Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Fatal Flaw in the Tea Party Movement

When I first heard of the Tea Party a few years ago, I was strongly attracted to the idea. I generally was fed up by the machinations of the major parties and the polarized bickering that has become so common in every political discussion. Parties have their fixed agendas, and legislators seem swayed by the moneyed, who provide the funding for their next election. I thought, “The Tea Party. What a fresh idea! Turn the power back over to the people! That’s what democracy is all about.”

Of course, I am not one to take an idea seriously until I study it; so I went to the Tea Party’s website and read the mechanism by which the party was designed to work. This indeed is a people’s movement. People from local communities get together and decide what position the majority think should be taken on every major issue. They then select candidates to run under the Tea Party banner. Each candidate pledges to vote always and only in line with the position adopted by the local participants in the Tea Party. And that is the fatal flaw!

Yes, all of us get fed up when our legislators adopt positions and vote differently from what we think is best; but when you tie legislators absolutely to the views of their constituents, you eliminate the possibility of compromise. And that is where our nation is right now in trying to deal with the budget, the debt, appointments, and other legislative matters. When you have pledged to uphold the positions taken by your constituents without exception, you can do nothing to resolve gridlock.

If the Tea Party continues in its current mentality and succeeds, we will have 100 senators and 435 representatives in Washington, all of them locked into the interests of their particular state and their particular congressional districts. The Tea Party naively assumes that all Americans have the same interests. That is simply not the case. People from Idaho cannot understand the peculiar needs of large urban communities, and they certainly are not going to spend “their money” addressing the complex issues faced in metropolitan areas. People from farm states will hardly compromise on farm subsidies, but you can’t get them to support subsidies precious to urban states. States hit hardest by the influx of illegal aliens will certainly have different priorities than urban states with high unemployment or farm states in need of migrant workers.

When we insist that our representatives represent us and only us, we put our local, parochial interests ahead of the “common good.” The “common good” is what has been lost in the current debates in Washington. Maybe it already was gone in the horse-trading mentality that loaded our national budgets with fodder for every state, district, and constituent group. With the zealots on all sides arguing for “do it my way, or you’re out of office,” we have had no open doors for discussion of what is good for all of us.

I am concerned about our national debt, our over-extended budget, our wasteful programs that consume enormous amounts of our resources, our legislative dead-lock, and our “my way or the highway” mentality. I’m also concerned about our environment, our poor, our educational systems, and our unemployed and under-employed. I’m concerned about the power that money can buy, the desire to give as little as possible to the tax-man and to spend as much as possible on frivolous extravagances, and the hungry who don’t know where their next meal will come from. I’m concerned about states that can exist only because the federal government funds essential programs, whose populace would not be willing to pay sufficient taxes to support their own local needs, and whose officials always complain about the insufficient funding from Washington while doing everything possible to keep their constituent taxes low.

The central issue in all of this is selfishness. We are a self-centered people who have lost our sense of community and unity. The Tea Party is a manifestation of this selfishness carried to an extreme. We need again the spirit of those early patriots who, while representing their own particular state’s interests and cherishing the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, also affirmed justice, domestic tranquility, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity (that’s us!). These ideals cannot be achieved in self-centered isolation; and they won’t be achieved in Washington until the ideals are recognized, endorsed, and embraced by each and every one of us.

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