The Tea Party goal of achieving nonpartisanship


Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature has been hailed for being uniquely nonpartisan, but the Nebraska Republican Party would like to see that change.

Republicans at the GOP convention earlier this month put forth a platform that includes support for moving from a nonpartisan Legislature to a two-party Legislature.  GOP chairman Mark Fahleson said that it’s been in the platform for at least eight years.  Why?  He believes many Republicans have concluded the nonpartisan Legislature is a façade.  “The Nebraska Legislature is partisan,” he said.

And the Democrats realize that, as evidenced by their “caucusing and plotting ways to undermine Nebraska Republican Governor Dave Heineman’s agenda,” Fahleson said.

“Pretending there are no party labels inside the rotunda only benefits the Democrats,” he said via email. “If the Democrats were required to list their party affiliation on the ballot, their membership in the Legislature would dwindle even farther, since the vast majority of Nebraskans do not support the Nebraska Democratic Party’s agenda of higher taxes and a more expansive and costly government.”

The state Democratic Party’s chairman-elect, Vince Powers, said that pretty much sums up how Republicans look at everything through a political lens.

“It’s unfortunate that they view everything out of this fierce partisanship,” he said. “They want to be able to exercise complete control over members of their party who are in the Legislature. … Look how good that’s working out for the country.  They want to bring Washington, D.C., gridlock partisanship to Lincoln Nebraska.  Bad idea.”{1}

If you spend any time listening to political, talk radio shows, you’ll hear someone call in on the issue of partisanship, and they’ll usually say that the problem with our political discourse has to do with party affiliations.  “If we could just get rid of the labels Democrat and Republican, government officials could all get along, and they might actually get things done.”  The problem with this caller’s line of thought is that there is a distinct divide in the aisle of thinking.  If we did away with the labels, it would do nothing to bridge the divide between a federal Senator Chuck Schumer (D,NY) and  a Tom Coburn (R,OK).  These two seasoned politicians have decidedly different philosophies about how to get things done, and taking away their party affiliations will do nothing to stop them from philosophically ramming each other on the Senate floor.  This is not to say that Nebraska’s chairman-elect Vince Powers doesn’t have a point, however, when he talks about the gridlock in Washington.

Everyone has heard the mainstream media describe Republicans as partisans, and Democrats as bipartisan.  We all do this of course.  We all think the other party’s guys are partisan guys, and our guys are weak-kneed bipartisans when they compromise on a bill.  We’ve also heard of a bill being approached in a bipartisan manner, but how often do we hear a bill approached in a nonpartisan manner?  How many current politicians sitting in our seats in Washington can be described as nonpartisan?  Descriptions usually fall along the lines of: “He is not as partisan as some other guy,” but with very few exceptions the adjective nonpartisan is not used very often these days to describe politicians or bills.

Attend any Tea Party rally, and you’ll hear this line repeated quite often: “…and Republicans are just as guilty of this as Democrats.”  Most of the Tea Party members you’ll meet would prefer a nonpartisan politician over a Republican, even though 94% of Tea Party members align themselves with the Republican Party.  Most of them would tell you that the Republican Party is simply the lesser of two evils as far as they’re concerned, and if they felt like they had a choice they would vote for an independent or a libertarian.  They might even vote for a Democrat politician if that Democrat offered them something more in line with their thinking.  The problem with voting for a libertarian or independent, at this moment in history, is that it would essentially be a wasted vote.  The problem with voting for a lone Democrat that put forth ideas and ideals that were somewhat close to the Tea Party’s is that once that politician enters Washington, he (Ben Nelson) usually gets bullied into voting the party line by his party’s leadership.  The point is that while most Tea Party members are registered Republicans, they are not as hard core as some may think.  The Republican Party simply comes closer to matching their conservative, individualist ideals.

Despite what those who despise the grass roots movement would have you believe, the Tea Party was not formed to help the Republican Party win elections.  The Tea Party began in the wake of the TARP legislation that was passed under George W. Bush.  This “Too Big to Fail” type of legislation, combined with the Prescription Drug Act, and finally the fear of something called Obamacare brought most people out to attend Tea Party rallies.  What Obama, and the 111th Congress, promised worried Tea Party members, but it hadn’t achieved reality when the first Tea Party groups started meeting.  The point is that if Obama, and the 111th Congress, entered Washington with a nonpartisan approach to ending “Too Big to Fail” type legislation, some Tea Party members may have started voting Democrat.

