Why Democrats Should Not Dismiss Tomorrow’s Tea Parties

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teapartyTomorrow night there will be anti-tax tea parties held all across the country. These events should be intended to express concern not just over President Obama’s stimulus package, which I support, but more broadly the bipartisan addiction of government to spending. Given that, in just eight years, President Bush managed to more than double the national debt, I think it’s fair to ask how much debt will ultimately be more debt than our nation can handle. In the wake of our fiscal mess, in the wake of the early stages of President Obama’s audacious prime-the-pump plan to fix it, doesn’t there — couldn’t there — come a moment when in a nonpartisan, look-at-the-statistics way, we can inquire when this debt will reach beyond our government’s ability to fund it? Why, in a nonpartisan way, couldn’t that moment come tomorrow?

So when I read the mission statement for the New York tax-day tea party, it gave me hope:

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Thank you for supporting the national Tea Party movement and the New York City Tea Party.

The NYC Tea Party is a non-partisan group that strictly supports fiscal responsibility at all goverment levels.

Like you, we are fed up. Our government spending is out of control and is bankrupting America`s future generations. We cannot sit by idly and accept this reckless behavior. And we won`t.

Get that? We’re talking fiscal responsibility at all government levels — Democrats in Massachusetts and Republicans in Idaho and all in between. Period.

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Now, as a Democrat, am I concerned that the tea parties will be hijacked by the GOP? Yes, I am. And no, I do not plan to change my party affiliation. But I do think the GOP, despite its numbers sliding in the polls and down dramatically in Congress, must serve as a counter to the Democrats. The only thing worse than a two-party system is a one-party system. And yes, the GOP’s fervor for fiscal restraint is pretty disingenuous: When the GOP held Congress during the first six years of Bush’s term, it was they who green-lit Bush’s debt doubling. So a pox on the both houses. My point is this: all Americans have an interest in fiscal restraint. It must be nonpartisan issue.

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Let me just be clear. I do believe the stimulus package is necessary to save the nation. And yes, I think things are that dire and to suggest they’re not is unrealistic. At the same time, I’m concerned — I’m unsure to what degree the Obama Administration has been drilling down as it promised to, line by line, to eliminate waste. Isn’t government waste — let alone government spending — the crack of politics?

So Democrats don’t win by ignoring tomorrow’s tea parties — indeed, they would win if they supported the idea and lent it’s best and brightest speakers to some of the events. Because, as I say, fiscal responsibility is an American issue. Does this mean we will inevitably define different aspects of fiscal restraint differently? Sure we will — but that doesn’t mean fiscal restraint cannot also be the shared American ideal. I will attend the tea party in Manhattan tomorrow night not because I’m a Democrat or a Republican, but because I’m an American. My nation comes first.

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UPDATE #1: This essay will be published on the Fox Forum shortly.

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UPDATE #2: This op-ed, published in the Staten Island Advance, also clarifies for me the nonpartisan nature of this event. Here’s an excerpt:

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Let me try to clarify to the public the original message of these “tea parties”: They are are supposed to send a message to both political parties that the silent majority resents the rehearsed actions of both Big Government and Big Business in bilking the taxpayer so that both sides can survive the crisis while the taxpayer suffers.

Both Wall Street and irresponsible homeowners took on too much risk during the housing bubble, they both should be the ones that fail. They should not get bailouts. Bailouts shift the losses from those who were irresponsible to those who were fiscally responsible, and that is wrong.It was the coordinated action by both parties that led us to this crisis to begin with. It was the shady actions of the large banks along with the complicit actions of the highest levels of government that got us to this point. Bernie Madoff was a microcosm of this system: His Ponzi scheme wouldn’t have hurt so many people if the SEC (which knew what he was up to) did its job and prosecuted him sooner.

To those Republicans who want to use this to bash Democrats, ask yourselves these questions. Who bailed out the banks last year? Who started to bail out AIG? GM? Is the blame entirely on the Democrats?