Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tea Party Politics as Public Policy?

So I am moving away from state politics today to address the Tea Party...

In a recent discussion concerning the future of the Tea Party movement, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R, SC) stated, “The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out.” The Tea Party's response to this was the typical (this time directed) rage. Calls for apologies have been made from a variety of tea Party organizations in SC as well as NY and other states. Their rebuke to Graham is that the Tea Party's vision for the country is fiscal restraint, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets. Putting aside the fact that these positions are not visions for the country - rather they amount to broad policy vision statements - I would like to entertain the Tea Bagger's notions that, as Public Policy these broad positions will indeed serve the country well.

In the interest of time I will only address one issue today, Fiscal Restraint. Ironically it is the issue which they appear to be most vehement about because they believe they understand it. Using a simple example I think it is easy to see that their lack of understanding is mind-boggling. On the surface it seems like a sensible argument, do not spend any more than one takes in. Leaving aside the social programs to which these Neo-cons would be opposed regardless of positive or negative impact (simply because it does not suit their world view) I will address the impact of their proposed fiscal policies on the two areas to which the Baggers are not opposed: Constitutional Offices and Military Spending. Whether they realize it or not, defense spending is not simply maintenance of effort - it is also involved in Capital Projects. In budget terms this is allocated under Discretionary Defense Spending. An example of this is the Navy and Air Force new ship/jet building efforts to replace its aging infrastructure. Congress allocated $530 Billion, however CBO estimates are that the plan will cost $570 Billion and increase in subsequent years (CBO Director's Report, 6/11/2010). Now the obvious statement from the Tea Baggers is "well if we didn't spend so much on [insert social welfare program here] then we would be able to afford this." Not so much...

If you were to immediately eliminate every Social Welfare, Unemployment, and Future Cost program associated with the Federal Budget you would cost out roughly 26.5% of the Federal Budget. That still leaves the Dept. of Energy, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Treasury, etc. Now you may say, but those don't deal with national defense... And you would be wrong. The military needs fuel, additionally our energy agreements are tantamount to maintenance of national ties with states which serve to advance our interests, or at least serve as buffers against otherwise hostile states. Homeland Security - that should be obvious. Agriculture - not going with the obvious DCSP Vendor bidding process(by companies who are beholden to farmers); our aid policies in the form of food aid are important factors in our maintenance of relationships with poor states. This is important because in today's "flat" world, they are becoming increasingly viable as breeding grounds for extremist groups. Treasury - let me just make one statement on this which should make any question of the role of Treasury in National Defense a moot point. The price of oil is tagged to (and can only be purchased with) US Dollars.

The greater point of this is that National Defense in reality is not simply having a standing army, but the maintenance of relationships to avoid conflict and facilitate partnerships. While the Tea Baggers are excellent at platitudes and providing wonderful fodder for debates on the role of government, as far as Public Policy goes, they have their heads in the sand. Either that or they really believe that wars are fought campaign style in an open field, without the use of advanced technologies, sophisticated intelligence equipment, or some of the best training on the planet. Is it truly conceivable that the things which make National Defense possible simpely occur ad hoc. There is a reason that the government is as large as it is. I am well aware of the arguments that Organizations beget more Organizations, and it is true - however the primary cause of this is the increased call for accountability by those opposed to the organization in the first place so in that respect it is a self fulfilling prophecy (Hood, 1991). Be that as it may, the lack of understanding as to what the Tea Baggers say they want and what is actually involved in even running a government is mind boggling. There is a reason that Universities have Graduate Degrees in Public Administration, Public Policy, Defense Policy, Intelligence Policy, Food Policy, etc. I will give you a hint, it is certainly not to entertain themselves by laughing at how they got one over on a bunch of overzealous right wingers with an agenda.

1 comment:

  1. I think you make a number of good points, Jonathan! But, I think Graham misses the point of the Tea Party. They offer no coherent vision for governing because they have no intention of governing. They are reactionary--they know what they don't want. I suspect that many think that if they could just get rid of the things (and people) that they don't like, everything would be great. In that sense, their energy reminds me of the radical student movement of the late '60's-early '70's. We thought that we were different, and that everything would somehow work out if we were in charge. I think some of the Tea Partiers have similar thoughts. It wouldn't surprise me if some were campus radicals in the '60's, and are pining for that same energy, but now they're older and just want to keep what they have. They're simply raising self-interest to the point of principle. Their emphasis on security is simply about protecting their personal wealth and privilege. Is it not interesting that the US now spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined? And our investment in R&D and other measures of innovation are going down? Meanwhile, other countries are investing much greater proportions of their GDPs in human capital.