Pit Stop by Neil McKenty
There is one difference between Canadians and Americans that is not much remarked on: the difference in their attitude toward government.
By and large, Canadians view government as neutral or even benign. It tries to establish a level playing field and provide a social safety net. For example, Canadians have no big problem with the government running a single payer health care system. Especially one that covers all citizens at about half the cost of the American system. Generally, Canadians are willing to pay higher taxes so that those most disadvantaged in our society may have access to health care and other services, such as low-cost drugs.
Not so Americans.
Many view government as the enemy. They cling to the view once expressed by President Ronald Reagan: “Government is not the solution, government is the problem.”
This view is rampant at the moment. It finds its strongest expression in the Tea Party movement, which finds its inspiration in the anti-government sentiments of the Boston Tea Party.
So far, the tea-partiers are a movement, not a political party. They want fewer taxes, smaller government, and more money on security and defence, which already costs almost $2 billion a day.
Both major political parties have reason to fear the Tea Party movement, the Democrats because the movement paints them as big government and big spenders, if not outright socialists, the Republicans because the Tea Party movement is driving the GOP farther to the right. They are demanding virtually a loyalty oath from the party’s nominees: lower taxes, lower deficits, no abortion, and more money for national defence.
Tea Parties began cropping up around the United States in February of last year, responding with anger to government bailouts of banks and car companies. They then took on the task of defeating Barack Obama’s plan on health care, showing up last summer to disrupt political meetings.
Democrats and some Republicans dismissed them as “Astroturf,” or false grass roots. Few in either party now doubt their influence.
In fact, a recent poll revealed that more people viewed the Tea Party movement favourably than they did either the Democrats or the Republicans. That influence was brought to bear in the fight for the Democratic Senate seat held for 47 years by Senator Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. It’s true the Democrats had a weak candidate and the independents moved heavily to the Republicans, but the Tea Parties were in the thick of the fight. The result was a surprise win by the GOP candidate who ran around in a pickup truck, inveighing against big government and the health bill.
The result of the election defeat in Kennedy’s old seat was a wake-up call for the Obama administration. Obama and his brain trust were advocating more entitlement programs and bigger government at the very time the voters wanted less governmental intrusion into their lives.
Should he have been pushing so hard for a health care bill when the real need was for more jobs in the private sector? It’s the economy, stupid, not socialized health care.
There’s no doubt there is considerable anger in the country against Obama and his poll numbers are dropping. I met several people here in California who don’t think he will win a second term. One retired businessman with whom I played golf in Palm Springs said he couldn’t wait for the 2012 election so he could run Obama out of Washington on a rail. But hold on for a minute. The next national election is all of three years away. Obama’s personal approval ratings are still sky high.
His policy ratings not so much. In the president’s first State of the Union address, he pivoted hard from health care and climate change to the economy and jobs.
And there’s something else. For all its growing influence, the Tea Party movement is a leaderless, ramshackle group whose only unifying plank is to attack big bad government. Is that enough to change a movement into a political party? Hardly. What’s more, the fact that it has no leader means that demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck become its loudest voices—not exactly a plus.
But what about Sarah Palin? Wouldn’t her brand of grass-roots populism and mean invective be tailor-made for the Tea Party movement? She is scheduled to be the main speaker for the tea-partiers at their first national convention, in February—although various factions are squabbling about her $100,000 fee.
But if you think Sarah Palin could be leader of a national party and a serious candidate for the presidency, please read Game Changer, the new pageturning book on the 2008 election.
It recounts in electric detail how John McCain’s senior advisers became concerned that Palin was mentally unbalanced. Her manic mood swings, her stubborn refusal to prepare for her interviews, her scalding rage against the press, all suggested Palin had a screw loose.
They were almost relieved when their candidate lost and Palin would never be a heartbeat from the presidency. I don’t think Obama has much to fear from Sarah Palin. Nor, for that matter, from the likes of Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. When some guy tells you Obama will be a one term president, ask him who will beat him, then listen to him stammer and stutter.
As many expected, President Obama used his first State of the Union address to pivot from health care (which he still wants) to the economy, and jobs. Jobs will be the four-letter mantra for the second year of Obama’s mandate. Other populist issues will include coming down hard on Wall St. and reducing the billowing deficits.
Just imagine the Republicans voting in favour of the bankers. The folks out there—including the tea partiers—will crucify them.
Three years from now, Obama will not be running against Superman. He will be running pretty much against the same rag-tag bunch that lost the last election. Don’t bet he won’t beat them again.