Zakaria: Tea Party Tactics Immoral, Dictatorial

Vice President Joe Biden may or may not have concurred with some disgruntled Democratic politicians that in the negotiations over the debt ceiling, the Tea Party Republicans acted like “terrorists.”

But what critics of the Baggers’ methods were pointing to was well described by Fareed Zakaria:

Fareed Zakaria explains why the Tea Party tactics are anti-democratic.:

‘ the Tea Party is trying to pass a particular agenda, which is basically this all-cuts budget. It cannot get it through the Congress of the United States. It cannot get it through the political democratic process that we have, which is that Congress passes something and the president must sign it. That’s the normal workings of democracy.

So, instead of accepting some compromise that can get through the democratic process, what they’re saying is we’ll blow up the country if you don’t listen to us. We’ll hold hostage the credit of the United States, the good standing of the United States and we’ll blow it up…

I think they don’t understand the workings of democracy. They have not been elected as dictators of the United States. They have been elected to one house in one branch of the American government. The only way you can translate your wishes into public policy in America is if you can convince your branch and the other one, the Senate and the White House, to go along with it.

If you can’t, you’ve got to figure out amongst yourself what you can agree on. This is why it is fundamentally anti-democratic –”counterconstitutional” in the words of Charles Krauthammer – to be trying to do this. It’s just an extraordinary act of hostage-taking on the part of the Tea Party. It is holding the country hostage.

And it has already damaged the good standing of the United States…’

Democratic politics is the art of negotiation and compromise. Taking the credit rating of the United States of America and its ability to meet its obligations hostage in order to force through a minority agenda is at the least a form of political coercion and an attempted minority coup.

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24 Responses

  1. I have an avocational interest in the American Civil War, and the Tea Party very much reminds me of the attitude of the “fire-eaters” in the antebellum period—Give us what we want (and what we want is extreme) or we will tear the temple down! And they did …

    • Mr. Epperson:

      With respect, you need to expand your Civil War studies. The Tea Partiers and Fire-eaters differ in one important respect: the Tea Party is exclusively committed to constitutional means to carry out their agenda.

      In contrast, the Fire-Eaters–Yancey, Ruffin, Lowndes, Barksdale and many others–were not committed to constitutional means, never had any intention of remaining in the Union, and used Lincoln’s 1860 election to accomplish what they had been seeking since 1850–outright secession. (Only the Missouri Compromise of that year stymied them.)

      This is not a minor point. As one expects from partisans (less so from historians) the rhetoric has been flying. People who have never met any genuine secessionists or Taliban and have never experienced first hand the consequences of terrorism seem to have little difficulty labeling Tea Partiers as such. Heaven forbid that such critics should ever meet a real terrorist or be forced to cover their noses in the aftermath of a mass suicide attack in marketplace somewhere.

      As for the Tea Party, Professor Cole himself, a sharp critic, has on occasion found reason to compliment Rand Paul. I would add that while most posters on this site probably vehemently disagree with the Tea Party’s domestic agenda, their foreign policy objectives might be found somewhat more to their liking. By and large, they oppose the Neocon project, some from isolationism, others for financial reasons. Nevertheless, they have opened major fault lines in the Republican Party on matters of foreign policy and military policy that bears watching.

      • With equal respect, I think my knowledge of the Civil War is fine; I invite you to visit the website behind my name.

        Over the period 1850-1860 the fire-eaters made numerous demands on the Federal government, with a threat of secession behind each one. They blew up the Compromise of 1850 by telling Stephen Douglas he had no chance of the Democratic nomination unless he opened up the Kansas-Nebraska Territory to slavery. They insisted on admitting Kansas as a slave state, despite the evident fraud behind the Lecompton government. They insisted on expanding slavery, and were even pushing a court case that might have been used to rule state abolition laws unconstitutional. They split the Democratic Party by insisting on a Federal slave code.

        I think the comparison to uncompromising politicians more interested in a goal than in actually governing is quite apt. Another apt comparison for the Tea Party is to spoiled children who don’t understand that they can’t always have “their way.”

        • Your website notwithstanding, I still would suggest expanding your CW knowledge.

          First, you err in conflating the broad spectrum of antebellum Southern opinion with the Fire-eaters. Many championed the Lecompton constitution including quite a few reluctant secessionists (Davis, Slidel, Benjamin) as well as not few Northern doughface, beginning with James Buchanan, who staked his presidency on the issue. That likewise was true for Kansas-Nebraska (championed by Douglas and signed into law by Pierce).

          I strongly recommend you look at the Senate votes for both measures.

