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Jul 28 2011

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Hurt Feelings on the Right

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The mean, drive-by media are pounding Tea Party Republicans in the House as obstructionist ideologues, and Tea Party affiliates don’t like it one bit.

Writing in the Washington Post today, the founder of the Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, said, “the liberal media [has said]…We are “extreme” and “dangerous” and that Republicans are “afraid of” the Tea Party and more.”

 In addition, Mr. Phillips wants to put an end to the insidious liberal charge that the Tea Party wants America to default on its debt obligations.  “Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Mr. Phillips. All the Tea Party wants is for, “America to stop incurring debt obligations and cut back on the wasteful spending already in place.”

Sounds so transparently sensible and reasonable, yes?  But there is more than meets the eye.

First though, the Tea Party members and their supporters do have a narrative of their own, even if it doesn’t find favor or voice in the mainstream media.

The Tea Party has a plan to avoid breaching the debt ceiling – “Cut, Cap and Balance.”

Its a plan with teeth. It has real controls on spending.  It doesn’t raise taxes.  It requires a balanced budget amendment be sent to the states.  It’s a serious plan.  It is not rooted in budget gimmicks but binding cuts. And the plan passed the House, demonstrating a measure of popular support.

From this vantage point, its Harry Reid and the statist Democrats who hold America hostage by refusing to bring the plan to an up or down vote, and of course President Obama who has vowed to veto the bill should it come to his desk.

With such a solid and credible plan to address the debt crisis on the table – the Tea Party thinking goes – why should they have to accept anything less?

And of course  – continuing on Tea Party thinking – when August 2nd slips by and  the US breaches the debt ceiling, the Treasury Department loses its borrowing authority and has to prioritize spending that will inevitably require at least a partial shutdown of government operations as American debt is downgraded for the first time since 1941, the American people will inevitably vent their fury on Obama and the Democrats for forcing the nation over the abyss when the Tea Party plan was just waiting for passage and signature.

Very tidy, with a happy ending for the Tea Party.

But that scenario is devoid of reality.

For a movement that so effectively mastered the tools of politics to win a political voice in Washington, the Tea Party’s  seeming denial of politics in the debt ceiling debate is deeply mystifying.

There are the way we want things to be, and then there are the way things are.

In a more perfect political world, discretionary spending would be rolled back to pre-Stimulus levels, true entitlement reform that would slow the rate of growth of retirement programs and guarantee their solvency for decades would be approved, and the and a “loopholes for rate reduction” equation would be applied to the tax code to catalyze economic growth.

But  the reality is that none of that is possible with Harry Reid in charge in the Senate and President Obama in charge in the White House.

That means building a durable public case against Democratic management and electing a Republican president and a net of 4 new Republican Senators so that a united GOP government can take the painful but necessary action to preserve our fiscal health and restore robust economic growth.

So the political question for Republicans in the debt ceiling talks should now be how to cut the best deal for the next 15 months, that would lay the political ground work for the massive changes necessary to right the ship of state after 2012.

 But here, the Tea Party goes astray.

These lawmakers are not looking at a continuum that gradually builds on their remarkable success since the founding of the Tea Party in 2009; a continuum that continues to lean heavily in their favor leading up to 2012.

Instead, they seek a Corleone-esque approach of “taking care of all the family business,” all at once, as the debt ceiling has metastasized from a procedural action that provided the GOP with political leverage for a better budget deal, into financial armageddon of all or nothing.

But to use a tortured metaphor, the Frosh-87 and the Tea Party supporters are writing checks that they can’t cash.

There  is no existing balance of power, or even a coalition of power, that can get the Tea Party position approved.  That has nothing to do with whether the position is valid or serious. The politics simply don’t support it.

Instead of defaulting to Plan B – the next best deal – in this case, the Boehner plan, the Tea Party members remain restive and seething; believing they are misunderstood and boxed into a position that allows only for their plan or no plan at all.

The reality is that we are 111 hours (and counting) away from breaching the debt limit. There are only two plans to deal with it that have a chance of passing; Boehner’s two step approach, and Harry Reid’s one-step, rooted in phantom cuts.

If the Boehner plan goes down to defeat, the only alternative will not be Cut Cap and Balance, but the Reid plan.  If the Tea Party sinks that as well, as even less amenable, then the only option is to breach the debt ceiling with all the collateral damage that ensue.

And in that world of hurt that will dawn on August 3rd, Tea Party Republicans will not be seen as courageous defenders of fiscal responsibility.  They will be paragons of legislative ineptitude, who when faced with good versus perfect, opted to hang America out to dry for their own ideological satisfaction.

And that’s not the propaganda of the Mainstreams.  Its the truth, because a viable if less ambitious plan existed to get us past the hump and onto 2012.

The result will destroy the Republican brand, and up-end the political assumptions for 2012.

Look for a 3rd Party presidential bid, which will only divide the center right vote and serve President Obama’s interests. And it will paint the Tea Party, the most successful spontaneous grass roots movement since the civil rights movement of the 1960s as an ideological toxin, incapable of governance.

In so many ways, Tea Party intransigence on the debt ceiling mirrors liberal myopia on the Stimulus, Cap and Trade, financial reform and Obamacare, that led to the rise of the Tea Party..  So assured they were doing the right thing, progressives would brook no dissent from their course.

A different path would have led to a different result.

Pragmatism isn’t surrender.  This debt ceiling issue is not the end of history. One vote is not going to change decades of government overspending.

The right move, the smart move, is to take the best deal that can pass and make the case for change in 2012, showcasing what responsible Republican leadership is capable of.

The alternative – the Tea Party course right now – is the Charge of the Light Brigade; glorious and futile.

Vote Boehner today folks, and live to fight another day.

If you don’t, shame on you.

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