Why Republicans Can’t Just Be Reasonable

Riding on a powerful wave of resentment with the Obama Administration’s interventionist policies, the Republicans performed exceptionally well in last month’s midterm elections. They picked up scores of House and Senate seats, several governorships and many state legislatures turned red.

After two years of obstructionism, the left, including the White House, has urged the opposition to become a more “responsible” stakeholder. As they will have a majority in the House of Representatives next year, Republicans should work with Democrats, the president said on election night, not “spend the next two years refighting the political battles of the last two.” The challenges that the country faces, he added, do not “lend themselves to simple solutions or bumper sticker slogans. Nor are the answers found in any one particular philosophy or ideology.”

He shouldn’t expect Republicans to agree.

Republican leaders know that the Tea Party insurrection launched against government overreach in the private sector, including health care, last year was not exclusively aimed at Democrats. Conservatives also blame Republicans who, especially during the Bush Administration, allowed a huge expansion in the size of government and a vast increase in public spending as a consequence. Federal spending nearly doubled between 2000 and 2008 in fact.

Under the Obama Administration the spending spree has continued with hundreds of billions in stimulus and an overhaul of health insurance that is projected to explode Medicaid costs. The federal governments has already to borrow more than a third of what it spends and that deficit will only grow in the years to come. But bumper sticker slogans and ideological divide are precisely what will prevent meaningful reform.

Ahead of November’s congressional elections, Republican leaders pledged to rein in spending, somehow but they have so far refrained from championing concrete austerity measures. They know that even if the self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives of the Tea Party oppose bigger government they like a lot of what government does for them.

Overwhelmingly tea partiers, like all Americans, want to keep Medicare and Social Security for the elderly and oftentimes Medicaid for low-income families as well. Cuts in defense spending moreover are anathema to all wings of the Republican Party yet along with entitlements, these are the federal government’s single largest expenditures.

Without entitlement reform and reductions in defense spending, it is nigh impossible to bring down the deficit and balance the budget, except through raising taxes — something else Republicans won’t do.

Republicans’ unwillingness to see tax rates go up was most dramatically exposed this month when they blocked all pending legislation in Congress before an extension of Bush era tax cuts would be enacted. They had a good case to make, arguing that during a time of recession, the government should provide certainty and stability before anything else. Democrats were suddenly concerned about the deficit on the other hand, pointing out that if they let the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest of Americans expire, it would produce several hundreds of billions in revenue.

A compromise negotiated with the White House ultimately saw Republicans agreeing to an extension of unemployment benefits in return for the tax cuts — another multibillion dollar expense, at least for the next thirteen months. The fundamental unwillingness to compromise on core principle remains however.

Democrats and the White House may claim to be open to compromise but when it comes to spending cuts, they are far from pragmatic. When the chairmen of the president’s debt commission proposed to reform Social Security this month in order to ensure the system’s affordability for several more decades, including a gradual raise in the retirement age, dozens of Democratic lawmakers immediately lined up to “stand firmly against” pension cuts. The president himself has pledged to preserve Social Security “forever” while Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to “do what is right for our seniors, who are counting on the bedrock promises of Social Security and Medicare.”

The president’s health insurance reform was conspicuously absent from the commission’s recommendations moreover and in all likelihood, Democrats will oppose any attempt to repeal the law or stall its implementation.

If Democrats remain averse to entitlement reform, Republicans cannot agree to tax hikes. Revenues may have dropped as a natural result of the recession but Republicans are right to point out that Washington has a spending problem before anything else.

Democrats have raised public spending as high as 25 percent of GDP, a level not seen since World War II. As a result of health-care and financial reform, government interference in the private sector has grown substantially; a role that is only set to expand if the administration manages to advance its energy agenda. Restoring balance to the budget is not just a political cause for Republicans; it is economically imperative.

Senator Jim DeMint Discusses Earmarks, 2012

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, also known as Senator Tea Party due to his strong connection to this political movement, appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace to discuss congressional earmarks, the deficit, as well as his presidential ambitions.

The interview started with a question about the White House’s offer to extend the Bush era tax cuts on the wealthy. DeMint said that there was no room for a compromise on the tax cuts but that an extension of just two or three years might be acceptable to Republicans.