          Regarding the 1860 walkout at Charleston, again, you conflate the timeline. Southern opinion was not static between 1850 and 1860. The Harper’s Ferry Raid, occurring just six months before the Baltimore Convention forced those who had counseled moderation for a generation to move towards secession. (The election of Lincoln clinched this.) But they were not fire-eaters.

          Look a bit more carefully. Fire-eaters were characterized by Southern intellectuals and writers (Ruffin, DeBow, Tucker) and relatively minor state and federal politicians (Yancey, Miles, Barksdale.) A few served in the Senate but for very brief terms (e.g., Rhett.) Lecompton, and the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act could not have passed without unanimous moderate Southern and sufficient Northern votes. To assign these measure to fire-eaters is incorrect.

          Again, anathematizing Tea Party (or anyone else, for that matter) as “spoiled children” expresses your passion but is not an argument. In politics, getting “your way” is isn’t always possible or wise but as long as it’s within legal and moral bounds, is surely acceptable.

          Odd, but those who now challenge the Tea Party on various grounds have been strangely silent over the Senate’s illegal refusal to produce a budget for over 800 days–one that might have avoided this mess had Harry Reid been more focused taking political responsibility rather than avoiding it.

      • I think the comparison is not entirely inappropriate. Both groups were willing to use “counterconstitutional” means to achieve their ends. Its just the ends that differ. Tea Partiers, rather than being secessionists want to destroy the federal government’s ability to govern in order to return power to the states. Allowing the government to default on its debt really isn’t a threat to them as it would only expedite what they’re after. Ruining the economy is just fine as long as it ruins the federal government too.

        • I don’t think I have conflated anything. Buchanan championed Lecompton as a means of getting Southern support (as did Pierce), just as Romney is walking away from his own health care bill in Massachusetts (as well as flip-flopping on other positions) as a means of getting Tea Party support. Douglas “championed” Kansas-Nebraska (hell, he wrote it) to curry Southern support. The similarity I see is in the uncompromising, “my way or the highway” approach to politics. An excellent example is the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, written by James Mason of Virginia (I think) to be unfair and offensive to Northern politicians, as a “poison pill” to kill the Compromise of 1850. The logic was that either the South would get a strong FSA or the Compromise would be killed.

          Another similarity is the racial one. In the antebellum era there were all sorts of claims that failing to support and maintain slavery would lead to “enslavement” and “degradation” of white Southerners. Now we have obsession with immigration and the numerous racially offensive comments about the President. Sorry, it is the same kind of idiocy to me.

      • Which Constitution, sir? Many of them reject the Civil War as illegitimate federal tyranny, including Ron Paul. If you’d been paying attention a few years ago, many right-wing extremists who later resurfaced in the Tea Party were using the phrase “14th Amendment Citizen”. In other words, black people were improperly given the right to vote by the Feds and state legislatures should have the right to take it away. Like many extremist ideas in the last 30 years, the repeal of the 14th Amendment is being mainstreamed by a sophisticated propaganda machine.

        Back in the ’90s, the talk in the hardcore gun magazines was that America was a “republic”, not a “democracy”. To translate this code word, you must acknowledge (a) that broad swathes of the GOP talk loosely about returning everything to the 1789 interpretation of the Constitution, and (b) that in 1789 you couldn’t vote unless you were a property owner. Hint, hint.

        The right of poor whites to vote was won by the Jacksonian democracy movement, along with the right to directly vote for US senators. The latter has already been attacked by a member of the US House. I expect that you will soon see the right-wing propaganda machine ramp up its smears not just on Lincoln, but on Jackson, and on all their actions to expand the franchise beyond white Christian landlords.

        Since the media pointedly refuses to ask right-wing darlings when secession might be justified, you have no evidence that they intend to tolerate a white-minority democracy. But if you are in denial about the relationship between the militia right of the ’90s and the Tea Party, there’s nothing I can say.

  2. Obama and the democratic leaders are doing what the oligarchs want them to do. Glenn Greenwald’s column on ‘The Myths of Obama’s “blunders” and “weaknesses” ‘

    link to

    Here is update II from Glenn’s column.

    UPDATE II: Matt Taibbi writes on whether Obama is actually a “weak negotiator”:

    Start of quotation
    “Now, Barack Obama has surrendered control of the budget to the Tea Party. . . . Commentators everywhere are killing the president for his seemingly astonishing level of ball-less-ness. . . . The Democrats aren’t failing to stand up to Republicans and failing to enact sensible reforms that benefit the middle class because they genuinely believe there’s political hay to be made moving to the right. They’re doing it because they do not represent any actual voters. I know I’ve said this before, but they are not a progressive political party, not even secretly, deep inside. They just play one on television. . . .

