Paradox: The Tea Party is 'Determined to Help Obama'
"It is more than likely that Republican
proposals will end up scaring off independent voters and mobilizing Democrats.
Hence, Obama will be able to present himself as a moderate candidate, capable
of capturing all voters that either don't sympathize with or fear such radicalism."
Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has been extracting a 'no taxes pledge' from mostly Republican lawmakers for over 25 years. But with the advent of the Tea Party, his activities have perhaps reached a climax.
The difficult agreement
reached a few days ago between Democrats and Republicans to raise the debt
ceiling resolves the most urgent issue of preventing the U.S. from descending
into bankruptcy, but it is far from a genuine solution to the high deficits and
other crises the country is going through.
However, we should ask
ourselves why the U.S. Congress came to that point. The extension of the debt
ceiling is normally a mere formality. For example, Congress authorized
President Reagan to raise it 17 times; Clinton five times, and Bush seven times.
Two things explain the prickly
debate we witnessed: first, the radicalization of the Republicans; and second,
the proximity of the presidential election next year. What we saw was more of
an ideological and political struggle than an economic one.
The Republican Party, in
order to win the 2010 legislative elections and derail the Obama government,
formed an alliance with the Tea Party, the most radical wing of the U.S. right.
The flag of the movement is “clean up Washington,” i.e.: eliminate all of the
ills that, according to them, are a result of the traditional political class.
In fact, the Tea Party made Republican
lawmakers pledge that under no circumstances would they vote to raise taxes or favor
abortion rights - and more than 200 representatives and 40 senators agreed,
fearing the influence the Tea Party has among the Republican conservative base.
[Editor's Note: This is not
completely true. It was not the Tea Party, but a group called Americans for Tax
Reform founded by Grover
Norquist that extracted the "no tax pledge", beginning in the 1980s, from lawmakers both
in and out of Washington. Nevertheless, Norquist and his group are major
supporters of the Tea Party, and there is tremendous overlap between the two.]
In a message to the nation,
Obama said: “this is not the deal that I would have preferred,” which is a statement
that appears to admit defeat. While the president had to give up on his
demands for an agreement, did Obama really lose? According a Gallup
poll of likely voters in July, Obama had the support of 35 percent of
respondents, while Republicans had the backing of 47 percent. At the beginning
of August, after the clash over the debt ceiling, Obama had 45 percent support,
and backing for rival Republicans had dropped to 39 percent. In electoral terms,
Obama was the victor.
this brings us to the heart of the debate: the president's reelection.
The dispute that captured the
attention of the entire world for weeks is nothing but the starting gun for
next year's election campaign - and all indications are that it is going to be
a tough struggle.
The Tea Party is using all its
resources to ensure the election of the Republican nominee. The current contenders
either sympathize openly with the group or are too afraid to resist it. In this
context, John McCain, the former Republican presidential nominee and current
senator, denounced the danger posed by surrendering to extremism. But his words
have had little resonance. At this point, he's an outcast within his party.
Under this scheme, it is more
than likely that Republican proposals will end up scaring off independent
voters and mobilizing Democrats. Hence, Obama will be able to present himself
as a moderate candidate, capable of capturing all voters that either don't
sympathize with or fear such radicalism.
It won't be an easy election
for Barack Obama. Paradoxically, however, it seems like the Tea Party is
determined to help him.
*Jose Carbonell is a Law
School Professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM.