In the Faux “News” “interview” above (in quotes, because the guy doing the “news” “interview” admits he knows Radtke personally, “spoke for you guys in Richmond,” and thinks she “run[s] and incredible operation, perhaps one of the best Tea Party operations in the country” – how unprofessional and un-journalistic can you possibly be?!?), Jamie Radtke claims that the Tea Party is “mainstream” not “right wing.” Radtke references an op-ed she wrote, in which she argues that if the Tea Party is “right wing,” then so must the Founding Fathers be “right wing,” given their (supposed) belief in four main principles: “Constitutional adherence, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets.” According to Radtke, these four ideas constitute no less than “the cornerstone of our Constitutional Republic, and central to the sensibilities of most Americans.”
The idiocy, oversimplification, flawed “logic,” and generally mush-brained “thinking” here is almost beyond belief. It’s so bad that it makes me wonder, honestly, whether Radtke even believes the tripe she’s spewing out. Is she being purposely dishonest, is she being disingenuous (falsely naive/artless/guileless), or is she simply an ignoramus? Let’s parse this, briefly, as it’s not worth more than a few minutes of our time.
1. First, let’s just dispense with the notion that the Tea Party isn’t overwhelmingly right wing. See this poll, for instance, which indicates that “Nearly half (47%) of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement say they are also part of the Christian conservative or religious right movement.” Or this poll that indicates “Grand Canyon-size chasms” between “tea party backers and the majority of Americans, who don’t support the movement.” Or this poll, that indicates “Activists in the Tea Party movement tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative,” and also “that Tea Party activists would vote overwhelmingly Republican in a two-party race for Congress.” Finally, read about how “[s]everal of the biggest [Tea Party] efforts are led by established veterans in the conservative movement, whose organizations receive heavy funding from industry groups and sympathetic billionaires.” Anyway, so much for Radtke’s theory that the Tea Parties aren’t “right wing.”
2. Let’s just state the obvious fact that boiling down the complex, nuanced arguments and discussions that went on back in the 1770s and 1780s over the form our government should take, the purposes and powers of that government, the rights and obligations of citizens, the relative power balances between states and federal entities, etc., etc., into 4 Tea Party-friendly bullet points is beyond absurd.
3. Also absurd is the argument that the Founding Fathers were a monolithic entity, that they agreed on everything, that they didn’t have strong disagreements on any number of issues, that the Constitution as adopted was anything but a compromise between factions, regions, states, ideological positions, etc, etc.
4. The specific 4 bullet points Radtke raises — “Constitutional adherence, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets” – are so vague as to be completely unhelpful to any serious discussion of specific policies in America, circa 2010. Let’s start with the fact that there probably aren’t more than 1% of Americans who disagree with any of these phrases. Let’s turn it around to show how absurd it is. Anyone want the government NOT to follow the Constitution? Anyone want UNLIMITED government? Anyone a big fan of fiscal IRRESPONSIBILITY? As for “free markets,” first we need to identify whether any such markets actually exist in America today. It’s hard to think of any, though, that aren’t subject to a wide variety of “market distortions” that make them far from “free,” in some theoretical/philosophical sense. But, be that as it may, is there anyone out there who seriously favors a centralized, “command-and-control” model rather than a fundamentally market-oriented one? Certainly, the Democratic Party does not favor such a model, nor does the Republican Party, although both favor heavy government intervention – subsidies, tariffs, tax breaks, massive “corporate welfare” of all kinds – to the “private sector.” As for the Founding Fathers, it would be fascinating to ask each one of them whether they favored government subsidies – aka, “market distortions” – to their favored industries of the day, whether we’re talking about cotton or shipbuilding, and see what their responses would be. Certainly, though, almost none favored a pure “free market” in goods, services, slaves, etc. Bottom line: who knows what Jamie Radtke is even talking about, it’s all so general and vague that it’s almost impossible to refute (or prove).
5. With regard to “constitutional adherence,” we have more than 200 years of court decisions, precedents, ruling, etc., that attempt to understand and interpret the constitution – both letter and spirit – for specific issues, changing times and societal mores, technologies and issues that didn’t exist back in 1780, evolving views on all kinds of questions, on and on. Now, perhaps I missed the line in her bio that points to Jamie Radtke’s position as a top constitutional scholar with decades of experience in this area. Perhaps I missed some other reason to feel that Jamie Radtke has a better understanding of our constitution, and what it means to “adhere” to said constitution, than Earl Warren, Warren Burger, Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, or any number of Supreme Court justices do. But yeah, I’d love to hear Radtke’s detailed judicial reasoning on pretty much any question that has come before the Supreme Court in recent decades. Let’s see how her rhetoric about “constitutional adherence” holds up to actual cases that have come before the court, find out how she would have decided, and understand exactly what her reasoning would have been. Until then, we’ll simply put her rhetoric into the “political rhetoric” category, along with “I’m for low taxes, great services, and an America that is #1 in everything.” Without specifics, it’s just meaningless pabulum.
6. As for “limited government,” it goes without saying that everyone believes that. The real questions revolve around how “limited” government should be and in what areas, specifically. Personally, I tend to believe the government should largely leave people alone when it comes to their private behavior and beliefs, unless – as Jim Webb put it in 2006 – “there’s an overriding reason” for government to get involved. This places me squarely in support of marriage equality, for instance, as well as separation of church and state. Does Radtke believe those things? If not, why not? Repeat the same line of questioning for any number of topics, from environmental protection to promoting the “general welfare” to providing for the common defense…and see what answers you get. It should be fascinating.
7. Finally, with regard to “fiscal responsibility,” again I ask, is there anyone who’s against it? As always, however, it boils down to specifics and to priorities. For instance, right now we’re in a nasty recession, with most economists recommending a healthy dose of counter-cyclical government spending and monetary “easing” to counter it. Radtke, in contrast, argues that we should cut “the spending,” which most economists believe would be seriously problematic at best. So, Professor Radtke, please explain to us who that will work; if we seriously slash the “G” component of “C+I+G”, how would “C” and “I” respond exactly? Would unemployment increase or decrease, and why? You have 45 minutes – go!
Now, let’s look at the long-term fiscal situation we face, with structural deficits (gap between spending and revenues) as far as the eye can see. To address those, what would Radtke recommend, given that non-discretionary spending
entitlements, interest on the debt plus defense and security spending, make up the vast majority of the federal budget? What other “spending” would she cut, especially given that poll after poll shows very little support for cutting almost any specific spending item in the federal budget? Right, time to cue the sound of crickets chirping, because Radtke – and her Tea Party cohorts – have no answer to that question. But then, if cutting “the spending” (whatever that means) isn’t feasible, then that leaves raising “revenues” (aka, “taxes”) if we seriously want to balance the budget. Is Radtke for raising “revenues” (aka, “taxes”)? If not, then once again, how does she plan to balance the budget and be “fiscally responsible?” Does she support extending the Bush tax cuts, at a cost of about $4 TRILLION per decade? Is that “fiscally responsible,” given that those tax cuts are not paid for, that they simply add to the national debt? What? Jamie Radtke has no answers to these questions, other than slogans like “it’s your money?” (great slogan, in a mindless kinda way, but it doesn’t balance the budget – sorry!).
In sum, my contention is that Jamie Radtke is either being dishonest or disingenuous when she blabbers on about whatever it is she’s blabbering about. Think about it for more than a minute, and it all quickly melts away, like cotton candy in the mouth of a 10 year old. Come to think of it, Radtke’s public positions are the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy – empty calories, no nutritional value, melts away on contact. But it sure does taste good for those few seconds!