Viewpoints » Contributors

Op-ed misrepresents Tea Party policy proposals

At least nine of the 21 listed proposals have significant bipartisan backing

In the most recent edition of the Maroon, Viewpoints columnist Andrew Thornton takes a stab at the Tea Party Patriot Contract from America. “In none of these proposals do we see the interests of ordinary Americans favored over the interests of right-wing ideologues,” writes Thornton.

Thornton’s narrow-minded dismissal of the majority of these proposals as “utterly insane,” however, is misleading and overlooks the potential value of several of the suggested reforms. At least nine of the 21 listed proposals have significant bipartisan backing, support of the general public, and/or represent changes that are fundamentally aligned with the interests of America’s middle class.

Consider proposals three and 21, which call on all legislation to be available online for public viewing and broadcasting non-emergency meetings on C-SPAN, respectively. President Obama himself promised to air the health care negotiations during his campaign. Likewise, legislation requiring that all bills be available online before consideration by the House has already been introduced by a Democratic lawmaker from Washington.

Proposal 16 calls for a temporary moratorium on earmarks. In 2006, Democrats in Congress did just that. Proposal four would require every bill to include a constitutional justification; the House of Representatives adopted a very similar reform during the 105th Congress. Proposal 14 seeks to restrict the use of eminent domain on the basis of “economic development.” I am sure citizens from New London, CT, plaintiffs in the famous Kelo Supreme Court case, would agree that this is just an extremist right-wing pet project. Finally, the idea of creating a commission to identify duplication, waste, and ineffectiveness in the government sounds oddly similar to Obama’s promise to create a White House performance chief officer to study ways of eliminating waste and efficiency.

In short, nobody is perfect, especially the Tea Parties, but let’s give credit where it’s due and avoid unwarranted generalizations.


Lukas Pleva

Class of 2013

  • Andrew Thornton

    Dear Lukas,

    Thank you for your comment. As we both note, I wrote that most of the proposals are insane, not all of them. I agree that proposals #3 and #21 are far from insane, and this is why I did not include them as representatively insane. (To be sure, I would have liked to rebut all of them, but there is only so much space in the paper.) With your blessing, I’d like to briefly discuss the other proposals.

    On January 31, 2007, the Washington Post reported (“Democrats Move Leftover Spending Measure”):

    “House and Senate Democratic leaders agreed yesterday to a $463 billion spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year that would freeze many federal agencies at 2006 levels but include more money for veterans’ health, education, scientific research, HIV programs and public parks, among other things.

    “In an unusual move, the congressional leaders stripped the spending bill of all earmarks, or narrow, special-interest provisions. The measure had to be cobbled together now because Congress did not finish its work last year and failed to pass nine of 11 spending bills. . . .”

    Thus, the Democrats’ temporary, one-time moratorium on earmarks was less due to their belief that it was good policy, and more due to the fact that the previous Congress “did not finish its work last year and failed to pass nine of 11 spending bills.” (This, of course, is not so say that the policy is insane per se, but drives more to the claim that it has bipartisan support.)

    Regarding the “specific provision” proposal. As I understand the Partiers (and the fringe right-wing), when they say “specific provision”, they mean “among the specifically enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8.” I chose a random law passed Oct. 30, 1998, the “Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998” that supports the claim that this “specific provision” requirement is pointless. Section 2 of that law (Pub.L. 105-318) reads:

    “The constitutional authority upon which this Act rests is the power of Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, and the authority to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof, as set forth in article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution.”

    I presume this would not quench the Partiers’ thirst. If it would, then I misunderstand what they mean by “specific provision.”

    The overturn-Kelo nonsense is squarely in the right-wing-extremist camp. The justices in the majority in Kelo are far from extremist. It is a right-wing pet project. Yes, no doubt the petitioners would support restricting eminent domain. But then again, they’re party to the lawsuit. I imagine that some other New London residents supported the decision; it’s hardly useful to make such predictions, though, for obvious reasons.

    Proposal 13 reads: “Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality, and identifying duplication, waste, ineffectiveness, and agencies and programs better left for the states.” You cite Obama’s promise to create an executive branch officer to study waste and inefficiency as “oddly similar.” I respectfully disagree. True, auditing federal agencies and looking for waste and inefficiency are all noble goals, far from extremist, but “assessing their Constitutionality” and “identifying . . . agencies and programs better left for the states” are not. The former drives, again, at the “specific provision” requirement—which I’ve shown to be completely useless—and the latter is equally pointless: who decides what is “better left for the States”? Presumably the officer in question will have some list of things that the states ought to have control over, and if so, how do we determine what the states ought to control? It sounds very similar to the question, “What do states have the right to control?”, which lands us firmly in right-wing-extremist camp. But I may be reading the proposal wrong.

    Thank you again for your comment, and for keeping me on my toes!

    Andrew Thornton