The Tea Party is being called a host of epithets – ignorant racists, Satanic terrorists – but the most telling criticism is that they violated the rules of Washington and did not “negotiate” or “compromise.” Their recent “success” in changing the terms of the debate in Washington DC from reckless, growth-gutting spending to actually reducing (albeit incrementally) the size of the federal government did, in fact, breach one of the norms of DC life: the expectation born of decades of chicanery that at the end of the day, after all the arguing, fighting and debating the issues is over, that the votes of sufficient Congressmen to pass any legislation will be bought off by federal funds for an army base or federal building here and a bridge or an arts center there.
That emphatically did not happen here and hence the rage in official Washington and elsewhere at this “minority” holding the rest of the country hostage. Of course, if they were such a decided minority, they could not hold the majority hostage in a democracy. Rather, the exact opposite happened: an organized minority elected and pressured enough representatives to have the political culture, if not permanently changed, at least temporarily altered. The old ways of Washington are no more, at least for now, to the chagrin of many, including old-school Republicans. This was a spending bill that included no earmarks, no perks, and no special deals. Somewhere, Robert C. Byrd, who procured the federal funds to name dozens of buildings, bridges and institutions in West Virginia after himself, is spinning in his grave. Indeed, his death last year at the age of 143, after serving in Congress for 110 years, spared the nation the spectacle of Byrd lecturing Congress last week about institutional honor, custom and tradition – especially the sacred tradition of buying off votes with money to local districts.
The Tea Partiers are so consistent that many opposed the recent debt-ceiling raise deal. To be sure, people outside of politics (which, after all, is the art of the possible) have the luxury of being ideological and even rigid. On the other hand, without a portion of the populace maintaining that inflexibility about important
principles, we would find ourselves in the situation in which we now find ourselves. Their motivation, dedication and even dogmatism is a valuable
addition to American political life, and the major principles they embrace –
small government, low taxes, free enterprise and a balanced budget – are all
reasonable, and frankly, classically American.
Jews have a tendency to fear new movements in American politics, especially new conservative movements, and the Tea Party is no exception, although it should be. This year’s AIPAC Convention in DC featured one session on the topic of the “Tea Party and Israel,” which I attended. Speakers included former Rep. Dick Armey (a Tea Party leader), the estimable Gary Bauer, and rookie Congressman Tim Scott (R-SC), and the session was fascinating. Armey emphasized that the Tea Party does not have a foreign policy, being focused on domestic needs, but Israel is different. There is no official policy on Israel, but Tea Partiers are disproportionately supportive of Israel (as Republicans today generally are more supportive – in some polls, 25% more – than Democrats). Asked why he is so passionate about Israel, Armey answered that the Bible says those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed and he takes the Bible literally as the word of G-d. (There was at first a stunned silence in the audience, and then a smattering of applause for the Bible as the word of G-d. It is not a concept that appealed to the audience, all diehard supporters of Israel.) These sentiments were echoed by Gary Bauer and Rep. Scott, a black evangelical Christian, and their support for a secure Israel was unequivocal; in fact, it far exceeds the support for Israel that emerges from the typical American Jew, which is much more nuanced, tepid and unreliable. (The liberal Jewish obsession with Obama, who is likely to get 60-70% of the Jewish vote no matter what he does or says or who runs against him, is characteristic.)
Naturally, the Tea Party is not a monolithic entity (there are many Tea Parties), but nor is the Tea Party completely amorphous and leaderless. Like any institution, including most shuls, it has its share of crazies, but the movement itself is wholesome, positive and redemptive. It is a movement in which Jews should feel right at home – in terms of its emphasis on faith, traditional values, personal responsibility, limited government and fiscal sanity.
Jews, most being knee-jerk Democrat voters, have successfully marginalized themselves in American politics. We think we are more powerful than we are. We are sought after for donations, which flow regardless of the politics or policies of the Democratic candidate, and willingly provide it to those with the right (i.e., left) party affiliation. This surprising lack of sophistication enables politicians to mouth the right slogans to the Jewish audience, while embracing policies that are anathema to Jews and Israel. Politicians have been trained in a Pavlovian sense to just keep the aid to Israel steady, and that is tantamount to support for Israel which translates into votes for those who promote abortion rights. This is true even today, when 40% of every government dollar spent is borrowed. But since Jews (like blacks, for that matter) are unswerving Democratic voters, our major concerns need not be reckoned with in a serious way. That is not to say that every Jew should become a Republican; it is to say that we should have more political balance, as one finds with almost every other ethnic group.
One way to start would be for Jews to look into the Tea Party movement, embrace its goals, and adopt its world view. They are the wave of the future, and rightly so.