A Tea-Party Postscript

According to Nate Silver’s estimate, something approaching a quarter million people took part in the tea party protests that took place around the country yesterday. That seems like a large number, and maybe even the start of something big, right ?

Ross Douthat thinks not, and doubts that they’ll have any more impact on the growth of the state than the protests against the Iraq War did in stopping that conflict:

They resemble nothing so much as the anti-war protests during Bush’s first term.


But they do have all of the weaknesses of the anti-war marches: Their message is intertwined with a sense of disenfranchisement and all kinds of inchoate cultural resentments, they’ve brought various wacky extremists out of the woodwork (you know, like Glenn Beck), and just as George W. Bush benefited from having opposition to his policies identified with peacenik marchers in Berkeley and Ann Arbor, so Barack Obama probably benefits from having the opposition (such as it is) associated with a bunch of Fox News fans marching through the streets on Tax Day, parroting talk radio tropes and shouting about socialism.


Still, here we are in the sixth year of the Iraq War, and all those anti-war protests, their excesses and stupidities notwithstanding, look a lot more prescient in hindsight than they did (to me, at least) when they were going on. So if you’re inclined to sneer and giggle at the Tea Parties, keep in mind that just because a group of protesters looks ragged, resentful, and naive, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong to be alarmed:

Alarmed, yes, just as the anti-war protesters were alarmed at the idea of their country engaging in pre-emptive war based on dubious intelligence that latter proved to be entirely wrong, and fought a war without any idea of how to end it or what would follow in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s removal from power.

In hindsight, it seems clear that the anti-war protesters were more right than wrong but, despite their vocal opposition, we’ve lost thousands of troops and hundred of billions of dollars and have very little to show for it.

Along the same lines as Douthat, and echoing a question I raised yesterday, Alex Knapp believes that the movement’s biggest mistake is not figuring out what it’s for:

[I]ncreasing government spending is alarming. There’s no question about that. The higher deficits being predicted under an Obama Administration should be a cause for concern. But you can’t argue against higher deficits and for cutting taxes at the same time. Real life doesn’t work that way. You can’t simply wish federal revenue into being.

By the same token, you can’t just go around saying we need to “cut spending.” That’s just mindless handwaving. Let’s put this simply. 80% of the budget falls into five categories: Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Defense, Veteran’s Benefits, and Interest on the Debt. EIGHTY PERCENT. So if you don’t tell me what you’re going to be able to feasibly cut in those categories, you are not approaching the problem seriously.

Knapp is, of course, entirely correct.

The problems that we face are far bigger, and far more serious, than the relatively paltry sums that most people point to when they talk about government waste (earmarks, for example, account for less than 1 percent of the total Federal Budget). We aren’t going to solve are problems by nibbling at the margins, it’s going to take real sacrifice, it’s going to cause real pain, and it’s something we need to be talking about now.

Standing around calling Obama a socialist, or wearing a t-shirt that says “Who is John Galt ?” accomplishes nothing.