Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Tea Party Commentary Worthy of a Curtsy

It is telling, isn't it, that Democrats and liberal pundits in the wake of a week of Tea Parties and general bad press for their side, spent the weekend speculating about what, exactly, made so many people become unhinged enough to disagree with them?   Instead of asking themselves what it is about what they are doing that has so many of their fellow citizens irritated enough to take time off of work (or, more sadly, time off from looking for work that is still too hard to find) and protest the big government policies they've created, these liberals worry about the "violent" tendencies in the Tea Parties and the "irrational" longings they stir.  Don't "these people" know that they are biting the hand that feeds them?

But, truthfully, there is not much to learn from people who refuse to learn--or, even, to make cogent observations about the realities around them.  So, if you are looking for some sensible commentary about the phenomenon from an observer who can actually think as well as talk, Michael Barone today fills that gaping media hole quite nicely.

Barone notes that the Dems are doing a huge amount of missing the point as they observe the Tea Parties if they think this is really all about taxes.  The American people are so far beyond having a problem with taxes--though many of us, of course, still feel the injustice of tax code and dread the coming abuses that bigger government must bring.  But that's only one piece of the puzzle, and not even a coveted corner piece.  And being able to acknowledge the minor role that taxes by themselves are playing in this movement is one reason why I think the Tea Parties have the political potential to make the Tax Revolts of old look like an offering of crumpets and scones to the Democrats. 

Far more significant to the American people, is the extent to which Democrats and big government policy appear to be turning our country over to a culture of dependence.  Americans are holding up a mirror to themselves and to their country and they are in the beginning stages of that realization we all have from time to time that something has to change.  They no longer like everything that they see in that reflection--things are sagging and lumpy where they once used to be fit and svelte.  We note times where we lumber along and remember when we used to sprint.  We want to get in shape again and we're ready to fire this trainer . . . the one who would let us eat cake (just as long as there were no trans fats or salts in it).

Americans are tired of government by the elite, for the elite and of the rest of us.  We want to reassert our belief in our capacity for self-government.  The only question is whether Republicans will be sharp enough to understand and articulate that so as to make it politically meaningful.  They had better be . . .

In case you haven't had enough of Barone after reading this piece (and, honestly, is there such a thing?) then you might want to check out this link to a talk he gave last week at the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Society which is on the same theme.

Oh yeah . . . some guy named Schramm was also there.  I understand that he might have had a few cogent thoughts to offer as well.  

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 16 Comments

I'd like to know what exactly the tea party folks want. Not in terms of broad strokes like "the government is turning our country over to a culture of dependence" but what specifically do they want changed?

Specifically . . . a lot less of this sort of thing:

Well, I'll admit that I was expecting something that didn't come from such a partisan voice (on either side) because I prefer either independent thought or neutral analysis. That said, is the desire for banks to a) not be allowed to get "too big" or b) not be "bailed out" through interest-bearing loans from the government?

Doesn't the government telling banks that they need to break themselves up strike you as government interference in the free-enterprise system?

Can't responsible Americans solve this problem themselves by simply withdrawing their money from the large banks and refusing to do business with them? Why get the government involved at all if the goal is "limited government?"

I don't think the link I offered suggested that anyone other than some Democrats in Congress (and their friends, the regulators) were terribly concerned about the relative size of banks. I think the larger problem is government involvement in picking winners and losers . . . the outfit that is getting too big, of course, is the government itself. But it may yet "fail" if it means to keep growing.

Now we're back to vagaries. What specifically is meant by the government is getting "too big"?

Uhh . . . is this complicated? An example was offered, misunderstood, and now were back to asserting vagaries? Is this how it works? I suppose that's part of the problem . . . the ability of some to find too many vagaries in rather specific grants of power and authority such as those offered in here:

How about we start by sticking to and reasserting that? Of course, I understand that it will take patience and time and that any victory for our side, if there is one, is going to be imperfect and imperfectly implemented. We won't reverse the mess of 100 years of Progressive constitutional detour overnight . . . but we can improve upon it first by stopping its further expansion.

Apparently it is complicated because I have yet to see or hear any specific examples. Just one or two would be nice.

A population of somewhere around 3 million in 1776 seems to require significantly different governance than does a population of about 300 million in 2010. Logic would dictate that some things would change and that the sheer size of the population necessitates a bit larger government. Let's not negate the influence of moving from an agrarian society to an industrialized one. Again, changing circumstances seem to necessitate expanded rules and regulations.

Of course, maybe Shakespeare was right about that whole "kill all the lawyers" thing.

I was at Ashland's Tax Day Tea Party, and, as best I can remember, the following specifics were mentioned.

No new taxes (VAT, raiding of IRAs), or increases in existing taxes.

Replacement of income tax with Fair Tax (i.e., consumption tax).

Eliminating birthright citizenship, and tougher sanctions against illegal immigration.

Repeal of the health care bill (that one came up a lot).

Repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution (that is, the direct election of Senators), thus giving the state governments more of a say at the federal level.

Elimination of earmarks.

Term limits.

There were probably others that I'm not thinking of at the moment. Note that this was an open mic event, so that everyone present was invited to come up and speak as the spirit moved them. I thought this was sort of nice, but it made it impossible to tell what was the "official" Tea Party line (if, indeed, there is any such thing), or if what was said simply reflected the priorities of individuals spouting off.

