What Do We Want? A Bunch of Crazy Stuff! When Do We Want It? Now!

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(Flickr/chadinbr)

Movements seldom start with tremendously specific legislative agendas, but the Tea Party movement seems unusually divorced from policy realities -- not just the what-could-we-actually-pass realities, but the realities of how government works. The more specific they become in their demands, beyond things like the sign portrayed above, the more absurd they sound. This is what Ed Kilgore points out, after reading the new Tea Party manifesto, "The Contract From America." "My favorite on the list," Ed writes, "is a proposal that in Congress 'each bill … identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.' This illustrates the obliviousness or hostility of Tea Partiers to the long string of Supreme Court decisions, dating back to the 1930s, that give Congress broad policy-making powers under the 14th Amendment and the Spending and Commerce Clauses."

But it doesn't stop there. If you had said to the leaders of the civil-rights movement in 1964, or the women's rights movement in 1978, "What laws would you like to pass?" they had a pretty clear idea of what that would be, and much (though not all) of it ended up happening either through legislation or judicial decisions. But the Tea Partiers? It's not just that the things they might pick are ideologically extreme, it's that they're just kind of nuts. Much of their "agenda" consist of things that even conservative Republicans in Washington would agree are utterly ridiculous, the kind of thing you'd get if you asked a bunch of elementary school students to come up with a plan. "Sunset all regulations," they say. What could possibly go wrong with that? Here, take a bite of your E. coli burger. "Broadcast all non-security meetings and votes on C-SPAN and the Internet." Well, C-SPAN already does that in Congress. Are you talking about the executive branch? Is it really important or feasible that we have cameras rush in to where the deputy undersecretary of agriculture has a morning meeting with his scheduler to talk about his upcoming trip to the Nebraska Soybean Festival? And do you realize that there are literally thousands of meetings that take place in government every day? Do you know how much we'd have to raise taxes in order to hire the technicians and buy all the equipment to broadcast them all? Oh, no -- more taxes!

-- Paul Waldman

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