As Republicans and conservatives have scrambled to rally the support of the Tea Party movement, many have failed to take notice of some of the important inconsistencies implicit in the Tea Party message. A recent New York Times/CBS poll reveals some interesting information about the movement and its fundamental “principles.”
According to this poll, 91% of Tea Partiers want a smaller government with fewer services. Despite this hostility to big government, 62% of Tea Partiers believe that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are worth the cost (apparently no one bothered to tell them that Social Security and Medicare are evil Godless socialist programs). This would suggest that in order to achieve fiscal sanity the Tea Party believes that spending cuts are to be implemented elsewhere within the vast expenditures of the federal apparatus. However when one examines their beliefs on paying down the debt, the result is somewhat troubling. When asked whether they preferred deficit reduction or tax cuts, 49% of Tea Partiers said they would favor tax reduction while 42% would prefer deficit reduction.
So, tax cuts are preferred to debt reduction, and social security and Medicare are well worth the cost. This sounds less like a movement of mature fiscal hawks and more like one of whiny adolescents (who actually happen to be middle-aged) who want their current taxes lower and their future benefits higher. They are only concerned with fighting government spending that benefits other people and are desperately seeking to save their own precious benefits. They think the costs are well worth it and they have no intention of shouldering the burden themselves. These costs will be incurred by future generations whose taxes will be higher and whose benefits will be lower or nonexistent.
I’m reminded of the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It seems that to the Tea Party, the national debt has just “been burning since the world’s been turning” and there is nothing that can really be done about it… in their generation. If Republicans and conservatives are serious about conserving and reforming entitlement programs (as they should be) they need to find ways to overcome this cultural mindset which believes rights and benefits come free of any obligations and responsibilities. They must come to realize that these obligations extend to their fellow citizens as well as future generations. Maybe in between talk of death panels and the rising specter of Marxism, the adults can return to this national conversation and take the lead.