How about this, Agatha:

1. Governments limit their economic activities to the production of public goods, the regulation of the use of common property resources, attempts to compensate for costs imposed on third parties ('externalities'), the regulation or supplanting of natural monopolies, and common provision manifest in income redistribution and in a modest selection of services. Therefore, governments ought not to mantain:

a. large inventories of commercial timber and grazing land;

b. A postal service;

c. Railroads

d. Farm banks, miscellaneous lending facilities, secondary mortgage brokerages, &c.

e. Auto manufacturers

f. Insurance companies.

g. Residential housing

2. Likewise, it is implausible that civil servants and politicians can beat the market for any length of time, therefore, sectoral subsidies distributed by the Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration, and miscellaneous others, should cease. Off the books subsidies (to the real estate and oil sector, among many others) undertaken through differentials in tax rates, should also cease.

4. If common provision is your goal, extracting regressive payroll and general sales taxes from the impecunious and then spitting it back in the form of subsidies for mundane expenditures most folk are perfectly capable of regulating (for groceries, housing, and utilities) and in the form of cash grants which generate perverse incentives (TANF) is unclear on the concept. What is worse is the appendage of armies of salaried care givers to administer these programs and steer people to them.

5. Someone better be producing while others are retired. The standard retirement age and credit for early retirement should be continuously adjusted to reflect the evolution of the demographic profile of the population so the ratio of the retired to the employed remains about what it was in 1980. (This would require that the standard retirement age be raised to 73 by mid-century).

6. First dollar coverage of medical expenses, whether by public expenditure or private insurance, has proven economically unsustainable. Time to insure against cancer and car wrecks and return to paying our mundane medical expenses out of pocket.

7. The function of the central government ought be limited to those activities that benefit from larger actuarial pools, or benefit from central co-ordination or concern transactions which occur across the boundaries of more particular authorities, or which concern benefits for which portability is a major consideration. Not plausibly included in the above are:

a. Any kind of schooling, from kindergarten through doctoral candidacy;

b. Scientific, technical, or social research not undertaken in service to a given agency's everyday functions;

c. Wage and hour regulations pertaining to employers who hire in only one state;

d. Occupational health and safety regulations pertaining to employers who produce in only one state;

e. Consumer protection laws pertaining to parties not transacting across state lines;

f. Public health and safety regulations which do not concern the movement of goods, persons, or waste, across state lines.

g. Parks and nature preserves located within the boundaries of a single state;

h. Monuments of scant significance in the history of the nation (e.g. Franklin Roosevelt's house).

8. The pensions of all public employees (bar in-theatre war veterans) ought to be actuarially sound defined contribution programs, financed entirely by payroll deductions.

9. Civil servants should be selected strictly by examination results, terminable almost at will (with light exterior review) and paid according to schedules set by the legislature, not by the unions. Public employment should not, on average, be more lucrative than private employment, nor should it be much more secure, nor should public employees retire earlier than others.

I don't think you understand the connection between the banks and the government. Do a little reading on the history of the Federal Reserve system and it will become more clear. Without doing that it does seem strange that the government and the banks can clash one second and make love (how many trillion is it now?) the next.

The biggest question I have towards the OP goes along the same line. In the fourth paragraph you suggested that the tea parties are in part a reaction towards the feeling that the balance of power has shifted towards the government/financial elite. You suggest that the Republicans must feed upon this idea. How do they do this without going back on the decades of talking up the idea of the free market and praising the virtues of the wealthy capitalist? I don't have a problem seeing through this because I think that the corrupt, as they always do, have simply used government as a way to bypass lack of talent or skill. How can the GOP say this without offering an appology for the past three or four decades of rhetoric which was at best misguided and lazy and at worst straight misdirection and lying?

I for one wish the whole "fair tax" would go away. What is needed is a flat tax. The "fair tax" (which would be as regressive as hell) would add about 33% to the costs of EVERYTHING, and so isn't much different from the VATT.

Essentially, it's just another cockamamie libertarian scheme to scuttle government. What we need is a taxation system that 1) meets our legitimate needs in terms of defense and administration, and 2) equitably spreads the burden of government. A 10% across the board no excuses income tax (to be increased only in times of the declaration of war, say) would do the job nicely.

Talk about an open mic . . .

This is why the call for "specifics" is not necessarily as productive as it might seem in the abstract. There is wide disagreement about specifics and I say that is a healthy thing.

As to the broader question of "what does the Tea Party want," it is specific enough to open up the question of the real meaning and purpose of the Constitution and call for the respect the people deserve in terms of consent. We can be grown up enough to understand that there will be disagreements about the specifics . . . but an argument that seems to be centered around and rooted in the meaning of the Constitution as originally designed (and subsequently amended) to be, would be a good beginning.

It is not enough to assert that "times have changed" and therefore the Constitution should change with it. That may be the case . . . but the purposes of just government do NOT change and our Constitution (except where amended) has NOT changed . . . at least not yet. If people want it to change, there is a mechanism provided for doing that. Unless or until the Constitution IS changed, government is operating without consent when it goes about exercising powers that are not delegated to it.

Actually, can't the fact that American society is more complex today than it was in the time of the Founders be an argument for just the opposite? No group of government bureaucrats, no matter how well meaning and highly educated, can understand enough about it to plan for every possible eventuality. This was Hayek's argument in the 1940s, and it seems to me it is even more applicable today.

Another excellent point.

In fairness to Agatha, she did not suggest we adopt national economic planning of the sort Robert Kuttner and Felix Rohatyn were promoting a generation ago. (Instead, she said we should expect the customers of banks to make decisions on their custom on the basis of a single vector only indirectly related to their material welfare).

Someone just got pwned

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