In the wake of the government shut down and debt-ceiling political brinksmanship, the Tea Party has never been less popular. Pundits from across the political spectrum are calling on the Republican party to reject the “radicals,” “extremists” and “reactionaries” in their midst and turn the party over to the moderates and centrists.
From social issues hypocrisy to foreign policy confusion to persistent strains of incoherent birtherism, there is a lot wrong with the Tea Party. Central among these flaws is its hostility to even procedural compromise. The party has been effective at enthusing the conservative base, but it will accomplish little until it couples its ideology with pragmatic political savvy. In its current divided state, the Republican party cannot help shape the creative solutions American democracy craves.
It is critical to remember, however, that the need for compromise is not the same as the need for moderation. On the contrary, the moderate mindset is a huge part of what’s gotten the U.S. into its present mess. No one who remembers the eight year debacle that was the Bush administration should call on Republicans to embrace their moderate, establishment wing. Reverting back to that failed and dissolving coalition, at the expense of an ideologically consistent, innovative, welcoming, forward-looking platform, would truly spell the death of the Republican party.
When these pundits yearn for tempered, reserved moderates, to whom do they refer? John Boehner? Mitch McConnell? Lindsey Graham? John McCain? Mitt Romney? Do these men really embody the winning recipe for modern conservatism? Americans view these men as a symbol of the Washington establishment: the select group of career insiders who stand for nothing, but prolong their tenures by adopting their message for political convenience.
Both of the two most recent Republican presidential candidates sacrificed ideological fealty for coalition building flexibility. Both were labelled moderates. And both failed because the American people have rightfully seen through that term as a euphemism for “opposed to change.” Given Americans’ exasperation with the state of their country, that association is a death knell for electoral success. Moderates are unwilling to shake up the status quo at a time when the status quo is in dire need of a shakeup.
Take the example of the recent budget battles in Washington. A rough summary of these confrontations is that one party wants to make the government bigger (through higher taxes and more spending), while the other wants to make it smaller (through lower taxes and less spending). For the entirety of Obama’s presidency, observers on both sides have been exasperated by the resulting gridlock, seemingly incredulous at the parties’ inability to find common ground on anything.
Bypassing the stalemate requires bold, creative solutions, but moderates will not provide them. Moderates make their living by staying in the safe middle-area that commits to nothing and angers nobody. And because the area of common ground between such diametrically opposed parties is rather small, the few compromises moderates produce are really rather predictable. The establishment wings of both parties favor minimizing controversy to avoid rocking the boat. In regards to the budget, either cutting spending or raising taxes would incite voter backlash, so they avoid it. The least controversial option is to push massive deficits and debt onto disenfranchised future generations — so that’s what inevitably happens.
Truly solving America’s problems requires radical departures from longstanding policies — especially those departures which will ruffle some well-connected feathers. To accomplish party objectives, conservatives will need to stay the course in the face of backlash and adversity. Moderates cannot do this; the only ones who can are those guided more by ideology than the recent Gallup polling.
What’s at stake here is more than the success of one party. America’s past decade has been marred by bipartisan war, bipartisan bailouts, bipartisan spying and torture and civil liberties violations, a bipartisan drug war, bipartisan cronyism and bipartisan fiscal irresponsibility. Each of these policies were the direct result of moderate compromise — to the benefit of politicians and at the expense of everyday citizens. Our policy options moving forward must correct, rather than repeat, these failed policies. If the range of acceptable discourse is restricted to Mitch McConnell, John Kerry and the yawning chasm that lies between them, our country is doomed.
For all the Tea Party’s flaws, the anti-establishment anger at its heart is justified and needed. There are deep-rooted problems in our democracy, and solving them will take unconventional ideas.
Thankfully, ideological consistency does not preclude flexible political alliances. Instead of futilely searching for ever-shrinking areas of common ground, Republicans should forge compromise based on exchange and concession. In this way, agreements can be reached which both parties view as improvement to the status quo.
Compromising on policy and procedure, without compromising on principle, enables people with fierce disagreements to work together. Here’s hoping the Tea Party gives it a try.
Andrew Doris is a junior political science major from West Chester, Pa. He is the Editor of the News-Letter Opinions section.