On Saturday morning, after a round of doubles tennis with my wife and in-laws, I tuned into CSPAN’s Washington Journal program and watched Tea Party Express Director of Grassroots and Coalitions Amy Kremer do one of the network’s phone-in segments about the Tea Party Express’s political views — as she was in town for the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). She was engaging and polite, and spoke with conviction to a variety of callers from different political persuasions. Though she’d never previously been involved in politics before joining the Tea Party Express, she has the bearing and exudes the confidence of someone who’s had considerable leadership experience. I was very impressed.
Kremer’s bio on the Tea Party Express website describes her as a “Southern Belle” who grew up in Atlanta and, like former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, is a graduate of Auburn University. It also notes she is a former airline flight attendant and has traveled extensively around the world. Around 2008, she developed a consuming enthusiasm for politics, which she indulged by blogging and embracing social media, and the resounding success she found soon encouraged her to head the Atlanta Tea Party.
During the course of the program, the show’s host, Robb Harleston, asked Kremer about the organization’s stance on foreign policy. She replied that the Tea Party Express did not have any opinions on this. Frankly, that was a jaw-dropper for me. The Tea Party Express, as one of the largest and most influential of all Tea Party assemblies, has as one of its pillars the reduction of the federal budget deficit. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s blog, “Discretionary defense spending makes up half of all discretionary spending (that is, spending that is subject to the annual appropriation process).” This translates into a staggering $570 billion of spending each year.
Conservative estimates put the number of American military bases around the world at over 1,000. This Leviathan supports a massive American interventionism that costs extraordinary sums to maintain, with no end in sight. If one wants to get really tough on deficits, defense spending — whether weapon systems, bases or personnel — must be a major part of the debate. Kremer herself has suggested that in order to raise the debt limit — an onerous but necessary option — there will have to be corresponding, comprehensive, across-the-board cuts in spending. Defense cuts informed by an understanding of our current foreign policy commitments would be of invaluable assistance in this discussion.
Major figures who’ve been credited with rallying what has now become the Tea Party movement take differing viewpoints on foreign policy. Ron Paul, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, has said that “a return to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of active private engagement but government non-interventionism is the only alternative that can restore our moral and fiscal health.” On the other hand, Sarah Palin believes in an aggressive U.S. foreign policy that includes no defense cuts whatsoever. Her addresses are always peppered with references to “American exceptionalism” and America’s position as “the dominant military superpower.” If the Tea Party wants to be a respected player in future elections and administrations, it will have to reconcile these policy disparities and develop a coherent platform on defense and foreign policy issues.
Ignoring something as critical to both national and international stability as defense makes the Tea Party movement look weak even on the issue it very effectively exploited during the last election — the size of the federal deficit. Hard choices need to be made to eliminate specific defense expenditures, and these can be made without sacrificing our defense readiness. And while the preamble to the Constitution mandates that we “provide for the common defense, there’s not a word in it about how much it should cost. That is up to all of us. Let’s be smart about it.
Christopher Hartman is the author of “Advance Man: The Life and Times of Harry Hoagland”; editor of “Learn Earn and Return: My Life as a Computer Pioneer,” a memoir of Harlan Anderson, co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, and contributor to the Christian Science Monitor newspaper.