Many Republicans in Congress, including DeMint, have advocated an earmark ban for many months but not all of their leaders have been equally forthcoming. Mitch McConnell in particular, the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky, has so far refused to commit to reform. On Fox Sunday, DeMint remarked that earmarks weren’t just a Tea Party issue but an American one. “Right now we’ve got over five hundred congressmen and senators who are in Washington who think it’s their job to bring home the bacon,” he said. “And that takes your eye off the ball.” DeMint was confident that this message has been received by those in the legislature.

We can’t spend all our time trying to rob the federal treasury to get money for our states and congressional districts and still be serious about the big issues like reforming our tax code and fixing Social Security and Medicare.

The senator was similarly confident that he could find the votes to pass an earmark ban. “You would see spending come down dramatically if you took out all the self-interest that earmarks represent,” he argued. As he pointed out on Meet the Press last week, John Boehner, who is likely to succeed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House next year, has already committed to an earmark moratorium. “We’re not going to have earmarks,” he said then, “so it’s really silly for some senior Republicans in the Senate to try and block it.”

Asked whether his position wasn’t hypocritical, seeing as DeMint used to vote for earmarks, the senator described himself as a “recovering earmarker,” thankful of the “support groups” that now exist all over the country. “We call them Tea Parties,” he joked.

DeMint gained national notoriety during the end of the Bush Administration with his opposition to the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Three months later he also voted against the $814 billion dollar stimulus package. These actions as well as his opposition to earmarks have made him a household name. There is even talk of DeMint being in the race for the Republican presidential candidacy in 2012.

Moderator Chris Wallace asked him about that and if DeMint thought that he was too far to the right to be a contender. The senator didn’t think so. “I think this election shows that my views of balancing the checkbook are not radical at all,” he said, referring to the Republicans’ impressive gains in this month’s midterm elections. “Americans want us to cut spending and debt,” he added. “And I think they want us to return the role of the federal government back to more of a limited constitutional role.”

DeMint is not just a small-government conservative however. As he told Fox News two weeks ago, “you can’t be a fiscal conservative and not be a social conservative.” He blamed the expansion of government, at least in part, on society being “dysfunctional” and American culture “falling apart.” The senator is in fact regarded as one of the most conservative members of the upper chamber, supportive of school prayer, opposed to abortion and adamantly opposed to legalizing gay marriage which he fears could have “costly secondary consequences” due to the prevalence of certain diseases among homosexuals.

Despite his popularity with tea partiers, DeMint said to have “no plans” to run for president in 2012. “I’m looking for someone who will have the courage and leadership abilities to come out and make the hard decisions that we need to turn this country away from a cliff,” he said.

Two Tea Party Stalwarts on Sunday

Two politicians who have been instrumental in the recent surge of small-government conservatism in the United States appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows this weekend to share their expectations about the upcoming midterm elections for Congress. Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi sat down at the table of NBC’s Meet the Press while former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 2008 Sarah Palin appeared on Fox News Sunday.

According to Barbour, who, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has been the driving force behind the Remember November campaign and is sometimes mentioned as a possible contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2012, the midterm elections are undoubtedly a referendum on the Obama Administration. He mentioned the rising national debt and persistent joblessness rates as among the foremost of reasons for independent voters to swing to the right this election. “The Obama policies aren’t working,” he explained. “We need new policies.”

Sarah Palin was all the more blunt. “You blew it, President Obama,” she said. The message of these elections will be, “no more business as usual,” according to the former governor. Minority Leader John Boehner, who is likely to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, has been using the very same rhetoric for several weeks. Just what Republicans intend to do instead has remained largely unsaid however.

The Republicans have offered their Pledge to America but volunteered notably few concrete pro-growth policies. There is still a lot of anger on the right and with Democrats apparently confounded by voter frustration that sentiment will be enough to propel Republicans to victory. But if they want to channel their newfound popularity into sustainable electoral success, Republicans have to stop boasting and lay out a new agenda.

This fall though, “repudiating” the Democrats’ legislative agenda is more likely and that is precisely what Barbour promised.

Health care reform, which was enacted by Congress in the spring and which is still being contested by individual states for being unconstitutional, is a case in point. Republicans haven’t exactly promised to repeal Obamacare as they persist in calling it. Rather they will “replace” it, according to their Pledge or make “big changes” to it, in Barbour’s words.

