The Tea Party, however ridiculous their anti-government antics may be, have garnished a substantial amount of support from the American public. It makes one wonder, what exactly are they doing right? What aspect of the collective American conscience are they successfully tapping into?
Stanley B. Greenberg of the New York Times seems to think the Tea Party has successfully taken advantage of a growing distaste and dissatisfaction with government. The public feels a substantial disconnection with their representatives in Washington. The question is why should this dissatisfaction with government in general lead to a dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, the party that has consistently (and usually successfully) garnished higher wages, lower unemployment rates, and great productivity? Greenberg writes:
In analyzing these polls in the United States, I see clearly that voters feel ever more estranged from government — and that they associate Democrats with government. If Democrats are going to be encumbered by that link, they need to change voters’ feelings about government. They can recite their good plans as a mantra and raise their voices as if they had not been heard, but voters will not listen to them if government is disreputable.
With the economy crumbling and the politicians apparently bickering amongst themselves over the debt ceiling issue, the prevailing distaste for government doesn’t sound too unreasonable. Greenberg continues:
GOVERNMENT operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes, the Americans I’ve surveyed believe. Government rushes to help the irresponsible and does little for the responsible. Wall Street lobbyists govern, not Main Street voters. Vexingly, this promotes both national and middle-class decline yet cannot be moved by conventional democratic politics. Lost jobs, soaring spending and crippling debt make America ever weaker, unable to meet its basic obligations to educate and protect its citizens. Yet politicians take care of themselves and party interests, while government grows remote and unresponsive, leaving people feeling powerless.
This feeling of powerlessness is surely widespread, and has lead to mostly apathy, painful and pervasive apathy. I know I’ve had my own moments of apathy, where I’m not sure why I even bother. Wouldn’t cutting back as many governments as possible help to cut down on the governments irresponsibility? Just let the free market sort it all out, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, and I don’t think a lot of Tea Partiers understand that. The way the apathy can be overcome is to realize that the government is only as inefficient as we let it become. It’s easy to forget we live in a representative democracy. And the more that we forget that fact, the less true it becomes, which is a big problem.
So the solution is to step back in as much as possible and take charge of our democracy. This means moving the decision making to the lowest democratic level possible. If a zoning issue can be dealt with via a small neighborhood-wide vote, then that’s the best way to do it. It is this sort of rhetoric (and action) the democrats need to implement. The public understands that the democrats can throw money at a problem all day, and not a whole lot gets done. Greenberg argues that the democrats, like the Tea Party, need to more effectively reach the dissatisfied public and truly address their grievances:
The Democrats have to start detoxifying politics by proposing to severely limit or bar individual and corporate campaign contributions, which would mean a fight with the Supreme Court. They must make the case for public financing of campaigns and force the broadcast and cable networks to provide free time for candidate ads. And they must become the strongest advocates for transparency in campaign donations and in the lobbying of elected officials.
IF they want to win the trust of the public, Democrats should propose taxing lobbyist expenses and excessive chief executive bonuses and put a small fee on the sale of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. By radically simplifying the tax code to allow only a few deductions, the Democrats would generate new revenue and remove the loopholes that allow special interests to win favorable treatment. The ordinary citizen, according to our surveys and focus groups, feels there is no way to play that game and views simplifying the tax code as an important reform.
President Obama promised this sort of transparency when he first took office, and we’ve seen the government become substantially more open, but it’s still too difficult to track down information on the lobbyists that hold sway over Washington officials. If the democrats want to get serious about fixing the problems, than Greenberg’s recommendations are a good place to start. I, myself am a little hesitant to reelect a president that continued many of the policies of George W. Bush. Third Party, perhaps?