on February 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

The white-right identify as "haves" by virtue of the culture war. This doesn't mean they aren't anxious about their economic status. But they've been redirected by their puppetmasters to see those minorities around and below them economically as their principle threat. The lure of Mayberryism is a culturally conditioned reflex. It's a compound of resentment, nostalgia, and fear. It has one more generation to go before it finally crashes.

Posted by: walt on February 8, 2011 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

As much as I am loathe to ever agree with anything published in The New Republic, Cohn is actually correct!

Our entire belief system and what we want action on is stop spending the tax dollars of the white tax payers on the undeserving blacks and browns.

Posted by: TeaPartyPatriot on February 8, 2011 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Just one thing ...
...stop spending the tax dollars of the white tax payers on the undeserving blacks and browns...
...stop spending the tax dollars of the white tax payers on the American blacks and browns...

Posted by: FRP on February 8, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

The Tea Party movement, like all right wing movements, is about the identification, elevation and domination of one particular subgroup in society over all others. Therefore, "big government" is not their target. It's their weapon, but one that has a very precise definition. The Tea Party is against all government spending on social programs because those programs benefit individuals seen as being outside the Tea Party's tribe. But military spending, or spending on police, or the Patriot Act or other "big government" expenditures on the national security state are supported by right wing Tea Party activists because they are seen as protecting their group from others.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

They don't fear government per se.

They fear when Democrats are in charge and govern.

Especially anyone who's darker than the tan colored crayon in their grandkids box of Crayola's.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 8, 2011 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

What I can't figure out is their urge to dress up as our revolutionary forefathers and complain about tyranny -- when their definition of tyranny would absolutely horrify anyone from that earlier era.

Posted by: leo on February 8, 2011 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

This has been the attitude of many whites on the right for years. I remember in the very early '80s sitting in a red neck bar in El Monte, CA listening to comments by such about a legal case in San Diego. A young African-American male with dreadlocks had been, repeatedly, stopped by North County deputies, while walking on the sidewalks of North County. He happened to be in sales and was well dressed, but, he was still stopped and questioned on a regular basis. He had successfully sued the County of San Diego over this abuse. However, back in that red neck bar, the universal theme was "But, unless, you have something to hide, why would you ever care about being stopped?" I often wonder what the tone would have been had any of them been stopped on the streets of El Monte by officers. Different racial prism.

Posted by: berttheclock on February 8, 2011 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Where you guys when Bush was tapping phones, reading emails, and conducting warrantless searches?"

And besides, as most of the morons were saying at the time, if you aren't doing anything illegal, what do you have to worry about?

Posted by: TCinLA on February 8, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen quoted Adam Serwer: "[T]o the extent that 'power grabs' are to be feared, it is only in the context of expansions of the social safety net and federal gun regulations."

Actually the "power grab" most feared by the Tea Party is regulation of greenhouse gas emissions (whether through cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, or EPA regulation) -- which as every Tea Partier knows, represents a massive, decades-long conspiracy by the entire world's scientific community to use the Great Global Warming Hoax to destroy capitalism and liberty and establish a One World Socialist State under the jack boot of Al Gore.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 8, 2011 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

As usual liberals mock what they don't understand but SecularAnimist accidentally speaks the truth. Science is just as nebulous as religion and I always remembered this when I was a physician and being harassed to keep up with new research. That CE requirement was something else that needlessly interfered with my freedom, by the way.

Anyway global warming is a religion to you people and the Tea Party is merely standing for real religion instead of false gods.

Posted by: Mlke K on February 8, 2011 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

@ leo:

their definition of tyranny would absolutely horrify anyone from that earlier era.

Not necessarily. There were plenty of hyperbolic anti-tax loons in the 18th century, who worried--or claimed to worry--that increasing excises on things like gin and salt would empower customs officers to invade your house and fondle your wife and daughters. The taxation = tyranny or taxation = slavery notions go WAY back.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on February 8, 2011 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives tend to be very insecure, confused people. They complain about government being "too large" and "intrusive", but they say nothing about the most bloated, wasteful, intrusive and pernicious agencies in government - the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

I'm reminded of the biblical admonition and how people point out the mote in their neighbor's eye, while ignoring the log in their own.

