Impressions of Tea Partiers
By Arnold Kling
I am missing Matt Ridley, Arthur Brooks, and Jeff Miron speak in DC this week because I am in Indiana. The first leg of my trip was to do a “house concert” for a group of about 35 people, many of whom are sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.
By the way, Indiana is the home of the latest “family-values” Congressman to be caught in a sex scandal. My sense is that Tea Partiers are angry but not surprised. They have come to expect very little from politicians.
They asked intelligent, informed questions, mostly about the prospects for our monetary and fiscal system. They were not the equivalent of econ grad students by any means, but they were definitely more interested in current events, better read, and much more engaged than the students I had taught a few years ago at George Mason in “economics for the citizen,” which is a class for non-majors. My guess is that the people in my audience had less formal education than my non-economist liberal friends, but they were more diverse and independent in their thinking. For these people, unlike my liberal friends, it is obvious why a “right to health care” is a misguided notion.
I say this because President Obama and the media are likely to focus attention on the stupidest lines that come out of the Tea Party movement. We are going to read over and over again that there is no public support to cut government spending, that the populists have no ability to govern, and so forth. I know that there are polls that purport to show that. But we have not run the experiment in which political leaders explain that spending needs to be cut, they cut spending, and people react to the reality afterward. My guess is that such an experiment would fare well, which may be why political leaders are reluctant to try it.
The political class does not want to take the Tea Party movement at its word. Instead, it wants to dismiss them as angry, bigoted, and ignorant. That is an obviously self-serving approach for the political class, and I think it is unfair.
When I discussed the knowledge-power discrepancy, which is the theme of Unchecked and Unbalanced, the audience understood. The political class does not. In that sense, in the conflict between the Tea Party movement and the political class, it is the political class that is in the wrong.