Political Hay

Incivility at the Tea Party

The establishment's panic at a broadened debate.

By 8.4.11

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In 2009, the Obama administration dropped the phrase "the war on terror," revealing a reluctance on its part to call terrorists "terrorists." The liberal establishment shows no such reluctance when describing Tea Partiers. "[T]hese Tea Party guys are, like, strapped with dynamite," said former Obama administration official Steven Rattner. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls them the "Hezbollah faction" of the GOP.

Others described them as muggers, carjackers, jihadists, suicide bombers, and hostage takers. The only pause in this stream of invective came when these critics of the Tea Party welcomed Gabby Giffords back to the House of Representatives. The inimitable Joe Biden, who had agreed with these descriptions of the Tea Party earlier in the day, reminded Giffords of his "two craniotomies" and declared them "both members of the cracked head club." Perhaps Biden offered other thoughtful words of comfort to Giffords but those weren't recorded.

No sooner had the pleasantries with Giffords ended than liberals resumed their attacks on the Tea Party. The ferocity of the criticism, were it directed toward any other group, would probably lead liberals to call for a new hate crime category. Just last week, the Eugene Robinsons of the press were blaming the Norway shootings in part on what they see as the intemperate rhetoric of the right about militant Islam.

They saw no irony in savaging the Tea Party, amidst misty-eyed tributes to Giffords, because civility for them is not a moral concept but an ideological one. "Civility" is synonymous with the advancement of liberalism, so nothing they could possibly say about Tea Partiers, no matter how nasty, conflicts with it. On the other hand, Tea Partiers, according to this logic, are inherently uncivil for refusing to argue within the narrow parameters of debate set up by the establishment.

That in itself is enough to make Tea Partiers the "Wahhabis of American government," as Chris Matthews put it. There is no need to engage their arguments, of course. Could they be right? Could the debt-ceiling deal be a non-solution that lulls America into more dangerous complacency? These questions are impermissible; refusal to accept the bipartisan consensus alone establishes their guilt. Notice, however, that the establishment media was careful not to describe the Democrats who opposed the compromise in such harsh terms. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that the Tea Partiers had in effect said, "We'll blow up the world economy unless you give us exactly what we want." But more Democrats than Tea Partiers ended up voting against the final bill. Krugman himself opposed the final bill, so presumably he was ready to "blow up" the world economy too.

The assumption underlying these insults is that the Tea Party harbors an extreme and lawless ideology. In reality, it merely proposes fiscal prudence and respect for the law and Constitution. The recklessness in U.S. politics comes not from the Tea Party but from the establishment as it runs up trillions of dollars in debt.

The hysterical descriptions of the Tea Party are a measure of the establishment liberals' panic at a broadened debate and more constrained spending. They prefer the good old days when debt could skyrocket without dispute (it had been lifted over seventy times without debate, they pouted, as if that were a good thing). They find it outrageous that a group without ties to special interests would threaten the federal monies accorded theirs.

All the terms of invective used against the Tea Party more accurately capture the banditry and indulgence of the establishment. What is "responsible" about spending money that the U.S. government doesn't have? What is "balanced" about running up debt at a slightly lower rate?

The only compliment the Tea Party has received from the establishment is a backhanded one: Obama and company are now congratulating themselves for making "tough choices" they would never have made without it.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.