Let's not shoot the messenger. Yes, the tea
party victors are a mixed bag espousing often contradictory and at
times weird positions, the source of their funding is questionable and
their proposed solutions are vague and at times downright nutty. But
they represent the most significant political response to the economic
pain that has traumatized swaths of the nation at a time when so-called
progressives have been reduced to abject impotence by their deference to
a Democratic president.
Barack Obama deserved the rebuke he received at the polls for a failed
economic policy that consisted of throwing trillions at Wall Street but
getting nothing in return. His amen chorus in the media is quick to
blame everyone but the president for his sharp reversal of fortunes. But
it is not the fault of tea party Republicans that they responded to the
rage out there over lost jobs and homes while the president remained
indifferent to the many who are suffering.
At a time when, as a Washington Post poll reported last week, 53 percent
of Americans fear they can't make next month's mortgage or rent
payment, the president chirped inanely to Jon Stewart that his top
economics adviser, Lawrence Summers, who was paid $8 million by Wall
Street firms while advising candidate Obama, had done a "heckuva job" in
helping avoid another Great Depression. What kind of consolation is
that for the 50 million Americans who have lost their homes or are
struggling to pay off mortgages that are "underwater"? The banks have
been made whole by the Fed, providing virtually interest-free money
while purchasing trillions of dollars of the banks' toxic assets. Yet
the financial industry response has been what Paul Volcker has called a
"liquidity trap"-denying loans for business investment or the
refinancing necessary to keep people in their homes.
Instead of meeting that crisis head-on with a temporary moratorium on
housing foreclosures, as more than half of those surveyed by the Post
wanted, the president summarily turned down that sensible proposal.
Instead he attempted to shift the focus to his tepid health care reform
and was surprised that many voters didn't think he did them a favor by
locking them into insurance programs not governed by cost controls.
Health care reform was viewed by many voters with the same disdain with
which they reacted to the underfunded and unfocused stimulus program.
Neither seems relevant to turning around an economy that a huge majority
feels is getting worse, according to Election Day exit polls.
That is a problem that is not obvious to the power elites whom the
leaders of both political parties serve or to the high-paid media
pundits who cheer them on. The tea party revolt, ragged as it is, fed on
a massive populist outrage that so-called progressives had failed to
respond to because of their allegiance to Obama. As a result the
Democrats squandered the hopes of their base, which rewarded the party
with a paltry turnout at polling stations.
But it now remains for the tea party victors to prove that they are a
viable alternative, or by the next election they too will find that
their base of support has evaporated. This should be of great concern to
the libertarian wing of that movement, which scored a considerable
victory and a much-enhanced national presence with Rand Paul's Senate
victory in Kentucky. Will he stick to his promise to hold the Federal
Reserve accountable and oppose the continuing favors to Wall Street that
he has blasted as "a transfer of wealth from those who have earned to
those who have squandered"?
The tea party is now in the awkward position previously occupied by the
Obama hope crusade of having to deliver and will suffer a similar
political fate if it fails to deal with the economic crisis. In
particular, the Republicans who will control the House, thanks to the
tea party, must come up with proposals to solve the housing crisis or
they will stand exposed as political opportunists who intend to exploit
rather than deal with the economic anxiety felt not only by their base
but much of the country.
Some Democratic leaders will urge Obama to follow President Bill
Clinton's lead after his party's electoral reversal in the 1994 election
and move even further to the right to strengthen his prospects for
re-election. It was that opportunistic shift by Clinton that led to his
signing off on the radical deregulation of the financial industry that
caused the economic meltdown. If Obama follows such advice it will spell
further disaster for the nation.