The Tea Party is Going Down. Dysfunction is Not.

tags: Republican Party, Tea Party



John B. Judis is a senior editor at The New Republic.

...[T]here is reason to fear that the country has not seen the end of “instability, injustice and confusion.” A host of factors have fed middle-American radicalism in the past century—the threat of communism, the rise of the civil rights and feminist movements. But the most recent incarnation was the product of the economic forces that created the Great Recession. If the economy continues to stumble, something resembling the Tea Party will materialize again.

Looking at the economic history of the United States or Europe over the last century, what stands out is the vital role that public spending has played during recessions. Public spending has also stimulated new sources of growth and investment, and promoted equality by using part of the profits generated by the private economy to fund social programs. Government spending as a percentage of GDP rose from the low single digits in the 1920s to about 20 percent in the decades after World War II. The rise of public spending is an indicator in advanced capitalist countries of the greater responsibility governments feel toward the welfare of their citizens.

Skeptics of the New Deal like to say that World War II ended the Great Depression, but that’s still an acknowledgment that a burst of public spending was essential to reviving the economy. Faced with the Great Recession, Obama took this experience into account by boosting spending. However, while this prevented a recurrence of the Great Depression, he didn’t raise public spending enough to prevent an initial increase in unemployment. That awakened century-old American suspicions—historian Louis Hartz called it Americans’ “Lockian” liberalism—that big government was responsible for the country’s economic ills. Many Americans came to believe that increased spending was the cause of growing unemployment. That conviction, erroneous but deeply felt, fueled the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican landslide in 2010....



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