Born from fear of health care reform and its likely implications for rising taxes and growing federal deficits, what began as a simple acronym for “taxed enough already” has morphed into the closest thing to a legitimate 3rd party that we’ve seen in many years. I say “legitimate” because there have always been many parties beyond the Republican and Democratic parties – the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, just to name a couple. But none has ever garnered enough support to be taken seriously, much less to have a real impact on an election.
On the surface, the TEA Party seems to be nothing new. The promise of lower taxes and less government spending has always had broad appeal, and it’s been the backbone of the Republican Party platform (often abandoned once in office) for decades. But there’s a deeper undercurrent that I’ve often heard in describing its constituents that I find intriguing. They increasingly see no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. The Tea Party is attracting a growing throng of voters who’ve come to the realization that minor course corrections on a wrong heading still leave us headed in the wrong direction. They’re craving something big and new – something that will really make a difference in our slow-but-steady economic decline. There’s an opening here for a new political party big enough to sail a container ship through it. To the extent that the TEA Party can deliver the message that business as usual is over – that we’re ready to abandon the bankrupt ideologies of our two major parties, it’s serving a valuable purpose.
But if lower taxes, less government spending and smaller government is all the Tea Party brings to the table, it’s destined for the scrap heap of other failed political movements. After all, in the final analysis, there’s precious little difference between the economy of one nation with no taxes and no government spending compared to another that taxes its citizens at 100% and then returns all of the money to them through a massive welfare program. Each is left with virtually the same purchasing power. Tinkering with tax rates and spending isn’t going to make any real difference. And if “less government” is the key to prosperity, then how does one explain the fact that the economy of China, a communist regime with total control of every aspect of its economy, is the fastest growing in the world while America’s is in decline?
The problem isn’t that we tax a little too much or too little, or spend a bit more or less than we should. What does make a difference is trade policy. A nation with a large trade surplus (like China) can’t help but have a booming economy, while any economy that runs a long-term trade deficit (like the U.S.) is doomed to decline. We got off onto the wrong trade policy road a long time ago, in 1947, when the U.S. signed the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – the forerunner of today’s World Trade Organziation. Is the TEA Party ready to go down a new road?
At the same time, we’ve been stuck on another road to ruin since our country’s inception, relying on exponential population growth to drive economic growth. We enjoyed the pretty scenery along that road for a long time but lately, as we’ve added to the labor force faster than their output can be absorbed, the view from that road has been turning uglier. It now looks like a dead end into an economic slum. Is the TEA Party ready for a new direction?
Send a message? Throw the bums out? Fine, I’m there. But if the TEA Party turns out to be nothing other than a left-to-right lane change on the road to ruin, then it’s a complete waste of time and its candidates will be exposed as nothing more than opportunists with nothing new to offer. Instead, let’s hope this hard swerve to the right is the first step in a three-point turn to reverse our direction and get back on the right road.