Posted by: Sam Simple on February 8, 2011 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

MikeK: Are you really a "Michael"? Afraid to come out of the closet? You must really be worried about your manhood to cling to ridiculous notions about global climate change. It's not a tribe to us, it's a matter of scientific consensus. You, on the other hand, need a tribe and a strong daddy-authoritarian to tell you what to believe. It stems from your doubt about where you stand with relation to other males in your tribe, where you stand with males of the other tribe (which isn't clear, since people who trust the consensus of climate scientists don't consider ourselves a "side"). But, like a good movement conservative, you project your neurosis on your non-co-ideologues. What is the cause of your neurosis, Michael? Trying to contain the inner urge to see another man nekkid?
No, Mike, call the theory of climate change what you will, but do you have evidence from any source that explains the data? Is it generally accepted by climate scientists(not other kinds of scientists or weather forecasters)? NOTE: the data of the sun's warming cycles do not support it as a cause of climate change.
So because your denial is quasi-religious, you impute that to people who don't share your faith.
Please go deal with your personal problems, then get back to us on how that's working out for you instead of INJECTING YOUR STUPIDITY INTO THE DISCUSSION!!!

Posted by: Howlin Wolfe on February 8, 2011 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Is it that they are against "benefits for those who aren't like them", or is it they are are against benefits for anyone except them? As long as I get mine, life's good, but I ain't payin' for nobody else.

Posted by: CDW on February 8, 2011 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Mlke K. . . religion and science are NOT the same thing.

Religion requires, even demands, that I believe 100% in something without evidence.

Science is ALL about the evidence. Even the most dogmatic scientist will change their opinion once the evidence comes in. If I saw any evidence that Climate Change was not occuring then I would reconsider my position, but -sorry mate- all of the evidence points to it.

Posted by: Mitch on February 8, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Liberals believe the mirror image: social welfare programs are good, civil liberties curtailments are bad. It's a fundamental disagreement about the role of government--that's a fair fight to have--but liberals are hopefully honest about the argument, whereas the Tea Partiers are proudly and profoundly hypocritical.

Posted by: bruce k on February 8, 2011 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

@Howlin Wolfe: for your amusement the real Mike K (not the parody) has a blog in which he discusses his take on political topics:

abriefhistory.org

If you are into self-punishment you might want to take a look. You'll find there a concerted attempt to put a most respectable face on the reactionary meme of the day. Mike takes the droppings from wingnut bloggers and lovingly shines them up with solemn language and unwarranted historical associations.

Dip deep enough and you'll find such gems as the fact that not only is the globe NOT warming, but that we are quickly headed into an ice age. And of course racism and misogyny and obamasocialiszmislamhitler.

Posted by: trex on February 8, 2011 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

No, Mike, call the theory of climate change what you will, but do you have evidence from any source that explains the data?

The data has all been faked, as was proven last year with the emails.

Science is ALL about the evidence.

I was a physician before you were even a passing fancy of your mother's filling station attendant. Don't lecture me about science. In 60 years of performing surgery I never found science as useful as I did prayer.

@Howlin Wolfe: for your amusement the real Mike K (not the parody) has a blog in which he discusses his take on political topics: abriefhistory.org

Thanks for the plug. Unlike this echo chamber I welcome viewpoints of all kinds in the comments. I don't ban commenters like I was banned here after I had a few too many one night, which I am sure has never happened to a liberal. Too busy smoking pot to drink like normal healthy men.

Posted by: Mlke K on February 8, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Don't lecture me about science. In 60 years of performing surgery I never found science as useful as I did prayer." -Mlke K

After you make a statement like this I know better than to try and lecture you. You already know everything anyway, obviously.

Parody? Troll? Or actual idiot? So hard to tell these days... in any case, leave my mother out of this.

Posted by: Mitch on February 8, 2011 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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