The GOP’s “small government” tea party fraud

The core of the "tea party" movement and actual GOP policies are radically opposed

Topics: Tea Parties, Washington, D.C.,

There’s a major political fraud underway:  the GOP is once again donning their libertarian, limited-government masks in order to re-invent itself and, more important, to co-opt the energy and passion of the Ron-Paul-faction that spawned and sustains the ”tea party” movement.  The Party that spat contempt at Paul during the Bush years and was diametrically opposed to most of his platform now pretends to share his views.  Standard-issue Republicans and Ron Paul libertarians are as incompatible as two factions can be — recall that the most celebrated right-wing moment of the 2008 presidential campaign was when Rudy Giuliani all but accused Paul of being an America-hating Terrorist-lover for daring to suggest that America’s conduct might contribute to Islamic radicalism — yet the Republicans, aided by the media, are pretending that this is one unified, harmonious, “small government” political movement.

The Right is petrified that this fraud will be exposed and is thus bending over backwards to sustain the myth.  Paul was not only invited to be a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference but also won its presidential straw poll.  Sarah Palin endorsed Ron Paul’s son in the Kentucky Senate race.  National Review is lavishly praising Paul, while Ann Coulter “felt compelled [in her CPAC speech] to give a shout out to Paul-mania, saying she agreed with everything he stands for outside of foreign policy — a statement met with cheers.”  Glenn Beck — who literally cheered for the Wall Street bailout and Bush’s endlessly expanding surveillance state — now parades around as though he shares the libertarians’ contempt for them.  Red State’s Erick Erickson, defending the new so-called conservative “manifesto,” touts the need for Congress to be confined to the express powers of Article I, Section 8, all while lauding a GOP Congress that supported countless intrusive laws — from federalized restrictions on assisted suicide, marriage, gambling, abortion and drugs to intervention in Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life state court proceeding — nowhere to be found in that Constitutional clause.  With the GOP out of power, Fox News suddenly started featuring anti-government libertarians such as John Stossel and Reason Magazine commentators, whereas, when Bush was in power, there was no government power too expanded or limitless for Fox propagandists to praise.

This is what Republicans always do.  When in power, they massively expand the power of the state in every realm.  Deficit spending and the national debt skyrocket.  The National Security State is bloated beyond description through wars and occupations, while no limits are tolerated on the Surveillance State.  Then, when out of power, they suddenly pretend to re-discover their “small government principles.”  The very same Republicans who spent the 1990s vehemently opposing Bill Clinton’s Terrorism-justified attempts to expand government surveillance and executive authority then, once in power, presided over the largest expansion in history of those very same powers.  The last eight years of Republican rule was characterized by nothing other than endlessly expanded government power, even as they insisted — both before they were empowered and again now — that they are the standard-bearers of government restraint.

What makes this deceit particularly urgent for them now is that their only hope for re-branding and re-empowerment lies in a movement — the tea partiers — that has been (largely though not exclusively) dominated by libertarians, Paul followers, and other assorted idiosyncratic factions who are hostile to the GOP’s actual approach to governing.  This is a huge wedge waiting to be exposed — to explode — as the modern GOP establishment and the actual ”small-government” libertarians that fuel the tea party are fundamentally incompatible.  Right-wing mavens like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and National Review are suddenly feigning great respect for Ron Paul and like-minded activists because they’re eager that the sham will be maintained:  the blatant sham that the modern GOP and its movement conservatives are a coherent vehicle for those who believe in small government principles.  The only evidence of a passionate movement urging GOP resurgence is from people whose views are antithetical to that Party.  That’s the dirty secret which right-wing polemicists are desperately trying to keep suppressed. Credit to Mike Huckabee for acknowledging this core incompatibility by saying he would not attend CPAC because of its “increasing libertarianism.”

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These fault lines began to emerge when Sarah Palin earlier this month delivered the keynote speech to the national tea party conference in Nashville, and stood there spitting out one platitude after the next which Paul-led libertarians despise:  from neoconservative war-loving dogma and veneration of Israel to glorification of “War on Terror” domestic powers and the need of the state to enforce Palin’s own religious and cultural values.  Neocons (who still overwhelmingly dominate the GOP) and Paul-led libertarians are arch enemies, and the social conservatives on whom the GOP depends are barely viewed with greater affection.  Sarah Palin and Ron Paul are about as far apart on most issues as one can get; the “tea party movement” can’t possibly be about supporting each of their worldviews.  Moreover, the GOP leadership is currently promising Wall Street even more loyal subservience than Democrats have given in exchange for support, thus bolstering the government/corporate axis which libertarians find so repugnant.  And Coulter’s manipulative claim that she “agrees with everything [Paul] stands for outside of foreign policy” is laughable; aside from the fact that “foreign policy” is a rather large issue in our political debates (Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia), they were on exactly the opposite sides of the most intense domestic controversies of the Bush era:  torture, military commissions, habeas corpus, Guantanamo, CIA secrecy, telecom immunity, and warrantless eavesdropping.  

Part of why this fraud has been sustainable thus far is that libertarians — like everyone who doesn’t view all politics through the mandated, distorting, suffocating Democrat v. GOP prism — are typically dismissed as loons and nuts, and are thus eager for any means of achieving mainstream acceptance.  Having the GOP embrace them is one way to achieve that (Karl Rove:  some ”see the tea party movement as a recruiting pool for volunteers for Ron Paul’s next presidential bid . . . . The Republican Party and the tea party movement have many common interests”).  Additionally, just as the Paul-faction of libertarians is in basic harmony with many progressives on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties, they do subscribe to the standard GOP rhetoric on domestic spending, social programs and the like.  

But that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party’s conduct, especially when they wield power.  The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of “limited government” is absurd on its face.  There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party’s claim to believe in restrained government power.  For that reason, it’s only a matter of time before the fundamental incompatibility of the “tea party movement” and the political party cynically exploiting it is exposed.

Glenn Greenwald
Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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