Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? Stuffed turkey, stuffed children, touch football in the fallen leaves, leftover family arguments renewed – it’s all good. In fact, it’s great. Most magical is that we take time out of our hectic twenty-first century lives to give thanks – thanks for the blessings of family and friends, for our great country and the freedoms we embrace. Thanks for our soldiers, who keep us safe.
This year, we should also give thanks for the Tea Party. The Tea Party movement has changed the course of our nation. The legions of middle class Americans that started out protesting the bank bailouts raised the curtain on our nation’s fiscal incontinence – spotlighting our escalating debts and the careless spending of our elected officials.
As a consequence, President Obama and Congress are being judged by an entirely new matrix – on their ability to repair our long-term budget chasm. So far, their efforts have been shockingly inadequate – failures that produced an upheaval during the last round of elections and that will surely reverberate next November.
The sea change in budget priorities did not come easily. Reining in government spending is opposed by enormous entrenched interests – public service employees, elected officials, defense contractors, environmentalists, veterans, those on Medicare and Social Security, and others who drink from the federal tap. The grey-haired protesters who struggled out of their Barca-loungers to blast the bank bail-outs were partly motivated by fear – fear that rising government debt would threaten their grandchildren’s future, or their Social Security checks. How right they were.
It is also not easy to confront the full-pitched battle cry of the mainstream media.
While press coverage of Occupy Wall Street has been unimaginably generous (the New York Times in a lead editorial described OWS as conducting “important protests”), the Tea Party has been ridiculed.
While the liberal news fed the nascent OWS gatherings like boy scouts tenderly adding kindling to a soggy bonfire, the Tea Party was all but ignored for the better part of a year.
During 2009, even as the crowds swelled, network news stations carried only 19 reports on the most important political movement of a generation. It wasn’t until early 2010, and Scott Brown’s unimaginable election to “Ted Kennedy’s” senate seat, that the media was forced to acknowledge the significance of the uprising.
Tea Partiers were initially described as ignorant and poor, until The New York Times actually did its homework and had to report that those folks railing about our budget crisis were actually more educated than the average American, and somewhat better off.
Unfounded and untrue reports of racism and violence made headlines, while actual misdeeds of the OWS crew are buried in the back pages. Those Zuccotti Park squatters congratulated on their “important protests” included rapists and thieves, flashers and drug addicts – not the kind of folks you want to take home to meet Mom.
Being an involved citizen is not always comfortable, especially for those who work or take care of families. It takes courage to speak up, to get up, to organize and to be heard. The Tea Party not only marched and protested, they organized political groups and ushered in a new, fresh crowd of Representatives who swear allegiance to smaller government. They launched a fresh air fund -- bringing folks from outside the political arena into the proscribed thought bubble that is Washington.
If you search hard enough (as the media has done), you can find some Tea Partiers who are extreme and who make foolish demands about eliminating important functions of government. Some of their preferred candidates have turned out to be ill-equipped for national office. Mainly, however, the movement is solid.
Without them, the all-important confrontation over raising the debt ceiling would not have taken place. Instead, Congress would have done what it has always done – promising that any day now we will cut spending, but in the meantime we just need a little more tax revenues.
In 1990 President George H. W. Bush agreed to an increase in the debt ceiling and a hike in taxes. In return, Democrats promised $2 in spending cuts for each dollar of increased revenues; of course the cuts never materialized and spending continued to rise. Since 1982 there have been 17 “special” committees assigned the task of reining in spending – none has kept our spiraling debt under control.
Our country’s struggles are not over. We do not yet have a plan to put our fiscal affairs in order. The Super Committee has failed miserably. However, we recognize today that the wealth of the nation is not infinite; our safety net cannot grow to such size that it entangles the future of the country. Reaching consensus is not easy; battle lines have hardened in these difficult times.
President Obama has purposefully whipped up the nation’s furor. We are now an angry country, which is not an atmosphere conducive to compromise.
Still, the United States can maintain its leadership role in the world. We are now poised –at least we recognize the need -- to make tough choices – choices that eluded the Greeks, for instance. For that, I thank the Tea Party.