What Would a Tea Party USA Look Like?

Conservative Political Action Conference Draws Major Leaders From The Right

I wouldn’t have expected such a fair piece from Slate, but this article about a hypothetical alternate universe where the Tea Party is in charge and Rand Paul is President is really useful for understanding some of the basic beliefs and aspirations of the Tea Party. Here’s a sample:

Deep divisions notwithstanding, there are a number of principles that unite the movement. The most important of them is a devotion to subsidiarity, which holds that power should rest as close to ordinary people as possible. In practice, this leads Tea Party conservatives to favor voluntary cooperation among free individuals over local government, local government over state government, and state government over the federal government. Teatopia would in some respects look much like our own America, only the contrasts would be heightened. California and New York, with their dense populations and liberal electorates, would have even bigger state governments that provide universal pre-K, a public option for health insurance, and generous funding for mass transit. They might even have their own immigration policies, which would be more welcoming toward immigrants than the policies the country as a whole would accept.

I don’t consider myself a Tea Partier, but I have been to one rally (it was fun) and I’m sympathetic to a lot of the sentiments and principles that animate the movement. From my standpoint, this article is definitely worth the read if you want to understand a little bit more about it.

More Americans Lost Coverage in 3 States Than Gained Coverage in 50 States

2013-10-29 Obama Oops

Forbes has a very blunt piece describing the fact that (so far) many more Americans have lost their coverage thanks to Obamacare than have gained coverage from the program. That’s sort of the opposite of how this whole thing was supposed to work. Of course in time that trend may be reversed, but the folks who got the boot from the coverage they had picked sure aren’t getting it back. Meanwhile, NBC has a shockingly investigative bit of investigative journalism showing that, despite all the promises over the years, the Obama administration has known damn well that this would happen. They wrote the caveat to “grandfather” in existing plans, and they they immediately undermined it. “If you like your plan, you can keep it” has been a lie since day one.

Some observations:

1. It’s a good thing someone managed to shut the Tea Party Republicans up so that they could stop obscuring the train wreck that is the ACA roll out. (Although if that had been GOP strategy from the start, I wonder if we’d ever have seen coverage this honest.)

2. This isn’t a conclusive proof that Obamacare is doomed or even a bad idea. It goes well beyond website “glitches”, but there’s still time for the current shock and horror to be forgotten as a mere historical footnote if the plan works over all. Now isn’t time for anyone to be counting chickens.

3. It is a pretty good illustration of what the Tea Party has hated and feared all along, however. The policy intricacies of Obamacare are beyond casual analysis, but the overarching themes of government incompetence, dishonesty, and intrusion could not possibly be more clear.

The President lied to the American people so that his party could ram through a law that drastically increased the reach of the federal government into the lives of ordinary citizens, and then they promptly screwed the implementation up with truly epic levels of incompetence. All for the greater good, of course.

As a matter of theory: ACA continues to make a lot of sense and could certainly be salvaged. The Tea Party thesis has never been about theoretical policy, but rather about practical institutional behavior. In short: bigger is badder. Current events seem to be lending credibility to their claims, despite their own poor decisions.

Scientifically Literate Tea Partiers?

2013-10-17 Tea Party Scientific Literacy

That’s the conclusion, according to a Yale professor. It’s really not big news, honestly. The Tea Party is already known to be slightly wealthier and more college educated than the average public, so it’s no surprise to find that they are also slightly more scientifically literate.

But it’s still a sharp contrast with the way they are portrayed in the media. As Professor Kahan put it:

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

The large difference between the image universally presented by the media and the reality is much more interesting than the small difference between scientific literacy for the Tea Party and the public at large.

The Tea Party Fights The Man

2013-10-08 Rand Paul

The Tea Party does not have a lot of friends in Washington. Conventional wisdom–the sort of thing you hear on NPR, for example–is that the GOP has redistricted itself to death. By creating solid red districts, they’ve turned over power to the loonies on the fringe. Complementary theories include the notion that the Tea Party consists of a bunch of delusional fools who are shoveling their hard earned life-savings to snake oil selling PACs who have no interest in making real changes, but just want to make a buck off of gullible fools.

Both of these narratives tap into deep political stereotypes, but neither actually make much sense. The problem with the gerrymandering explanation is that it’s the opposite of how gerrymandering actually works. Not that I’m defending redistricting games, but the essence of gerrymandering is called “packing and cracking“, and it means you pack your opposition into dense, homogeneous districts but you crack (spread out) your own supporters as much as possible. Think about it for a minute, if you’ve got 5 districts and the overall population is basically 50/50 Democrat and Republican, do you (as a Republican) want to put all of your voters in one dark red district and leave the Democrats to have 4 very slightly blue districts? No: that’s how you lose an election, not how you win it. The idea that the GOP created a bunch of ultra-conservative districts doesn’t make any sense.

Meanwhile, the idea of the huckster political operative taking grandma and grandpa’s money to go off on a doomed crusade to end Obamacare taps nicely into images of televangelist faith healers (i.e. negative stereotypes of the religious right) and the influential What’s the Matter With Kansas?, but all it really does is expose liberal arrogance. The idea is that conservatives are just too darn stupid to know what’s good for them (i.e. liberal policies) when the reality is that conservatives have different values than liberals. For example, conservatives believe that passing on staggering amounts of debt to their children is morally reprehensible and are willing to sacrifice their own interests to stop it.

But is this just spin? Nope, it turns out there are some pretty hard numbers behind this. I got tipped off to that fact when a Facebook friend posted this Washington Times opinion piece: Tea Party Loosens K Street’s Stranglehold on the GOP. The thesis of the article is pretty simple: before the Tea Party, Republican candidates depended on cash from big business and lobbyists to run their campaigns. But a proliferation of ideological PACs provided an alternative source of funds separate from the interests of big business. Carney, who wrote the piece, concludes that Tea Party candidates are therefore getting their money from small business owners and retirees: individuals.

I don’t think the article backs this up solidly, but the same friend who posted it followed it up with this: 

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