    The Democrats, despite sitting in the White House, the most awesome repository of political power on the planet, didn’t fight at all. . . . We probably need to start wondering why this keeps happening. Also, this: if the Democrats suck so bad at political combat, then how come they continue to be rewarded with such massive quantities of campaign contributions? When the final tally comes in for the 2012 presidential race, who among us wouldn’t bet that Barack Obama is going to beat his Republican opponent in the fundraising column very handily? At the very least, he won’t be out-funded, I can almost guarantee that.

    And what does that mean? Who spends hundreds of millions of dollars for what looks, on the outside, like rank incompetence?

    It strains the imagination to think that the country’s smartest businessmen keep paying top dollar for such lousy performance. Is it possible that by “surrendering” at the 11th hour and signing off on a deal that presages deep cuts in spending for the middle class, but avoids tax increases for the rich, Obama is doing exactly what was expected of him?”
    end of quotation of Matt. Final paragraph from Glenn.

    A mere three years ago, huge numbers of people invested substantial time, attention, energy, emotion and “hope” in fighting to put Barack Obama in the White House. The very human incentives not to reach this conclusion are both obvious and overwhelming.

    • Oddly enough, I’ve yet to encounter even a single person who is actually familiar with Obama and his record from before the 2008 election campaign who finds such a description of Obama the least bit plausible.

      This is the sort of mistake one gets when one’s political knowledge and interest, like Glenn Greenwald’s, only begins in 2006. You end with an immature, ill-informed outlook that isn’t capable of assimilating complex information, or of making judgments anywhere in between “exactly what I want” and “eviil.”

    • On the contrary, Obama’s “performance,” probably counts for very little. In the state/business relationship access is advantage. Businesses that “invest” in a political contest are going to back the horse that is most likely to win. For all his faults and political failings, there is very little evidence that the Republicans have anyone in the race that could beat Obama. The President’s lead in fundraising is probably more reflective of the GOPs lackluster field than it is a measure of how corrupt his policies are.

  3. Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator. The economic justification for a debt ceiling is tenuous, given default is always worse than increasing debt by a small percentage. That said, I think the debt ceiling was designed to serve to make politicians conscience of increased spending and/or deficits which is important. Without a debt ceiling, it’s much easier for politicians to ignore fiscal issues. That said, since it’s almost always automatic, the policy was failing in its design. While the specific adjustments/policies of the Tea Party were flawed (as they are from every faction), I do appreciate them saying “Enough is enough. Pay attention to debt!! It matters.” Without the Tea Party, I think politicians on both sides would have put off fiscal issues until the 2012 election so everyone could be secure in office. That’s hardly democratic/thinking about the best interests of the country either.

    It’s hardly democratic that certain issues are always off the table until elections happen. The Tea Party was largely elected in 2010 to address fiscal issues that disenfranchised independents/former Republicans thought the country needed to address. With the debt ceiling debate, the Tea Party successfully brought those issues to the table.

    To summarize major political philosophy in one sentence:
    “The voice of a majority is no proof of justice.”
    -Friedrich Schiller

    It doesn’t take a deep understanding of the philosophy underpinning our political system to realize much of it is designed to make sure the majority can’t abuse the minority. Well, as much as you personally may not mind bearing the burden of taxes, others do mind, so it’s their prerogative to try and rein in spending, without supporting revenue increases.

    Ultimately a debt ceiling is being passed, resulting from compromise on both sides. I’d say that’s a (minor) success of the political system.

    Final Point: Given rising debt, especially in light of the crisis in Europe and the problem of assessing creditworthiness during the financial crisis, it’s more than appropriate in my opinion that the US, which I think issues 60% of government debt around the world, ultimately have its own credit closely examined.

    • “Without the Tea Party, I think politicians on both sides would have put off fiscal issues until the 2012 election so everyone could be secure in office.”

      In the midst of a slow economy, fiscal issues should be put off, or you get the nosedive of 1937.

      I can’t help but notice that actual economic issues that effect real people, like jobs and the need for a safety net, seem to have been completely dropped for our politics for the past year or more. I trust you’re just as upset that these issues – issues that polls show Americans are much more concerned about than the deficit – have been off the table.

      • The ‘downturn of 1937″ is a joke.

        The economy had ‘stimulus’ by Hoover, then FDR.

        No recovery. 1937 was just part of that decade long failure by the progressives.

