Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Tea Kettle Movement" Vents Steam, But Offers Nothing to Cure What Ails Us

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman says "The tea party that has gotten all the attention, the self-generated protest against growth in government and the deficit" should really be called "the 'Tea Kettle movement'--because all it's doing is letting off steam."

It fails to comprehend what is really wrong with the United States, and its primary goal of reducing the federal deficit is diametrically incompatible with its goal of reducing taxes. By contrast, says Friedman, a "really important" tea party movement would face what ails us head on and not mince words about the obvious solutions.

The tea baggers have done such a disservice to rational political dialogue, I think it is a mistake to characterize any movement that wants to be taken seriously as a tea party. But I think Friedman is accurate about the movement the country needs--and accurate in his assessment that Barack Obama has not proven to be the leader the movement awaits. Excerpts from Friedman's column follow:

The Tea Kettle movement can't have a positive impact on the country because it has both misdiagnosed America's main problem and hasn't even offered a credible solution for the problem it has identified. How can you take a movement seriously that says it wants to cut government spending by billions of dollars but won't identify specific defense programs, Social Security, Medicare or other services it's ready to cut?

And how can you take seriously a movement that sat largely silent while the Bush administration launched two wars and a new entitlement, Medicare prescription drugs--while cutting taxes--but is now, suddenly, mad as hell about the deficit and won't take it anymore from President Barack Obama? Say what? Where were you folks for eight years?

The issues that upset the Tea Kettle movement--debt and bloated government--are actually the symptoms of our real problem, not causes. They are symptoms of a country in a state of incremental decline because our politics has become just another form of sports entertainment, our Congress is a forum for legalized bribery and our main lawmaking institutions divided by toxic partisanship.

The important tea party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats, understands this at a gut level and is looking for a leader...

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg told me that when he does focus groups today this is what he hears: "People think the country is in trouble and that countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't. They will follow someone who convinces them that they have a plan to make America great again. That is what they want to hear. It cuts across Republicans and Democrats."

...What is America's core competency and strategic advantage, and how do we nurture it? Answer: It is our ability to attract, develop and unleash creative talent. That means men and women who invent, build and sell more goods and services that make people's lives more productive, healthy, comfortable, secure and entertained than any other country.

Leadership today is about how the U.S. government attracts and educates more of that talent and then enacts the laws, regulations and budgets that empower that talent to take its products and services to scale, sell them around the world--and create good jobs here in the process. Without that, we can't afford the health care or the defense we need.

This is the plan the real tea party wants from its president. To implement it would require us to actually raise some taxes--on, say, gasoline--and cut others--like payroll and corporate taxes. It would require us to overhaul our immigration laws so we can better control our borders, let in more knowledge workers and retain those skilled foreigners going to college here. And it would require us to reduce some services--like Social Security--while expanding other, like education and research for a 21st-century economy...

Any tea party that says the simple answer is just shrinking government and slashing taxes might be able to tip the midterm elections in its direction. But it can't tip America in the right direction. There is a tea party for that, but it's still waiting for a leader."

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