Your "Must Have" is My Option

Published March 23, 2012

A new book stimulates interesting discussion. “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” written by a Harvard professor and a Harvard researcher looks at the impact and consequences of the Tea Party movement.

The two interviewed Tea Party members and actually attended Tea Party meetings to ascertain what this movement stands for. Among other conclusions, the authors’ research refutes the assumption that all Tea Party advocates are opposed to big government, or even most any government. What Tea Party members don’t support, they say, is government spending on “undeserving” recipients, including undocumented immigrants, lower income people and youth. The typical Tea Party member is more likely to be white, older and with higher incomes than the average American. People in this movement view Social Security and Medicare as programs for the “deserving,” people who have worked hard and spent their lives earning these benefits. Never mind they are government benefit programs.

We won’t even get into the absurdity or validity of this movement or even the authors’ conclusions, but speaks to the best and worst in government and in our country. All of us, whether liberal, conservative or centrist, can cite public programs we embrace and think essential, and we are just as likely to identify other programs we think wasteful, ineffective and deserve of elimination. Your “must have” program or service may well be one I think optional or even deserves to be scrapped. This isn’t new; it’s long been one of the endearing qualities of this wonderful republic. We have brought our disparate ideas, desires and needs forward, debated them and have been able to reach a consensus or compromise for much of our history.

The German politician Otto Von Bismarck said, “politics is the art of the possible.” What we have now is neither art nor possible. Gone are the days when, at the end of a day Republicans and Democrats would gather in House Speaker Sam Rayburn’s office for drinks, camaraderie and discussion of the issues of the day. The partisan factions of the moment aren’t even willing to be in the same room with each other, much less debate ideas. If I don’t agree with you on every point, we are enemies and you won’t have anything to do with me.

There was once a time when we pointed North, saying paralysis in government happened in Washington. Thank God we didn’t have this condition in the Old North State. But it’s here, it’s real and it is troubling. At a time when we need the best of all thinking to find our way we are wandering in the wilderness, shouting at each other. We will not move ahead as long as there must be either winners or losers.

In this year when we will choosing leadership, let us discern between those candidates who are more interested in political posturing, advocating a “my way or the highway” mentality and those who are interested in consensus, making decisions, seeking solutions to problems - regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats. We need leaders willing to help you get your “must haves” so they can get theirs. There’s no problem with that appraoch so long as all is done for the common good, not special interests.