In the residue of Christmas spirit, a serious attempt to understand what’s behind a toxic cloud that the Tea Party has cast over American government all year:
Yes, the economy has been bad, and many of us have been hurting—-from young people without jobs to the retired with no increases in Social Security and no place to earn interest on their life savings.
Yes, bailouts and stimulus have been very costly yet still not enough to turn the recession around, creating huge deficits.
Yes, government has grown more intrusive with massive health care reform and new regulations for financial institutions that control so much of the national wealth.
Yes, Barack Obama has not been a perfect president in a time of trouble and turmoil.
Why must all these challenges mean government is the problem and not part of the solution, as it was during the Great Depression?
Next year’s election will provide the answer. The contest, as E. J. Dionne puts it, is between “a tradition that sees government as an essential actor in the nation’s economy, a guarantor of fair rules of competition, a countervailing force against excessive private power, a check on the inequalities that capitalism can produce, and an instrument that can open opportunity for those born without great advantages” and today’s Republicans who “cast the federal government as an oppressive force, a drag on the economy and an enemy of private initiative.”
Their most likely candidate, Mitt Romney, is now campaigning against the straw man of “an Entitlement Society,” in which “government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk.”
In our 24/7 media world, these opposing arguments may be treated as if they were of equal weight, even though the second is palpable nonsense. Just measure Romney’s own rewards for financial juggling against those of any middle-class worker.
In these dark Washington days, however, there is a ray of hope. A full year of nothing more than block-and-blame by the Tea Party House minority has given voters a full picture of the consequences their continued dominance would have for the country.
An embattled six-term conservative, Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, points out that in 2010 “people who claimed that they wanted somebody who was more of their tea party aspect...killed off the Republican chances for a majority" in the Senate.
Next year, as Dionne observes, Barack Obama may be running as “the conservative.”
Update: Upping the 2012 ante, Newt Gingrich fails to make the Virginia primary ballot and, ever the historian, compares the event to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Block that metaphor!” The stakes are high enough without dragging World War II into it.