An insurgency that wins elections and Republican primaries has to be motivated by more than anger and alienation. Protest movements grab hold of extreme ideas, not for the aesthetics of simple thinking, but because they want to fix big problems. That’s what makes the Tea Party relevant and dangerous; they haven’t rejected America’s cocky optimism. They want to put it back to work.
Conservative thinkers do want to reform Medicare and do want Americans to practice more rigorously their love of liberty and consumer choice. That’s fine with the Tea Party, but that’s not what gets their legions out to campaign and vote. They don’t trust modern government and its allies because they don’t like the results—an America not growing fast enough to give every able American a chance to have decent job and raise a proud happy family.
The special election in New York State’s 26th Congressional district confirmed that Medicare is a full-fledged American institution. The extraordinary election of a Democrat in this district signaled clearly that voters are not prepared to turn Medicare into a consumer voucher. Middle aged voters are not eager to spend their golden years shopping for adequate or ideal private health insurance. While Democrats and Rep. Paul Ryan might like to make Paul Ryan the ballot issue, NY-26 settled the issue.
However, this one special election does not mean that the center, the status quo, is safe. The Tea Party’s candidate Jack Davis not only captured 9 per cent of the vote. He took those votes from Democrats as well as Republicans, and campaigned on a larger, even more intractable issue: America’s ability to defend and restore its economy—an economy that once generously underwrote their participation in the American dream. That issue is being forced to the surface, not by political miscalculation in Washington but by harsh circumstances across the country. It will be the ballot issue next year not Paul Ryan’s or Timothy Geithner’s fiscal plan.
Tea Party candidate Jack Davis made it clear that Obama’s vision of collective social responsibility will not be the only proposition up for review in 2012. America’s economic contract—free markets and shared prosperity—will also be challenged. Davis campaigned as classic can-do protectionist:
“‘We have to grow, dig or manufacture to produce wealth,’ Davis said. ‘Unless you do that, you’re just growing your debt. We have to make everything we use or consume.’
‘Cities and communities that have lost the jobs are a lot more receptive to my message of saving jobs and getting out of those free trade agreements,’ he added.
Davis isn't against all trade with foreign countries. He just thinks it should be fair trade. If we trade with another country, he said, that country should buy as much product from the U.S. as we buy from them. If not, they get slapped with a tariff on the difference.”
Moderates and their exceedingly comfortable allies in American centers of global capitalism must appreciate that if they don’t soon put the mixed economy—a financially stable public sector and an investing private sector—back to work radicals will make constructive market-based reform much more difficult.
In politics, as in industry, if you’re not going to bother to maintain your machinery you had better figure out how to live without it?