So much is being written in the mainstream media about who the tea partiers are, but very little is being recorded about what these folks are actually saying.
We know that this is a decentralized grassroots movement, with many different voices hailing from many different towns across the country. But the tea-party message comes together in the “Contract from America,” the product of an online vote orchestrated by Ryan Hecker, a Houston tea-party activist and national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots.
With nearly 500,000 votes recorded in less than two months, this Contract forms a blueprint of tea-party policy goals and beliefs.
Of the top-ten planks in the Contract, the number-one issue is protect the Constitution. That’s followed by reject cap-and-trade, demand a balanced budget, and enact fundamental tax reform. And then comes number five: Restore fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government in Washington.
Note that two of the top-five priorities of the tea partiers mention the Constitution.
Filling out the Contract, the bottom-five planks are end runaway government spending; defund, repeal, and replace government-run health care; pass an all-of-the-above energy policy; stop the pork; and stop the tax hikes.
What’s so significant to me about this tea-party Contract from America is the strong emphasis on constitutional limits and restraints on legislation, spending, taxing, and government control of the economy. Undoubtedly, the emphasis is there because no one trusts Washington.
As I read this Contract, tea partiers are reminding all of us of the need for the Constitution to protect our freedoms. They’re calling for a renewal of constitutional values, including — first and foremost — a return to constitutional limits on government. The tea partiers who responded to this poll are demanding a rebirth of the consent of the governed. The government works for us, we don’t work for it.
All this makes me think of President Reagan, who never quite succeeded in gaining a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget, or for limits on spending, or for a two-thirds congressional majority for any new tax hikes. But throughout his presidency, and for many years before, the Gipper argued for constitutional limits on government, especially government spending.
And now this message is being echoed perfectly in the tea-party Contract from America. In effect, it picks up where Reagan left off.
The tea partiers, whom I call free-market populists, desire a return to Reaganism. In particular, their demands for a balanced budget (third plank), for restoring fiscal responsibility (5th plank), for ending massive government spending (6th plank), and for stopping the pork (9th plank) all underscore the populist revolt against runaway government spending, and therefore runaway government power.
There are mentions in the Contract of tax reform and stopping tax hikes. But it is pretty clear to everyone nowadays that the massive run-up in spending of recent years will inevitably result in an equally massive tax-hike movement — that is, unless the spending is strictly curbed and reduced.