But instead of shrugging our shoulders and simply saying “well that’s them in a nutshell” or “it’s a waste of time,” perhaps it is incumbent upon those outside the Establishment Right to challenge Tea Partiers on foreign policy–instead of letting them ignore it as happened in last year’s campaign.
Republicans in Congress basically signed off on Obama’s foreign policy with their votes in favor of the Pentagon budget or in approving supplemental spending for U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. It stands to reason that Tea Party elected or supportive GOP politicians in Congress don’t talk about foreign policy because their constituents don’t talk about it, at least the ones who don’t have ties to the military or have family serving overseas. The latter persons will support the troops and the rest have been shielded from any personal or economic effects of the war by the All-Volunteer Force and the fact that the war effort has been paid for with deficit financing from China. This is exactly what the policymakers want, a voting populous which gives them carte blanche to conduct foreign and military policy through either patriotism or sheer apathy.
But where Bienart is correct is that such indifference cannot exist much longer if the Tea Party is serious about really downsizing government and debt along with reviving the economy. Already the Republican Party leadership has backed away from one of its campaign promises in the Pledge to America (well that didn’t take long) about cutting $100 billion in spending because it cannot find such spending it can just painlessly cut. Not only is the defense and intelligence and national security establishment an enormous part of the budget they are also an enormous part of the economy, one which sucks in capital that could fuel an economic recovery and one which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for its less-than-efficient fleet of vehicles, aircraft and ships. Is it any coincidence the two biggest economic boom periods in recent U.S. history during the 1980s and 90s came when oil prices were cheap? And if we presume many Tea Partiers are really more interested in protecting Social Security, Veteran and Medicare benefits than reading the Constitution out loud during a session in Congress, where else will the money come from to balance the budget and reduce spending? There isn’t enough waste, fraud and abuse to do so. The U.S. is not Afghanistan.
One of the main theses of the Ron Paul 2008 Presidential campaign, where the genesis of the Tea Party movement lies, is the fact one cannot have a large military, national security and intelligence establishments and a small government at the same time. It doesn’t work that way contrary to what the politicians will have you believe. If Tea Partiers are serious (and Larison is betting they’re not), then they have to call for not just cuts in the Pentagon budget, but fundamental changes in the way the U.S. conducts foreign and military policy, in line with current budget, economic and resource realities. This is the challenge that must be presented to the Tea Partiers and must pushed upon them to meet. If they do so, then the Tea Parties can have a transformative effect on U.S. policy and politics and broaden itself to being a larger movement. If not, they simply pass into history as just another faction, another protest group, a white, middle-class version of ACORN looking to protect its share of the shrinking pie with the battle cry: “What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Yours is Negotiable!”, a cry that will be absorbed and then ignored again by their patrons. For what we know of Republican politicians, this is most certainly true; as Larison wrote, “more to he point, Republican leaders make a habit of actively ignoring the interests and concerns of their constituents.” Either the Tea Partiers will let them get away with it again or will finally make them listen and eventually follow.