I’ve been a conservative my entire adult life. During that time, I’ve watched the conservative movement fail. Sure, I’ve seen supposedly limited-government candidates win elections and promise to shrink government. What I haven’t seen is government shrink. Ever.
It was the public’s frustration with such never-ending government growth that gave birth to the tea party movement. If you will recall, many liberals initially dismissed the tea party as simply a partisan reaction to President Obama’s election, but it was actually President Bush’s “Troubled Asset Relief Program” that first sparked the movement’s fire. In May 2010, Utah tea party leader David Kirkham explained:
I think it’s a matter of fiscal or financial responsibility … What the tea party people are about and the vote for TARP and the vote for the bailout was, in our opinion, pretty fiscally irresponsible, and that’s what’s raised the ire of most people.
At the time, Kirkham’s group was working to unseat Republican Senator Bob Bennett, who had voted for TARP. When asked if the TARP-supporting incumbent deserved to lose his seat over just one vote, Kirkham replied:
That one vote was pretty toxic. That one vote affected a lot of things, changed the rules of the game. President Bush said that where we have to abandon free market principles to save the free market, and fundamentally, we just don’t agree. There’s just no way.
Bennett was voted out and replaced with a tea partier, Senator Mike Lee. As Washington would soon learn, the rules had changed. Yesterday’s “conservative” Republicans, who had failed to produce results, were no longer acceptable. D.C. doublespeak would no longer be tolerated. The fiscally serious conservative movement I had longed for my entire life had finally arrived — and a big-government scheme like the bank bailouts were the perfect litmus test for any candidate. In my capacity as a writer, I even assisted Senator Rand Paul with his book that chronicled the history and philosophy of this new and exciting movement, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”
But now I fear that the tea party might have absorbed too much Washington thinking.
Herman Cain might not be a D.C. insider, but he certainly thinks like one. When the tea party was valiantly railing against TARP in the fall of 2008, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO wrote: “Unprecedented problems require unprecedented solutions. [TARP is] a win-win for the taxpayer.” Later, Cain would say he didn’t agree with how the bailout money was doled out. Bennett basically said the same thing during his primary race against Lee, which obviously wasn’t good enough for the tea party.
And the tea party was right. The problem with anyone who supported TARP is not that the bailouts were simply flawed or inefficient, but that they ever happened at all. The problem is with those arrogant enough to think the federal government should have the glaringly unconstitutional power to “intervene in the free market” to privatize corporate profits while socializing losses — all at the expense of the American taxpayer.
The tea party thought this was an outrage. Cain thought it was a necessity.
Cain was not only wrong about TARP, but called anyone who even believed there was a housing crisis “ignorant.” Wrote Cain in 2005: “The media have been foretelling a massive bust in housing prices for months now … That kind of ignorance makes homeowners fear that their most expensive possession could turn worthless overnight.”
Added Cain: “That won’t happen.”
Well, it wasn’t “ignorance.” The housing bust did happen, to a tragic degree. Cain suggested TARP was the proper action to fix it, and his establishment-minded delusions do not end there. In a piece titled “In Herman Cain’s Writings, Startling Lack of Foresight,” Time magazine’s Mark Benjamin writes:
In a July 21, 2008, column, Cain referred to Wall Street’s troubles as “the mainstream media’s it’s-not-a-crisis-but-we-are-going-to-make-it-look-like-one banking crisis.” In less than two months, Lehman Brothers would declare bankruptcy and, a few weeks later, Congress would pass a massive bailout to rescue the nation’s largest banks.
Cain, of course, supported those bailouts to “correct” an economic problem he insisted did not exist.
And Cain kept insisting this after the bailouts, or as Benjamin notes:
Even in September, Cain was upbraiding Democrats for ignoring great economic news. “We still have not had a recession since 2001,” Cain wrote early that month. “But don’t tell the Democrats and the mainstream media. You might disrupt their imaginary recession.”
I like Herman Cain. As a native of South Carolina, I have always been entertained whenever he guest hosts for Neal Boortz’s Atlanta-based syndicated radio program. Cain is quick with quips and great with soundbites.
But talk radio entertainment does not a president make. Let’s not forget what the tea party was originally about: fiscal responsibility and constitutional fidelity, no compromise and no mercy. The fact stands that on the greatest economic crisis of our time, Cain was dead wrong in his predictions and fully in line with establishment thinking on how to correct them. His sheer ignorance of the basic economic factors in play as the crisis unfolded is staggering. And we have no evidence to suggest Cain’s career-long disposition toward establishment group-think has changed.
If the tea party settles for Cain as the GOP presidential nominee, is the movement I heralded gone? Is support for TARP now forgiven? Is establishment thinking now acceptable so long as its spokesman is charming and anti-establishment on a mere cosmetic level?
This is precisely what “conservatism” was before the tea party, and precisely why big government endures to this day — and why the longer Cain endures with the GOP grassroots, the further the tea party will wither.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.