The midterm election results have validated the Tea Party as a bona fide player in American politics. It's certainly possible that we are witnessing the Tea Party's finest hour and that the movement could fade from prominence as the economy recovers. Nevertheless, let's give credit where credit is due - the Tea Party has already made a bigger impact on our country than many of its early detractors thought possible - including yours truly. As someone who is not a fan of the movement, I have spent considerable time thinking about why others are drawn to its message.
What the Tea Party Gets Right... and Wrong
At first I thought the Tea Party was "a big tent for anger" as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd once described it. While the Tea Party does contain angry and nativist elements - it is more complex than a twenty-first century version of the John Birch Society.
The Tea Party has accurately diagnosed some core problems of contemporary American society; namely, the decline of the middle class and disfranchisement of working Americans. According to the Tea Party's narrative, ordinary of Americans have been sold out by a corrupt government in favor of a small and privileged group of elites, who reap a disproportionate amount of our nation's wealth.
So far, I'm in agreement.
What the Tea Party fails to account for is the cause of government corruption - namely, the pervasive power of special interest groups that relentlessly (and successfully) lobby the government to advance their own narrow interests, oftentimes at the expense of society at large.
The Tea Party's failure to consider the role of the private sector leaves them with a very disjointed outlook. It is impossible to treat the symptom of government corruption without looking at the disease of special interest influence. The Tea Party only understands half of the equation.
This incomplete thought process is why Tea Partiers rightly complain about government corruption but don't talk about campaign finance reform, which is probably the single most important thing this country could do to end the system of legalized bribery known as campaign contributions.
How can anyone who supports good governance not be upset by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision which allows corporations, unions and other special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections? Yet the Right, including the Tea Party, has either supported the decision or stayed silent.
The Tea Party needs to understand that while we need to reform government, we also need to reign in the private sector. It is unsustainable for lawmakers tasked with writing energy policy to depend on oil company checks to finance their campaigns, for officials regulating health care to take money from Big Pharma and for politicians writing financial laws to accept funds from Wall Street. In the private sector, that is known as a conflict of interest, in Washington it is called campaigning.
Government accountability is a good thing, but decreasing the power of the federal government will not prevent the next BP oil spill or Wall Street pyramid scheme. The Tea Party might not like health care reform, but allowing insurance companies to run roughshod over the American people without oversight is not the answer either.
It would be nice to see more signs at Tea Party rallies calling for campaign finance reform and fewer decrying socialism. That debate ended over 75 years ago in this country and capitalism won.
Here's my message to the Tea Party:
I agree that the average American is getting a raw deal and the government is corrupt. I'm a glad you want to help fix this situation, but the private sector must also have a date with accountability
I look forward to your response.
Contact Jeremy Berrington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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