Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Tea Party Denial

By Alan Bean

It is easy to write off Tea Party enthusiasts as a pack of doom sayers, but they are better characterized as doom deniers.

“Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” says Alice. That is an excellent practice,” the Mad Hatter agrees. 

The Tea Party conversation follows a similar pattern.

Take this article from the New York Times, “Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith”.

Confronted by bad news on all fronts, Tea Partiers reinforce the old verities.  To the economically literate, the current recession is a natural consequence of lax regulation in the financial sector.  Message: free markets are not self-regulating.   The rules go out the window when the referee trots off the field.

Proponents of supply side fiscal orthodoxy respond to this analysis with cries of “heresy”.  If enough of us say it ain’t so, it ain’t so!

Recent headlines suggest that America is flocking to the Tea Party banner.  The effect can be overstated, but its real enough.  Elections turn on relatively minor shifts in public opinion.  If 5% of the “Yes we Can” crowd stays home and the Silent Majority people increases its participation by 5% you have the makings of a political revolution. 

At the moment, as Stephen Colbert suggests, fear drives the machine.  Americans are afraid that unfettered free markets might not guarantee eternal prosperity; we fear the environmentalists might be right about global warming.  Decades of misadventure cast doubt on the ability of our vaunted military to control international politics.  The rise of China and India signal the end of American economic hegemony.  DNA exonerations and bizarre incarceration statistics suggest a broken criminal justice system.  The soaring cost of health care and the swelling ranks of the uninsured signal the demise of the current insurance system.  When more minority babies are born in America than white babies, white supremacy is on the ropes.  

Everywhere you look the news is bad, especially if you are a white male.

Tea Partiers are like four year-olds who stick their fingers in their ears and scream “La-la-la-la” when confronted with unfavorable news.  If you don’t like being reminded that native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos and women have paid a horrendous price for American glory, faux historian Alan Barton of Texas is always reassuring.  In Barton’s America never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day. 

“La, la, la, la!”

Bill Maher asks who would win if Sarah Palin and Barack Obama were running for president and only white males could vote. 

I think we all know the answer.  Angry white males will control the show in Washington if minorities and white progressives are too discouraged to vote.  But you can only sing “La, la, la, la” for so long.  Incoherent rage is no solution to anything.  Scaling back the size of government will mean massive deregulation and a reprise of the present economic disaster.  Sooner or later, real questions demand real answers.

Thanks to the Tea Party movement (and an inept, stuttering response from sensible Americans) it appears we will be kicking the day-of-reckoning down the road a while longer.

7 thoughts on “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Tea Party Denial

  1. Alan, I think electing TparT candidates will hasten the day of reckoning rather than kicking it down the road. A government controlled by the likes of them will exacerbate the already obscene economic disparity in this country. They are attempting to wear the populist mantle, but they are anything but populist. They are elitist to the nth degree.

  2. See Krugman in this morning’s (Oct 25) NYT for his view of what will happen if the GOP takes over Congress.

  3. Some excellent points. But it is important to recognize that you guys are talking about two completely different groups. There certainly is the angry mob that Alan describes, though the extent and depth of their anger is often exaggerated. But Charles is correct also that there is another group who are the elite of the elite, the CEO’s, the investment bankers, etc. who are so completely in thrall to the quarterly bottom line that they are willing to embrace long-term nonsensical policy in order to secure short-run personal goals. They are the IBGYBG (I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone) crowd who figure to make their millions now and the rest of us be damned. They are also somewhat analogous to the 4-year-old with his fingers in his ears, hoping against hope that their own offspring might not be on the ship of the damned.

    There are glimmers of hope in companies such as Google and Apple, whose boards are committed to a more forward-thinking direction, recognizing that future corporate profits are tied to future broad economic success. That is, they ask “To whom will we sell all the neat toys we are now inventing?” A very different question than “How do we maximize profit on the next tube of toothpaste (or investment bond package) we sell?”

    What I am arguing is that the mob, regardless which politics they currently latch onto, will always be the mob, and will be easily stampeded in times of economic distress. But if we can win in the board rooms, by generating more Googles, and fewer Goldman-Sachs, then government policy will be more rational. How to do that? Not exactly my area of expertise, but there certainly are government policy incentives that can encourage real innovation, with emphasis on current spending in exchange for future profits, that would turn the eyes of industry away from exploiting poor workers.

  4. Thanks, Mark. I guess I see the Tea Party folk and the people bankrolling the Tea Party as distinct groups. I’m not sure it is irrational for the business community to fund small government policies. It means minimal regulatory oversight and less taxation–everything a good plutocrat could hope for. So, what might be irrational for a blue collar Baptist makes perfect sense for the folks in the board rooms. If big business people support responsible public policy it is often against their personal interest.


  5. Well, yes, you are right, if you assume that businesses have no interest in a future that is better for the masses. But when long-term profit dominates short-term profit, then we don’t have to be at odds. Regulation can become just the status quo that businesses don’t want to change. It has happened before. And then the angry mob becomes what they have always been, just a few weirdos standing on soap boxes.

  6. The angry mob, in this case, has been carefully instructed in small government, supply side orthodoxy. In that sense, they are mainstream and, strangely, they reflect the values of the big business community. If we want a more long-range focus from business, I guess we have to invent a new orthodoxy rooted in community values as opposed to hyper-individualism. But that takes consensus building and the same kind of careful instruction the small government people have engaged in.

  7. Re: the four year old with his fingers in his ears–reminds me when one of the kings of Judah, Hezekiah I think it was, was told by Isaiah that the Babylonians would come and carry off all the treasures of the Temple and carry his (Hezekiah’s) sons into exile–Hezekiah responded, “Good, it will not happen in my lifetime.”

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