Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Elephant Dung #2: Tea Party seeks priority of economic over social/cultural issues in GOP

Tracking the GOP Civil War

The CSM reports on a significant divide opening up in the Republican Party:

Representatives of the loosely organized tea party movement urged GOP leaders in a letter released Monday to abandon their fronts in the culture wars – issues such as gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion – and instead focus their new electoral power on individual liberties and "economic freedoms."

The letter, signed by 16 tea party groups and a conservative gay organization, points to an emerging rift between the tea party movement and the GOP, which still counts social conservatives seeking "moral government" as a key constituency.

The signatories, ranging from conservative commentator Tammy Bruce to local tea party group leaders, say the key lesson the GOP should draw from the election is that Americans are concerned chiefly about taxes and the size of government, not their neighbors' lifestyle choices or personal decisions.

Actually, I think that's largely right. The midterms were mostly about the economy (that is, about the lousy state of the economy and about widespread anti-incumbent sentiment resulting from the lousy economy, boletered by effective Republican propaganda and the lack of a defining narrative from Democrats) and not at all about "culture war" issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. And I applaud these Teabaggers for trying to move the Republican Party beyond the divisive wedge issues that it has long exploited for electoral gain.

But that's the thing. Republicans have relied on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, flag burning, and the pledge of allegiance to arouse and incite their base -- and to get these manipulated voters to the polls to vote out of fear and anger. Over the past several decades, Republicans have succeeded largely because they've been able to manufacture this fear and anger, to convince enough voters that "liberals" and "progressives" are destroying America with their newfangled ideas about things like civil rights.

Sure, Republicans have focused consistently on tax cuts for the wealthy, for example, and some have been, or at least claimed to be, "fiscally responsible," but economic issues alone don't win elections. Think back to '88. Bush famously said "read my lip, no new taxes," but his campaign relied on race-based fearmongering, as in the notorious Willie Horton ad, to beat Dukakis. Lee Atwater knew then what was needed and knew how to win. So does Karl Rove today, and anti-tax and anti-government rhetoric is only part of the equation.

In other words, whatever the protestations of Teabaggers, or of extremist libertarians in Congress like Rand Paul, Republicans are not about to abandon social/cultural issues, to cede that ground to Democrats, to give Democrats high-profile victories. And why? Because Republicans -- or at least those few like Rove who are realistic about the party's electoral prospects -- know what's good for them, what works for them, and what scares their base into outraged submission. (It's not about giving the social conservatives and theocrats what they want, it's about duping them into voting Republican by continuing to promise change that likely won't be implemented.)

And while the Teabaggers may think they have the country behind them on economic issues, they don't. Just try making permanent the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, privatizing Social Security, slashing entitlement programs, and cutting police and other essential local services -- all in the name of "economic freedom."

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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  • You leave out the paradox of this letter: the Tea Party "won," so to speak, on a fundamental "Culture War" issue (though ever unmentioned), and that is RACE. The prime motivating force of the Tea Party movement was a black man named Barack Obama. There's a secondary, but closely tied, issue that motivated them as well, and that is immigration. But both issues are really about RACE.

    It's all well and fine for the tea Party actors to try to disassociate themselves from the Moral Majority movement of the 80's, but in the end they are more like them then they'd like us all to believe.


    By Blogger Jersey McJones, at 7:10 PM  

  • Very good point. There's a reason there was no Tea Party when Bush was massively expanding government and getting the country embroiled in two wars. Bush was one of them, sort of. And the current right-wing assault on Obama is very much tied to race.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 9:55 PM  

  • Exactly. When you ask Tea Partiers where they were back when the Bush/GOP once-party-state was busy doubling the national debt, they say some thing, "We were unhappy, and we did complain, it's just that when Obama and the Dems continued this trend, we decided that we'd had enough." It's a convenient argument, but lacks any intellectual substance.

    The Bush/GOP state never faced a recession the likes of which they left us. The growth in government spending was tied almost entirely to the unfunded wars and un-offset tax cuts combined with the accompanying borrowing. The Bush/GOP state never spent heavily on any domestic necessity. They were not spending "liberally," but rather they were cutting taxes, raging war, and borrowing as typical "conservative" pols always do.

    Entitlement spending, even that for the pending healthcare reforms, during the Obama tenure will be steady and really no different from the Bush years. The impending rise in SS and Medicare spending is an inevitablity and will happen no matter what party is in power, as the Baby Boomers are now hitting their elder years.

    The Tea Party has no real argument, which is why their rhetoric was always so vacuous and vague. The impetus of the movement was RACE. Period.

    Great blog, by the way!


    By Blogger Jersey McJones, at 1:02 PM  

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