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Where the Tea Party runs out of juice
Source Dave Anderson
Date 10/06/12/21:26

www.guardian.co.uk
Where the Tea Party runs out of juice
The Tea Party's anti-government rhetoric doesn't account for the fact
that we need federal jobs to reduce US unemployment
Sasha Abramsky

IN LOOKING AT THE recent Tea Party surges in GOP primaries, it
increasingly strikes me that there's a desperate nostalgia playing
itself out in the country. In some ways, it is an ideology's ferocious
last stand, akin to the pied-noir's, and their French nationalist
sympathisers', noisy, but ultimately futile, attempts to stop General
de Gaulle's disengagement from Algeria a half-century ago. It is an
inherently backward-looking movement, using a set of emotive
historical references, combined with a sense of impending victimhood,
to marshal public support against the policies of a distrusted central
government.

It's an expression of longing, in part, for a glorious past, one in
which the federal government played a less dominant role in the
nation's economy; and for a moment in which markets, by themselves,
functioned well enough to keep society on a trajectory of ever-greater
affluence.

Clearly, the Tea Party movement is an amalgam. Some sympathisers are
classic libertarians. Others are more akin to John Birchers. Some are
preoccupied with illegal immigration; some are Christian
Fundamentalists; some define their politics by opposition to taxes.
Yet, taken as a whole, there's a desire implicit in Tea Partiers'
rhetoric for the recreation of simpler times and a rollback not just
of current big-government programmes such as the healthcare reform
bill, but, more generally, of a century's worth of social legislation,
of regulatory systems, of federal taxes that allow for government to
function on a grand scale across this continental country, of
multiculturalism, multilingualism, large-scale immigration.

In short, this is a cry to roll back the complex web of modernity
itself; and, as such, it is more an expression of collective
existential angst than a realistic manifesto of political priorities.

But, because of the magnitude of America's economic woes, there's a
powerful contradiction in play here. The coalition of interests that
has come together under the "Tea Party" banner was made possible
largely because of the desperate straits millions of unemployed, and
underemployed, Americans find themselves in. In such moments, fringe
movements and ideologies defined by a sense of ordinary citizens
having been cheated by government institutions, banks, foreigners,
crooked fat cats, frequently come to the fore, become "mainstreamed."
After all, hungry, homeless, terrified millions tend to grasp for any
straws thrown their way.

Such movements' milieu is usually a toxic one; a stew of half-truths,
conspiracy theories, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism; and, in the
United States, given America's mythology as a place where the little
man can always succeed simply by hard work and a little bit of pluck,
it is often garnished with a vaguely-defined anti-government'ism.

Yet, were the Tea Party to achieve a real measure of power which I
profoundly hope will not be the case they would rapidly run up
against an unpalatable reality: to retain their high levels of popular
support, they would have to deliver economic salvation, and deliver it
fast, to America's increasingly precipitously situated working and
middle classes. And, with all the anti-government rhetoric in the
world, in the current economic moment, there's simply no way to do
that by wielding anti-government, anti-regulation axes.

Last month's job report shows the problem here. Across the US economy,
over 440,000 jobs were created; but, only 41,000 of those were in the
private sector. The rest were dominated by federal jobs, many of them
temporary positions associated with the census. According to the
latest prognostications of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, even
in a best-case scenario America's recovery from the great collapses of
2007 and 2008, will take years to generate enough jobs to replace the
8 million lost since the start of the recession. Quite simply, the
private markets don't currently have the juice to return the country
to a golden era of prosperity.

And, despite current talk of policies aimed at slashing the federal
deficit, discretionary programmes are being cut by only around 5%; and
the big ticket items social security, Medicare, defence spending,
national security are mainly exempt from spending reductions. That
contrasts with cuts of 20, 30, in some cases even 50% in revenues
taken in by, and consequently in spending carried out by, city,
county, and state level governments.

However one crunches the numbers and regardless of whether federal
spending rises or falls slightly in the next few years given the
contours of the current economic crisis, what this means is that at
the end of the day an ever-greater percentage of public spending in
America is emanating out of DC. And, for the near-future at least, as
states continue to hemorrhage revenue, that trend will almost
inevitably continue. No other level of government has the borrowing
ability, the monetary policy tool-chest, or the confidence of global
markets behind it, to keep the fragile economy buoyant. And so, like
it or hate it, the federal government is going to have to play a key
role in creating programmes to inject money into markets, and to hire
workers who would otherwise spend years unemployed, for the
foreseeable future.

The Tea Party's growing cadre of general election candidates can
bemoan this from here to kingdom come, and the movement's myriad
grassroots supporters can continue to fulminate against the federal
government; but, at the end of the day, if they become "incumbents"
they will have to work out how to govern rather than simply how to
craft jeremiads. They will, in other words, have to morph from being
angry adolescents to being functional adults within the definitionally
complex world of policy-making. And, unless they want to become as
loathed as the current batch of incumbents they are laying electoral
assault to in states such as Kentucky, Nevada, and South Carolina this
political season, they will also have to work out how to use the tools
at the federal government's disposal to help get the unemployed back
to work in an economic environment in which private markets left to
their own devices simply aren't up to the challenge.

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