Asked whether incoming congressmen and senators should be willing to compromise on such hotly contested issues, Sarah Palin said, “Absolutely not. That’s been part of the problem,” she added. “We can’t afford to compromise on principle.”

Both Barbour and Palin have been mentioned as possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2012. Barbour said on Meet the Press that he hadn’t given running any thought yet. “After this election is over,” he added, “we’ll sit down and see if there’s anything to think about.”

Palin, too, seemed reluctant, citing media scrutiny of her person and her family as a reason for not throwing herself in the race. “I love the freedom that I have,” she said, “that I can tell you anything I want to tell you and not have to worry so much about how it will affect my future political career.” But, “the country is worth it,” she added, “to make those sacrifices. If the country needed me I would be willing to make the sacrifices.”

Karl Rove Discusses Tea Party Primary Wins

With Tea Party backed candidates winning primaries in several states, is the movement usurping the GOP? Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace interviewed Republican campaign strategist Karl Rove over the issue and his party’s refusal to back Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell.

Rove said that in order for the Republicans to win they need a winning strategy. The problem with O’Donnell is that there are several questions about her past that have gone unanswered. If those questions linger, Rove warned, O’Donnell can only win if voters decide to ignore them and care about government spending and the recently passed health-care reform bill instead. The winning strategy, however, would be to answer those questions in a sympathetic manner.

When confronted with O’Donnell’s admittance to “dabbling in witchcraft” back in 1999, Rove expressed concern over the many churchgoing people in Delaware who would want to have some answers about that. “I, frankly, think a winning strategy requires coming to grips with these questions and explaining them in the most sympathetic way possible so that people unblock their ears in Delaware and begin hearing the broader message,” said Rove.

On the current political drama in Alaska, Rove was asked if Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign would win her the Senate seat or cost the Republicans the election. The first part of his reply was a lighthearted jab stating that in a write-in campaign, voters have to spell the candidate’s name correctly and he challenged anyone to write Murkowski’s to see if they can get it right.

On a more serious note Rove added that he couldn’t imagine the state of Alaska wanting two liberal Democrats who were in line with the Obama Administration’s agenda representing them in Washington but feared that Murkowski could accomplish that as a “spoilsport”.

My hope is that the Republicans and conservatives in Alaska recognize the bigger issue, which is defeating President Obama’s agenda and go for this highly qualified Republican nominee, a West Point graduate, a military veteran, a graduate of one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools, a former magistrate judge, a practicing attorney in the state and an active Republican.

Asked about the impact of these primary results on the 2012 presidential race, Rove said that it was too early to tell. People are focused on the midterms and on getting Republicans who are keeping true to the core tenets of the party elected. He did add about Sarah Palin however that if she wanted to prove the amount of pull she had and become the frontrunner instead of just one party favorite, she should head for Delaware and help O’Donnell’s Senate campaign. “Sarah Palin has enormous magnetism and a big following,” he said. “And let her employ it in the field on behalf […] of the candidate that she cares so much about.”

All Anger on the Republican Front

The Democrats may be falling in the polls and President Barack Obama is certainly unpopular but the Republicans have no reason to take their newfound success for granted. On the contrary. The party has now to stop boasting and define its vision of twenty-first century conservatism lest it risk being thrown into the opposition again in 2012.

Two years after the end of neoconservatism and the defeat of “maverick” John McCain, the Republican Party remains without direction and without leadership. The most visible and most vocal of political figures on the right, Sarah Palin, may have been embraced in part by the Tea Party movement but the conservative base at large hardly considers her a viable candidate for the presidency.

Republicans have a tough legacy to reckon with. Opposition to Obama’s favoring of “big government” and his administration’s war on capitalism are ample cause for consternation with the political right yet it were the Republicans who initiated the spending frenzy under President George W. Bush. They have still to decide whether to capitalize on the more libertarian sentiments currently shaping the popular right as represented by the Tea Parties and Glenn Beck or to stick to the ideas that used to bear fruit.

