Tea Party's political brew an explosive mix for US

Business Times - 27 Oct 2010

Tea Party's political brew an explosive mix for US


HERE is a prediction: If as expected, the Republicans make big electoral gains in next week's mid-terms - taking control of the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate - these victories are going to be hailed by the Republican leaders and their allies in the Tea Party as a clear sign that the American people have turned against President Barack Obama's 'socialist' agenda.

These winners will then proclaim that the voters want Republicans to overturn the series of policy changes that Democrats have enacted in the last two years. And Republican Congressional leaders will be pressed by the Tea Party candidates to repeal the healthcare reforms, to extend the entire set of Bush era tax cuts, to slash foreign aid and to increase defence spending.

Some of the more radical members of the new Republican majority will urge the new Congress to threaten to shut down the federal government if Mr Obama and Democrats resist their legislative agenda, and they may even call for impeaching the president. And this is what will happen then: The Republican Congressional leaders will probably try to respond to the calls for action demanded by the Tea Partiers on Capitol Hill and around the country - and supported by Republican presidential candidates such as former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and former House majority leader Newt Gingrich.

But most of this legislative frenzy will confront strong White House and Democratic opposition, including the president's veto power. And it will eventually fizzle out.

With their ambitious initiatives being foiled, the angry and frustrated Tea Partiers will either give up on politics or try to form a third political party or more likely, attempt to defeat the Republican establishment and take over the party and force it to elect their favourite man or woman (and you know who) as the Republican candidate to challenge Mr Obama in the 2012 race to the White House.

And he or she is probably going to lose.

Indeed, the Republican Party is going to face a major political choice in the next year or two, and one that could help shape American economic and foreign policy in the next decade.

The Republicans could re-brand themselves as the responsible, effective and optimistic ('sunny') conservative party that leads the efforts to control the US rising federal deficit and to restructure the American economy and adjust national security to the new global realities along the pro-free-market, pro-free-trade and pro-immigration policies of the Reagan presidency.

Or the Republicans could take the road being built by Tea Partiers who, in the name of mounting populist rage against Washington and Wall Street and the reviled 'elites', are promoting a mishmash of policies that are at best, impractical, and at worst, dangerous.

The Tea Party movement is not a politically unified and ideological coherent movement. If anything, it is a loose coalition of tens of large and small groups around the country who seem to agree only on one issue - the need to cut government spending - but disagree on how to achieve that goal.

More troubling is the fact that many of those Republican Congressional candidates, who are calling for getting rid of the huge deficits, are also advocating steps that could actually raise deficits to the stratosphere - lowering taxes and increasing defence spending, for example - and are opposed to cuts in those programmes favoured by the large majority of the American people, including the gigantic government-backed retirement insurance programme known here as Social Security.

Moreover, there is also a strong ultra-nationalist strain of the Tea Party that verges on the xenophobic and racist. Hence, all the talk that one hears in their rallies - where the crowds are mostly white and middle-aged - about 'taking back America' (from whom?) or about Mr Obama being 'Muslim' and/or 'Kenyan'. There is also a powerful anti-immigration element among the Tea Partiers.

Several of the Republican candidates supported by the Tea Party movement, such as senate candidates Sharon Angle (Nevada) and Christine O'Donnell (Delaware), have expressed scepticism about evolution, challenged the principle of separation between religion and state, and are strong opponents of equal rights for gay people.

This Tea Party political brew is a very explosive mix. And the idea that the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan could be led by the likes of Sarah Palin and dominated by members of what was once referred to as the 'lunatic fringe' is quite depressing, especially from the perspective of those Americans who do want to see a strong Republican Party that will keep the excesses of the Democrats in check. It may even spell the end of the two-party system in American politics.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.


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