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Wake Up and Smell the Tea
The Tea Party is merely the messenger.


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Jonah Goldberg

‘Is this a wake-up call to Washington?” NBC’s David Gregory asked Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) on Meet the Press, referring to the S&P downgrade.

“Well, it’s a partial wake-up call. I believe this is, without question, the tea-party downgrade.”

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Shortly after pointing fingers and assigning blame, Kerry went on to lament how Republicans insist on pointing fingers and assigning blame in this national crisis.

Over on the other channel, at least Obama political consigliere David Axelrod waited awhile before getting to the same talking point. “The fact of the matter is that this is essentially a tea-party downgrade. The Tea Party brought us to the brink of a default,” he explained on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Many on the right bristle at this, and they have many of the facts on their side. After all, the Tea Party has only been protesting excessive spending and borrowing for two years. Some liberals want us to think that it was Washington’s failure to raise taxes to pay for the massive increase in federal spending under Obama that caused the downgrade.

But that’s not what S&P says. “Standard & Poor’s takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue measures that Congress and the administration might conclude is appropriate for putting the U.S.’s finances on a sustainable footing.”

Rather, what offended the fiscal pundits of S&P was the “brinksmanship” in Washington that failed to deliver a $4 trillion budget cut. That’s why we had the “tea-party downgrade.” What’s odd is that if the Tea Party didn’t exist, there would have been no deficit reduction — and little demand for it. Democrats fought spending cuts during the budget showdown last year (remember Harry Reid’s cowboy-poet subsidy?), and they wanted a “clean” debt-ceiling hike this time.

And one could go on defending the Tea Party and the GOP in typical Beltway scoring fashion. The president’s first 2012 budget was a train wreck that would have exploded the deficit more. We’re well past 800 days without a budget from the Senate Democrats, while the House Republicans passed a serious budget — the Ryan plan — that would have avoided all of this months ago. Obama’s second “plan” was a frivolous speech. And so on.

But the usual Beltway scorecard is inadequate. First of all, we all deserve blame. This is a national foul-up of historic proportions, and no party or constituency can completely avoid culpability.

And that definitely includes the Tea Party. A lot of people talk as if the tea partiers came out of the ground, like fully grown Orcs, shortly after Obama was elected, ready to inflict “terror” and “take hostages” (to use the preferred lingo of the supposed lovers of civility).

This ignores the prehistory of the tea partiers. They’re largely core conservative voters who held their noses while spending ramped up for a decade under George W. Bush. Many rationalized their support for Bush against the backdrop of the War on Terror or their fondness for the man generally. But when Obama removed what little conservatism there was in Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” massively hiking spending even more, they rebelled. Enough was enough.

Liberals see it as hypocrisy. Tea partiers see it as finally getting serious, which is why they keep threatening to “primary” any Republican who wavers from the new sobriety.



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