Solid attempts at redefining American conservatism have been made. The call for constitutional conservatism was cheered by a series of Republican stalwarts last February; Tea Party candidates like Rand Paul of Kentucky are winning Senate nominations; Congressmen like Ron Paul and Paul Ryan continue to crusade for the free market. But the party on the whole fears that it may alienate part of its traditional base when it moves toward a more libertarian direction.

Both major parties in the United States are broad and inclusive by necessity. Whereas, in European terms, Democrats can be anything from socialists to centrists, the Republican Party has moderates, business conservatives or Rockefeller Republicans, libertarians and neoconservatives along with the Christian Right and the sort of intolerant, gun toting blowhards personified in the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Mainstream Republicanism in recent years has been fueled by religious sentiments, nostalgia, “family values” and promises of security and strong defense. Today, the small-government philosophy of the party is what ties the aforementioned groups together — except that the alliance of evangelicals and neoconservatives which twice made Bush president in recent years has little to show for in this regard.

A fierce apprehension of anything the Democrats do is all that appears to unite the right. So, according to The Economist, Republicans are reducing themselves into exactly what the Democrats say they are — the Party of No. They may well lambast Obama for expanding the deficit, notes the newspaper; “it is less impressive when they are unable to suggest alternatives.”

Out of power, a party can get away with such negative ambiguity; the business of an opposition is to oppose. The real problem for the political right may well come if it wins in November. Just as the party found after it seized Congress in 1994, voters expect solutions, not just rage.

The paper fears that electoral success in November may lead Republicans to think that they lost the White House because John McCain was not conservative enough. “That logic is more likely to lead to Palin-Huckabee in 2012 than, say, Petraeus-Daniels.” The Economist reminds Americans that British Conservatives made the same mistake when New Labour cast them out of power in 1997. “Only with the accession of the centrist David Cameron in 2005 did the party begin to recover as he set about changing its rhetoric.”

Even Spill Won’t Convince Tea Partiers

As the Democrats are expected to use BP’s oil spill to push for stricter regulation of business in the United States, left-wing commentators are wondering why even the disaster in the Gulf won’t convince small-government conservatives.

The Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — which rarely urges passage of specific legislation — both favor the reinstatement of a “Superfund” tax for oil companies, the returns of which should be allocated to a cleanup trust fund. Such a fund existed until Congress refused to renew the Superfund tax in 1995.

The move is likely to spark intense debate on Capitol Hill with Democrats lining up against oil companies and chemical manufacturers. The latter complain that a new tax would be an unfair penalty, harming the whole of the industry for the mistakes of one of their own. Proponents argue that the real question is who will pay for the cleanup effort. As Mathy Stanislaus of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response put it, “Should it be the taxpayer, who has no responsibility for contaminating the sites, or should it be those individuals who create hazardous substances that contaminate the site?”

Suggesting such a false choice seems reminiscent of the rhetoric deployed by Democrats throughout the past two years, both when they tried to pass their health-care legislation and while attempting to enact financial reform. President Barack Obama repeatedly told people that the choice was between health insurance companies and common people while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once urged lawmakers to consider whether they were “with America’s families or with the credit card companies and the banks.” Her office now describes the proposed reinstatement of the Superfund measure as a “polluters tax.”

Commentators on the left are startled that in spite of the oil spill currently wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Mexico, the popular anti-government movement that is the Tea Party still condemns pervasive regulation of private business.

Congressman Joe Barton of Texas publicly apologized to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward for what he called a “shakedown,” referring to the White House’s demand that the oil company put aside $20 billion in escrow to compensate victims of the spill. Conservative talk show host Mark Williams, chairman of California’s Tea Party Express, described it as “extortion” and behavior worthy of mobsters. Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul of Kentucky said Friday that he was disturbed by the president’s promise to find out “whose ass to kick.” Paul recommended Obama to take a hard look in the mirror. “This crisis has been a case study in failure to lead, failure to act, and using a crisis to advance your own agenda rather than solve the problem,” he opined.

Even in the Gulf states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, some say that they aren’t angry at BP. “I think BP is being extremely generous and they should be commended for that. They’re going above and beyond, as far as I’m concerned,” said retired civil servant and Tea Party organizer Charlie Purchner of Long Beach, Mississippi. The state’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour, believes that making BP set aside $5 billion a year over four years could hurt the company and, ultimately, the coastal residents and businesses who are supposed to be compensated for their losses. “If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” he wondered.

