The Tea Partiers are furious about out-of-control government spending. And the G.O.P. is happy to ride the protesters' coattails, even if the TP's are equally disgusted with real and perceived wasteful spending by both parties in government.
What you don't hear from either Tea Parties or the G.O.P. is what they would cut by way of government spending, because getting specific about cuts would anger the wider general public. Among the reasons the G.O.P. indulges in time-wasting exercises in which it purportedly shows how the books can be balanced without painful cuts in government programs is that even conservative voters do not want substantive cuts in public services.
The chart tells the story:
John Sides at Salon has the background on the chart, the methodology and meaning for "conflicted conservatives."
And at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum describes the conservatives' untenable position:
The lesson from this? It turns out that conservative politicians really do represent their base pretty well. They like to yammer endlessly about cutting spending, but when push comes to shove, there's not much they really think we're spending too much on. It's all just venting.
While it's a mistake to exaggerate the Tea Partiers' influence as a sustainable movement - their discontents are so wide-ranging and often contradictory as to make a coherent movement difficult if not impossible - it's wrong also to dismiss the grievances they highlight.
1. The banks, Detroit, and reckless home buyers got bailed out - in effect, rewarded for bad behavior. A common plaint among Tea Baggers is "Where's my bailout?" What they mean by that is, "I played by the rules. And these folks who didn't are getting money from Uncle Sam - my money." That's a valid complaint in a nation that puts fairness high on its list of shared values.
2. The Tea Baggers are alone in commanding the media stage. Where are the progressives to confront them or stage their own protests, on behalf of Americans about to lose their shelter and the many who already have, those who've declared personal bankruptcy (more than 1,800 a day) because of medical bills they can't pay; and to argue that impoverishing university grads carrying $100,000 in debt the moment they don their mortar board is no way to ensure America's competitive success in the "knowledge economy" of the 21st century? Is there a sign in the town square that says "Tea Baggers Only"?
3. Obama and Dem leaders on the Hill - and for that matter, every federal Dem lawmaker - have done a miserable job explaining their bailouts of the American economy (the stimulus, which already has saved or created upward of 2 million jobs, but is decried as extravagance by conservatives). Or why keeping people in their homes rather than allowing them to be foreclosed upon props up home values throughout a neighborhood - including those owned by Tea Baggers. On the real and present danger of the current private-insurance status quo to people claiming be perfectly happy with that status quo (in contrast with those lacking insurance, and those who are under-insured), because an insurer like Anthem/Wellpoint will hit you with back-to-back double-digit premium hikes in California (a 39% hike this year, just announced).
I commend Tea Baggers for inconveniencing themselves in exercising their First Amendment rights, showing up in all kinds of weather to make their point. (Though I could do without the placards that depict Obama as Hitler.) And I despair that they are occupying a void left to them by stay-at-home progressives.
You have to fight for progress, as the Revolutionaries did, when only one-third of colonists backed them, one-third were adamantly opposed to breaking ties with Britain (and exiled themselves to Canada as "United Empire Loyalists"), and one-third were in the middle, waiting to be convinced. This is the way of all progress - you have to fight for it. So far only the voices of reaction have been heard from. Progressives have lobbed a few grenades - at each other, over reforms they deem insufficiently robust.
Note: Americans routinely exaggerate how much the U.S. spends on foreign aid, imagining the federal outlay to be about 20% of total federal spending. They naturally think that enormous savings are to be reaped by cutting foreign-aid outlays. But U.S. foreign assistance actually accounts for only a tiny fraction of federal spending and a scant 0.2% of America's GDP. Bush often referred to America as the world's most generous nation. Much of America's "foreign aid" is actually military assistance to favored, strategic allies. If by what we mean as foreign aid is strictly humanitarian assistance - as most Americans understand the term to mean - the Norwegians lead, at 1.2% of GDP, followed by Sweden, at 1.1%. Canada's foreign aid spending is an abysmal 0.28% of GDP. This despite the world's wealthiest nations, including the U.S. and Canada, having pledged years ago to achieve a unanimously agreed-upon target of 1.0% of GDP in foreign-aid spending by 2000. Only those two Scandinavian nations have achieved the mutually agreed goal.