Tea Party: Drink Up, Democrats!


Andrew Levison at the "Democratic Strategist" sees hope for his party in the Tea Party phenomenon. He sees some straight-up GOP apologetics and some kookiness, but more than that he sees something else:

the on-the-scene reports by citizen journalists…suggest that probably the largest single group within the tea parties were neither corporate Republicans, single-issue protestors nor conspiracy theorists. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Byron York offered a particularly empathetic view of their attitudes which he portrayed as a mixture of bewildered patriotism, fear of the unknown and nostalgia for traditional, "old-fashioned" economic values and attitudes. For Democrats, the key to understanding the outlook of this "small-town traditional" group is to recognize that it is not the expression of the standard, "institutional" conservative ideology of the Heritage Foundation and University of Chicago. On the contrary, it is an authentically "grass roots" perspective rooted in a "common sense" understanding of economic affairs that arises from practical experience in the world of small business.

Levison then I.D.s, pretty well I think, the five major ideas animating the Tea Partiers, and identified them as a classical American "pre-Keynesian" view of the relationship between the workin' man and the Feds:

1. Government spending to create jobs simply does not work. It can only create phony "make work" or "leaf raking" jobs and not "real" jobs that need to be done….

2. Government simply should not go into debt; it should maintain a permanently balanced budget. This idea, which in previous generations was called fiscal responsibility or "sound finance," is based on making an analogy between an individual household and the government….

3. Banks are visualized as essentially profit-seeking businesses like any other and not as an abstract "credit system" that provides "finance" or "liquidity" to the economy. In this view, the fact that banks' particular business happens to be taking deposits and lending money does not entitle them to any special treatment…..

4. Government regulation is seen from the perspective of a small businessman. As such it appears as a maze of annoying paperwork, licenses, permits, inspections, and so on….

5. Taxes are seen….as money that is simply taken away from individuals by the government — and not visualized as part of a larger circular flow…The "common sense" notion simply is that "Taxes are my money, not the government's money".

He then rightly points out that many of the business elites that he thinks are GOP handmaidens are perfectly Keynesian in their belief in large-scale government demand management.

In terms of Democratic strategy, there are two key implications of this analysis:

First, while these voters are unlikely to support Democratic candidates, their distrust and hostility to Obama and the Dems can be significantly moderated, reducing the number who move on to become committed anti-Democratic activists in hundreds of communities around the nation. The key is to reject the assumption that people who do not accept a Keynesian view are necessarily doctrinaire conservatives or committed Republicans. As we have seen, there is good evidence that they are not. Democrats can moderate the opposition of these voters by communicating with them in their own distinct "common sense" and "small business" framework.

He also thinks Dems should point out that many elements of the larger Tea Party-pushing coalition, from Dick Armey to Ron Paul to Objectivists, in fact have connections or beliefs that might frighten the decent old-fashioned angry Americans who make up the majority of Partiers.

All true. But for this to work to the Dems advantage in terms of dampening hostility toward them (not even Levison thinks they can win these Partiers votes), they will have to stop doing all those things that the Partiers don't like, from taxing to deficit spending to regulating to bailing out banks. And that isn't happening, nor is there a single force or figure within the Democratic Party power structure who wants or intends it to.