Small government conservatives aren’t alone. Governor Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming, a Democratic and early Obama supporter, has expressed concern that the oil spill might prompt an overreaction from federal regulators. Wyoming is among the top states in natural gas and oil production and leads in coal production.

The administration takes a very different view and doesn’t seem to understand why people continue to oppose “big government” even in the face of an unprecedented environmental calamity. Appearing on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanual alleged that Republicans see BP as the aggrieved party under the circumstances, not fishermen. “They think that the government’s the problem,” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Rise of the New Right

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews aired his documentary Rise of the New Right on Wednesday night in which he investigated the apparently new and widespread resentment of government. Matthews promised in advance that the special would “scare the heck” out of liberals and “amaze” Americans in the political center.

From the very start, Matthews appears to work under the sweeping assumption that all anti-government groups and sentiments active and alive in the United States today are part of one and the same movement: what he calls the “new right.” From libertarians to Tea Party activists to militia extremists and self-proclaimed “patriotic” fanatics; according to Matthews’ special, all of them belong to the same phenomenon.

The aforementioned movements do have one thing in common and Matthews is correct to point this out — their anger. They are angry about the federal government overstepping its constitutional boundaries and condemning future generations to massive debt. They are angry about local and state governments intervening in their businesses and personal lives. As one surprisingly sane Michigan volunteer militia member interviewed in the documentary put it, “Leave me alone. Let me do my thing. I don’t need the government’s help. I don’t need the government’s supervision.”

As this administration seems to interpret its role and purpose more broadly than any of its predecessors, more and more Americans are learning about the restraints which their constitution imposes on government. They understand that government ought not to micromanage their lives; that government should not attempt to “spread the wealth around”; that government is not charged with ensuring that everyone is happy and prosperous.

Different people take different action in response to that. Millions of Americans sympathize with the Tea Party rallies and at least tens of thousands participate in them. Politicos and opinion makers on the right are leading the charge for constitutional conservatism while libertarians suddenly find themselves with large audiences. Commentators who explicitly describe themselves as such, including John Stossel and Judge Andrew Napolitano, now host shows on the Fox Business Network while even Glenn Beck’s otherwise bombastic fury has a newfound libertarian streak to it. And then there are the lunatics who issue death threats and refuse to believe that the president is a natural born citizen.

Matthews suggests that these fringe groups, who practice violence instead of peaceful demonstration, are encouraged by the rise of the Tea Party movement and the calls to “revolution” by the likes of Sarah Palin. He quotes an April 2009 Department of Homeland Security memo which warns that homegrown terrorism could be fueled by the recession and the election of the first African American president. Because they as well as the tea partygoers focus their anger on President Obama, they must be of the same mindset, no?

No. Pathetic though the depictions of the president as either a communist or a Nazi may be, they are, unfortunately, nothing new in America. President George W. Bush was similarly portrayed at rallies and demonstrations while domestic terrorism which targeted the federal government was particularly active during the 1990s under the Clinton Administration as well. Racism and outright bigotry do indeed play a significant part in these extremist movements but it is disingenuous of Matthews to pretend that they share these sentiments with the Tea Parties and with the broad opposition to “big government” expressed by many in both the political center and on the right. He notes that “there’s an element of class and racial resentment that is loud, visible, unmistakable” running through the whole of this spectrum and brazenly perpetuates a narrative that has been proven wrong time and again in recent months. While the majority of tea partygoers and protesters rallying in the streets against the government takeover of health care and their obliteration of individual rights may be typified as “angry while males,” there is nothing inherently racist about their calls for freedom.

Matthews doesn’t do journalism a poor service altogether and quickly nuances this perspective by pointing out that the Tea Parties lack leadership and cohesiveness. Sarah Palin may have emerged as something of a de facto spokeswomen for the movement; it is not a political party and at least for now, most voters frustrated with government spending and regulation spinning out of control are betting on the Republicans to change their ways and nominate more fiscally conservative candidates for office. The election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts in December 2009 and the more recent nomination of Rand Paul for Kentucky’s open Senate seat show that the Republican Party can still be a platform to them.

