Friday, January 21, 2011

Understanding the Tea Party's Motivations

The Washington Post has a story this morning (here) about a rift among House Republicans over the depth of proposed spending cuts. Many want far deeper cuts than the leadership is proposing. They want to cut not only fat, but muscle, sinew, even bone. What they seek is not a more economically efficient federal government - it would be a mistake to suppose that they are social-welfare consequentialists. The motivation of tea-partiers is not economic but ideological. They want to shrink the federal  government simply for the sake of smaller government, pretty much regardless of consequences for social welfare.

The problem the tea-partiers inevitably will confront is that, however much voters say they want smaller government, they tend to want it only for other people. For themselves, they typically want whatever government programs benefit them. That's why it is not irrational, even if it is contradictory, for a protester to carry a sign that reads, "No Socialized Medicine; Keep Your Hands Off My Medicare."

I suspect Tea Party-backed members of Congress are going to find it difficult to retain their ideologically purity of heart, unless they are willing to sacrifice their own political futures. And while it would be a mistake to suppose that they are social-welfare consequentialists, it would be a bigger mistake to suppose that they are heroes who do not care about their own welfare.


  1. The TEA Party backed candidates aren't in DC for careers - they are there to save the country FROM career politicians. Most won't have a problem sticking to their promises.

  2. You might be right, but be careful not to confuse Tea Party members with Republican Party candidates who ran with Tea Party support. One of those candidates, Joe Walsh from Illinois, expressly cites the imperative of reelection in the Washington Post article cited above. Moreover, if the Tea Party is not concerned with reelection, then any legislative successes it has are very likely to be short-lived.


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