The Tea Party as a phenomenon in American Politics is interesting from a political-science point of view but just about everything about its effects on American politics is disastrous. It seems to enshrine the most extreme and paranoid of all American political instincts and attempts to turn them into virtues. Tea Partiers are the most likely of any political activists to believe the most insane and provably false things about President Obama, the economy, taxes, the U.S. Constitution, the environment, science in general, you name it. The movement seems to rely on gossip over facts, heated rhetoric over political discussion, and especially thrives on ignorance over education. The movement has no central leader or leadership (by choice) but has rallied behind candidates and political figures like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann, while getting major rhetorical support from Rush Limbaugh and other similar demagogues.
The recent debate over the debt ceiling is a good example of both the Tea Party’s recent power and its effect on political debate. This vote on the debt ceiling is something that has happened routinely hundreds of times in our history, but this time, the vote was held hostage by those members of congress (mostly Tea Partiers) who claimed they would not vote to increase the debt ceiling unless they got their list of demands, which included drastic spending cuts, no new taxes, and in some cases a balanced budget amendment. In other words, this was a crisis that was created, almost entirely, by the Tea Party and those who support its principles.
Those principles seem to be to favor smaller government over larger government at every opportunity, to reduce government spending regardless of the cost, and to never raise taxes regardless of the reason. Some of the ideas behind those principles are laudable when backed by a sound foundation of reason, respect for economic policy and governmental responsibility, but when taken to ridiculous extremes as the Tea Party has, they are inevitably inflexible, uninformed, ill-conceived and harmful to the government and the citizens it is supposed to represent.
This movement is doing damage to America and to the Republican party. The outcome of the political game of chicken played by the Tea Party in the debt ceiling debate is that now the U.S. has been taken off Standard & Poor’s list of risk-free borrowers for the first time in its history. This downgrade of the country’s credit rating will probably result in tighter credit and higher interest rates at the very least, all so Tea Partiers can claim a political victory on a meaningless vote. Because of such political victories, however, Republican candidates are behaving as though they must kow-tow to the tea partiers or risk losing their party’s nomination. The only notable exception to this is Jon Huntsman who deserves a medal for political courage but is currently so far behind in the polls that he is flirting with irrelevance.
The Tea Party is fond of quoting the constitution and the founding fathers, but the founding fathers were almost all educated, responsible people who believed in government and political debate. They would not recognize the tactics and rhetoric of the Tea Party as anything but irresponsible, ignorant and destructive. The Tea Party seems to count a large number of LDS Church members in its ranks, but the ideas and behavior of this movement should be anathema to any sane member of the Church.