Indeed, according to Matthews, it has always been. No matter the newness of today’s political right, which he himself professes, Matthews traces its anti-government rhetoric back to 1950s McCarthyism and the rise of Barry Goldwater in the 1960s. With Republican stalwarts as Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan reiterating the message of small government and austerity during the 1980s and early 90s, what’s really new today?

What’s new is that today’s constitutional conservatism is facilitated by a rapid sharing of information over the Internet and by cable news and that it is fueled by evermore aggressive rhetoric as espoused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Matthews depicts them as conspiracy theorists, sparking fears of tyranny, and claims that the specter of New World Order is resonating powerfully with the Tea Party movement — without volunteering any evidence to back up this startling assertion.

Matthews concludes his documentary by noting that the greatest objection to the more vocal of anti-government protesters is the language they deploy. “Words have consequences,” he says. “You cannot call a president’s policies un-American as Sarah palin has done, or refer to the elected government as a regime as Rush Limbaugh persits in doing, or the president as a foreign usurper as the birthers do, without giving licence on some day to real trouble.” He blames them beforehand for any violence that the Tea Party movement may stir, which is ridiculous, without bothering to demonstrate that such rhetoric is indeed reflective of the whole of the “new right.”

Ending on this notion, the documentary fails to understand what the growing resentment against the Democrats and the Obama Administration is truly about. Instead it resorts to stereotyping rightwingers as misinformed rednecks who are inspired by fears of suppression and the overblown rhetoric of a few angry white men on television and radio.

Matthews doesn’t recognize the independent spirit that is still strong with many Americans today who simply have no appetite for a government regulating their work, their work hours, their pay, their education, their children’s schools, their health care, their insurance, while billions of dollars are spent on bailing out failing banks and automakers and many billions more on trying to “stimulate” the economy into recovery. They don’t need a government denying them responsibility for their own lives and livelihoods. They want the government to get out of the way.

Rand Paul Wins Kentucky Nomination

Rand Paul, son of libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul, clinched the Republican Party’s nomination for Kentucky’s open Senate seat on Tuesday. In his victory speech, Paul reiterated the sentiment of the nationwide Tea Party movement whose symbol he might well become: “We have come to take our government back,” he said.

The younger Paul gained notoriety last month when he actively challenged Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the party’s favorite who enjoyed an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Unlike Grayson, Paul openly criticized the massive bailouts of Wall Street firms and automakers, describing them as “a transfer of wealth from those who have earned to those who have squandered,” as well as the evermore pervasive presence of the federal government in people’s private lives and economic activities.

Anti-government rhetoric goes well with voters on the right nowadays. According to Politico, “With his attention-grabbing views railing against Washington and its ballooning budget deficits, the fire-breathing Paul successfully connected with this state’s furious Republican primary voters, something that the more subdued Grayson was unable to accomplish in the fight to replace retiring two-term GOP Senator Jim Bunning.”

Some are skeptical that Paul’s victory signifies much however. According to Joshua Green, writing for The Altantic, Rand Paul’s win doesn’t herald a Tea Party tidal wave. For one thing, “Paul’s celebrity dad brought him money, volunteers, name recognition, and media attention, particularly on Fox News. What other Tea Party candidate can match that?” he wonders.

At Newsweek, David Graham warns against a “conservative backlash” to Paul’s victory, noting that, “Even some heterodox conservatives are voicing concern.”

Commentators on the left have been quick to convince themselves that Tuesday means nothing. Andy Ostroy at The Huffington Post believes that Paul’s victory only shows “that Republican voters are sick of establishment GOP candidates.”

The Tea baggers can beat their chests and crow all they want about the “hugeness” of their movement’s big victory, as Paul boasted last night, but all it portends for the party in November’s midterm elections is Republican-on-Republican bloodletting.

Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress is all the more assertive, describing Paul as a “lunatic” and predicting that the Kentucky Senate seat will go to the Democrats this fall. John Marshall at Talking Points Memo closes the ranks, opining that in his victory speech, Paul “came off to me as arrogant, bellicose and even a little messianic in his demeanor.” In short, “he sounded like a jerk.” Marshall even suggests “that that sort of attitude is part and parcel of the Tea Party movement.” Right. It’s the tea partygoers who are condescending, not the politicians whom they oppose and believe that government knows best only to cry that regulation is for your own good.

