R.I.P. The Tea Party (2009-2016)
In the first column I ever wrote for this website (back in 2011), I expressed my admiration for the Tea Party movement. I marveled at the commitment of these everyday Americans who joined together in a grassroots crusade against the Obama administration's runaway spending, and its radical and reckless overhaul of the country's healthcare system.
As many will recall, the Tea Party was initially quite a force to be reckoned with. The group sidelined its varying views on social issues and foreign policy, and focused its efforts almost exclusively on fiscal restraint and opposing Obamacare. The message struck a chord with voters, and just two years after a number of political analysts had written off the GOP as a national party for the next decade (because of the Iraq War and the timing of the housing meltdown), the Tea Party's infectious theme led to Republicans recapturing both the House and Senate in 2010.
The unforeseen political tsunami was so alarming to the Democratic party and the mainstream media, that war was waged against the movement. Liberals worked exhaustively to portray the Tea Party as a bunch of angry, racist, anti-government extremists who simply couldn't deal with the reality of the country's first black president. They conflated the group's message with far-right social views and even neoconservativism. And to a large degree, those efforts were successful.
The constant drumbeat led to a good portion of the public associating the group with issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, and gun control. The Tea Party was even dragged into non-issues like access to birth control, which later resulted in the so-called War on Women.
The true message of the Tea Party became so diluted by outside forces, that by the time the 2012 election rolled around, concerns about the national debt and the imminent effects of Obamacare were falling on deaf ears. They had been replaced with media-driven social-justice and class-warfare rhetoric like "income inequality" and calls for evil rich people to pay their "fair share."
Liberals won the long-game by distorting the motif of their most forceful opposition, and pitting Americans against each other — effectively stoking resentment along economic and ethnic lines.
Since then, the term Tea Party has largely been used as an adjective to describe conservative opposition to bloated federal budgets, and calls for government shutdowns. There isn't a cohesive movement behind it anymore, and most Americans view the phrase negatively.
That's too bad. Our national debt is quickly approaching $20 trillion, and we're watching an unsustainable healthcare situation implode, state by state, before our very eyes. Insurance companies are bailing, exchanges are collapsing, and Americans now spend 30% more on healthcare than they did before Obamacare became law.
Unfortunately, there's no hope in sight.
For nearly eight years, Republicans complained about runaway government. They warned of its very serious consequences, and grew very frustrated with their representatives for not fixing them. But it was always Obama's presidential veto that ultimately stood in the way. Even if the GOP had managed to gain a filibuster-proof majority in Washington, that veto would have killed all meaningful attempts to reform entitlements, repeal Obamacare, and ratchet back other areas of spending.
2016 should have been a prime opportunity for Republicans to seriously address some of these issues. After all, few believed that Hillary Clinton would be nearly as strong of a candidate as Barack Obama. With an overwhelming number of Americans unhappy with the direction of the country, in part because of a stagnant economy, the conditions should have been ripe for a Republican takeover. All GOP primary voters had to do was nominate an electable candidate who believed in small-government principles, and the outlook would have likely been quite good.
Yet, out of the 17 people that ran for the party's nomination, a plurality of voters managed to choose the one among them who's a fan of insurance mandates and single-payer healthcare, vows not to reform entitlements unless it's through expansion, and is now even introducing new entitlements. Free markets? He doesn't like those either.
Because of this, we're just over a month away from the election, and there's no serious national discussion going on about the national debt and Obamacare — arguably the two biggest challenges our country currently faces.
Hillary Clinton is certainly never pressed about these issues, and Donald Trump merely uses them as throw-away lines in speeches (failing to even talk about "his" proposed legislation). And for some reason, few on the Right seem to care. Heck, some of Trump's earliest, most vocal supporters are actually Tea Party people, which makes absolutely no sense to me.
It seems to me that if Republicans are going to decisively relinquish the mantles of fiscal solvency and private-based healthcare, we should go ahead and pay our final respects to the Tea Party...for it is truly dead.
Sure, Obama and the Democrats may have neutralized the movement, but it was the Trump Train that conclusively ran it over, and flattened it on the tracks. And for that, we must do what is right and bid it farewell.
Goodbye, old friend. You will be missed.