      • link to explains the “fiscal contraction” of 1937. Notice the contraction is almost entirely in tax transfers so the best corollary today would be to not let the Bush tax cuts expire

        I thought Milton Friedman already explained the whole Great Depression by highlighting failures of monetary policy, not fiscal policy…

  4. Zakaria supported the perfectly democratic invasion of Iraq, as I recall. I wonder if decidedly hardball tactics used to prevent a similar attack on Iran would be acceptable.

    They would to me. I wish some of the go to the wall passion of the Tea Party could be put to use against some of the worst excesses that have characterized government over the past 10 years.

    • But that will never happen, because the Tea Party is fighting for a tribal society that was dismantled by the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, the New Deal, and the World Wars. In other words, for a monopoly of power for “our kind”. They will always fight harder than those who want to share power. The only times American progressives beat tribalists is when the capitalists are more afraid of the consequences of a right-wing victory, and don’t throw all their weight behind it.

  5. Dear Professor Cole

    The important reaction comes from the East.

    link to

    Shockwaves will debilitate the markets in either case, and the global economy’s fragile recovery will probably be reversed, and another recession could follow.

    Because of these dire consequences, it is highly unlikely that Congress and the White House will fail to reach an agreement by Aug 2, unless hardliners in the Republican camp are crazy enough to trade the country’s fate for President Barack Obama’s scalp.

    At present, the key to reducing the federal deficit is to increase employment. The irony is, that to do so, the federal government has to temporarily increase spending. But since the majority of the unemployed workers have low levels of education and many of them have been laid off by the construction sector, a sensible way of re-employing them would be to start public projects in infrastructure. Given the current deadlock over the debt ceiling, however, this is not likely to happen.

    It seems the Chinese Communist party reads Professor Krugman’s work and wisdom.

    • A section from that article immediately before your 2nd excerpt is also significant:

      “But the response of the business sector has been weak. This is not because the business sector is still in a bad shape; it is actually doing quite well.

      In 2009, the unit product labor cost in the US’ manufacturing sector dropped 17.2 percent, and in 2010 it fell by a further 3.9 percent. That means US companies are producing more goods using less labor. And this is the real secret behind the jobless growth.”

      This is the dirty secret undermining all economic debate in the US. Free-market fanatics refuse to accept that wage-cutting can create a permanent downward spiral, but they know it looks bad so they also refuse to admit that it’s been underway for the last 30 years. This leaves uneducated Americans with a sort of default faith in classical economics, which claims that a good year of starving the poor will cause markets to clear and the resumption of virtuous growth. They are morally uncomfortable with that, but as long as their bosses form a solid wall of classical apologists, they accept that somehow things will work out.

      In fact, the bosses are draining us in every way possible before abandoning America for greener suckers… uh, pastures.

      • The general Chinese reaction seems to be fury.

        link to

        Zhou added that China would continue seeking to diversify its reserves. The challenge it faces is finding suitable alternatives.

        A commentary carried by state news agency Xinhua attacked the “madcap farce of brinksmanship” and warned that the deal “failed to defuse Washington’s debt bomb for good, only delaying an immediate detonation by making the fuse an inch longer”.


        Some Chinese economists warned spending cuts could affect China’s growth by slowing the US recovery. “US consumption will be definitely hurt a lot by the austerity deal and we can no longer count on the once-biggest foreign market in the future,” said Ding Yifan, a researcher at the Development Research Centre under the State Council.

  6. I am afraid those of us from a parliamentary system struggle to understand the US system. Blocking of budgets and preventing supply of government finances is considered perfectly democratic and legitimate in a Parliament. However, as soon as the Government fails to ensure supply of finance through a vote, the Prime Minister is sacked and the opposition is asked to supply a new government to provide supply. If they can’t, Parliament is immediately dissolved and then we have a election. Those who blocked spending then have to explain their actions.

    How long can one group in the US system block the spending of government money?

    • The unfortunate answer is, indefinitely. And because of our system of regularly scheduled elections – coupled with our notoriously short memories – obstructionism is fairly easy to get away with. All you really have to do is keeping enough distance between your action and the next election and you can generally minimize the fallout. Of course, this is a new kind of obstructionism. The last time the GOP acted like this they were in the minority. It remains to be seen how voters will react to the majority party acting this irrationally.

  7. As the Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party continues, where are the protesting voices of the senior moderate Republican leaders? What do Papa Bush, Howard Baker, James Baker, et. al. have to say? Nothing, evidently.

    • I would suspect that leading oldschool GOPers are as yet unwilling to throw the TP under the bus. So long as their behavior doesn’t cost them a majority I imagine they will still be seen as useful. A Kissinger Republican is nothing if not pragmatic.

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