Considering that Paul led Grayson by 59 to 35 percent of the vote; considering the predominance of the Republican Party in Kentucky politics, with the state opting for GOP candidates in the last three presidential elections; and considering today’s political climate in all of the United States, Rand Paul as senator is by no means unthinkable. Quite to the contrary.

The Libertarian Mob

Commentators and intellectuals on the left continue to grapple while trying to figure out the Tea Party phenomenon. For some time they could be dismissed as racist or just plain dumb but such criticism is harder to sustain no with research showing that the 18 percent or so of Americans who identify as supporters of the Tea Parties are generally middle aged, well off, and politically right of center or independent.

So a different narrative is required in order to pretend that the Tea Parties are of no significance. Writing for The New York Review of Books is Enlightenment historian Mark Lilla who doesn’t believe at all that a “conservative counterrevolution” has recently begun. The “angry demonstrations” of the Tea Parties “have nothing to do with the archaic right–left battles that dragged on from the Sixties to the Nineties,” he writes. “The populist insurgency is being choreographed” and has nothing to do with the otherwise honest grudges held by Americans against “government” and “the media.” Read more “The Libertarian Mob”

Those Racist Tea Parties!

If you are on the left in America today, it may be difficult to understand the vehemence of the right’s opposition against the Obama Administration. The Democrats want to provide cheap and quality health care for all citizens, lower most people’s taxes and protect them from the greed and dishonesty of corporate America. How could anyone take issue with that?

It’s why the Tea Party was so unexpected and why the left doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The president and other Democratic Party leaders have mocked the movement on occasion, not appearing to take it seriously. Commentators are, desperately it seems, trying to find ways to denounce tea partygoers. The protesters, they say, are driven by irrational fears. They have been eroused by Fox News propaganda. Or, the most damaging attack so far, they are really racist.

In February, on his MSNBC show, Keith Olbermann was one of the first to suggest that the Tea Party movement may be intolerant. His network has subsequently continued to report on the phenomena in similar terms while other left-wing outlets ridiculed the protesters because some among them have been imbeciles, carrying signs comparing the president to Adolf Hitler and calling the Democrats “communists”.

Not everything is about race

Lunacy on the fringes hardly discredits the whole movement, though. Every protest has its idiots. Undoubtedly there are racist sentiments among some of the tea partiers but the Tea Parties aren’t racist events themselves.

More telling than the supposed lack of African Americans among the tea partiers is how some media interpret that to mean the whole movement is racist. The very pundits who pride themselves on being “post-racial” are struggling to understand, it seems, that opposition to a black president may have more to do with his policies than the color of his skin.

“These are my people — Americans”

An amusing scene took place last Thursday when an NBC reporter by the name of Kelly O’Donnell interviewed an African American tea partier at a rally in Washington DC. The man, Darryl Postell, a Air Force veteran, laughed when O’Donnell observed that there weren’t an awful lot of black people in the crowd.

Asked if he ever felt uncomfortable in such a predominantly white environment, Postell rejected her blatant assumption that race should even matter.

“No,” he answered, “no, these are my people — Americans.”

O’Donnell’s question wasn’t ill intended. She even sympathized with those tea partygoers who expressed dismay with being wrongfully portrayed in the media.

“Among the first things you hear from attendees at a Tea Party event,” she said, “is frustration about being portrayed as racist because of some ugly signs and poor behavior. With no prompting from me, many expressed that concern.”

Honest citizens

Still, many talk about race and the Tea Parties within the same context, whether they wonder out loud, like Olbermann does, where the black people are, or stress that the movement is largely made up of whites.

What isn’t mentioned that over 90 percent of African Americans voted for Barack Obama. That most tea partiers are white hasn’t much to do with the Tea Parties then; it’s because most black people supported the president from the start.

Now a sign that shows Obama wearing a Hitler mustache is more spectacular than the legitimate concerns of many right-wing Americans about excessive government spending and the expansion of entitlement programs, but that’s what the Tea Parties are about.

In spite of some unsettling rhetoric and imagery, the 20 percent or so of Americans who identify with the movement can’t be all bigots. They are honest citizens who are expressing their concern about the direction in which the incumbent administration is taking the nation. They deserve to be treated as such.