Shadow Government

The Tea Party is not a bogeyman

The Tea Party, and Sarah Palin, its putative standard bearer, did not fare nearly as well as many in the  press would like people to believe. True, candidates in state wide and Congressional races who were supported by the Tea Party fared quite well. But it is arguable that in most cases, those same candidates ...

Win McNamee/Getty
Win McNamee/Getty

The Tea Party, and Sarah Palin, its putative standard bearer, did not fare nearly as well as many in the  press would like people to believe. True, candidates in state wide and Congressional races who were supported by the Tea Party fared quite well. But it is arguable that in most cases, those same candidates would have been elected anyway. The voting public simply wanted to turn out incumbents who, they rightly  perceived, could offer only rhetoric and not much else.

But Palin and the Tea Party failed miserably in key Senate races — Colorado, Delaware, Nevada, and, in all probability, Alaska. Indeed, the voters in Palin’s home state appear to have discounted her entirely. Murkowski, backed by the Republican establishment, appears poised to win as a write-in candidate. Moreover, when her 41 percent write-in vote is combined with that of Democrat Scott McAdams, the result is that nearly two-thirds of Alaska voters rejected Palin’s (and the Tea Party’s) choice, Joe Miller. 

Why, then, is the press focusing on Palin and the Tea Party? The answer should be obvious: the 2012 election campaign began today, and those in the media whose sympathies are with Democrats need a Newt Gingrich-like bogeyman to scare moderate and independent voters back into the Democratic camp in 2012. John Boehner does not fit the Gingrich mold. He simply is far less outspoken; he does not come across as a revolutionary in any sense. He will have a calming effect on the House after the turbulent Pelosi years.

In fact, the Tea Party itself is not really a bogeyman either, however much so-called progressives would like it to be. It is not a political party; it is a grass-roots movement that focuses on small government, a proclivity that resonates with many Americans. Tea Parties — there is not really one Tea Party — have said little about foreign and national security policy, for example; those who whisper about its being isolationist tend to overlook the small minded anti-free trade positions taken by the unions, and the politicians who look after union interests. The Republican Congressional leadership is internationalist in both national security and economic terms; it can be expected to offer a more creative alternative to some of the Administration’s policies and be totally bipartisan on others, such as supporting the war against terror in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

While the Tea Party supports the contraction of government spending in general, its spokesmen, including Sarah Palin, have not argued for reductions in defense spending in particular. On the contrary, the ongoing prosecution of the war in Afghanistan will, of necessity, call for significant levels of defense spending in the form of supplemental appropriations. More generally, those who share the Tea party’s views are more likely to resonate to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates’ efforts to employ defense funds more efficiently, in effect shifting them from the operations accounts to those for  procurement and research while calling for modest, yet real increases in overall defense spending.

None of the foregoing will dissuade those thinking ahead to 2012 from painting all Republicans as wild-eyed Tea Partyers. No matter; what Americans demonstrated on Election Day is that they are not taken in by rhetoric, t.v. ads and robo-calls. They elected Republicans whose past records in Washington demonstrate their sensibility and realism, such as Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, who returns to the House, or Mark Kirk, Rob Portman and Roy Blunt in the Senate, and John Kasich, the Governor-elect of Ohio. As long as these Republicans, and the many others elected to the Congress, as well as those who have won State Houses, keep their policy and programmatic equilibrium, no amount of scare tactics will persuade voters that the choices they have just made in 2010 need to be reversed two years down the road.

Dov Zakheim is the former Under Secretary of Defense.

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