President Barack Obama, and the 111th session of Congress, as we all know only furthered this legislative course, and this progression appears to now be influencing some Democrat voters, as a CNN piece suggests.  The CNN piece is titled: “Disgruntled Democrats join the Tea Party.”

It lists a McGovern, Carter, and Gore Democrat voter named Ann Ducket, saying that President Barack Obama has “carried things to an extreme.  I think we’ve gone too far on the side of government doing too much.  The Democrat Party (wants) to take care of everyone, instead of helping everybody stand on their own two feet.”

The piece also lists a lifelong Democrat, named Roxanne Lewis, expressing a similar point of view.  She stated that she voted for Barack Obama because she “believed in what he was saying: change.  I should’ve listened a lot closer when he talked about spreading the wealth. ” Asked how she feels about having voted for the president, Lewis said “I feel lied to, cheated and raped.”

Finally, the CNN piece lists a David Saucedo who is a rapper and community activist who frequently appears at Tea Party rallies.  Though he eventually voted for GOP Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, he said he was initially impressed with the president.  Now Saucedo has turned into an Obama critic. “A lot of the things he says sound good, until you look at the consequences of what they will do on the long term.”{2}

This isn’t to suggest that it is only Democrats that have angered the nonpartisan seeking Tea Party members.  When primary candidate Rick Santorum (R, PA) said: “I have to admit, I voted for (No Child Left Behind), it was against the principles I believed in, but you know, when you’re part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader.”

The specifics of the man’s vote weren’t what enraged Tea Party members so much as the general line of thought.  Santorum was basically admitting that he voted with the team and for the team, so that his team would win.  The statement basically pleaded with voters to understand that that’s just how things are done in Washington.  It enraged Tea Party members, because it suggested that they were naïve to believe that they were going to change anything in the ways things are done.  Politics is a team game, Santorum basically said, and some of the times principles lose in that game.  Some of the times you principled people lose.  Get used to it.

Santorum was basically saying that he was being a team player, a partisan, a good Republican.  The notion he was trying to get across was that he was not a weak-kneed bipartisan.  Santorum knew that Tea Party members loathed the last bipartisan, media-endorsed “maverick” who ran for president, so Santorum thought he could get some political points for being a partisan Republican.  What he failed to realize was that Tea Party members don’t want a partisan, or a bipartisan, candidate.  They want a nonpartisan candidate that acts in the best interests of the individuals of this country, and that latter point has been the elusive notion that very few politicians have been able to grasp.

How can Tea Party members seek a politician that is not partisan or bipartisan?  Are they being overly demanding and naïve contrarians?  To answer this question we return to the divide in the aisle.  There is a divide in the philosophies of liberals and conservatives, and most Tea Party members are more conservative in nature than Republican.  They seek conservative ideals that they largely see as being nonpartisan in a greater sense.  A partisan seeks what is best for their party, and a bipartisan seeks what is best for his partisan politics while conceding some of his philosophical purity for the other party’s beliefs.  It’s this primary concern with parties that Tea Party members see as the problem.  When writing legislation, partisans and bipartisans are both trying to appeal to the platforms of respective parties with the implication being that by crossing party politics you will make all of the people happy all of the time.  They also think that by doing this they will be doing what is best for the country.  This is the mindset that most Tea Party members are trying to change, regardless how naïve some like Santorum may believe it is.

The original Tea Party rallies met to suggest that this lesser used adjective “nonpartisan” should be brought back into the conversation.  Tea Party members wanted a Jim DeMint (R, SC) type politician that would “watchdog” his own party as well as the other one.  Nonpartisan, unpartisan, and statesmen, were the terms The Tea Party wanted to use to describe their ideal politician that didn’t care if the president was from their party, they wanted someone who didn’t care what their party’s leadership said when it came time to vote, and they wanted a politician who claimed that their only boss was their district, their state, or the group of people that sent them to office.

Calling for nonpartisan politics may sound naïve and idyllic, but The Tea Party was formed to revitalize the notion that we need to change the nature in which we view politics in general.  They seek the naïve ideal of returning legislative seats back to the people, so that no seat in a local legislature, a federal seat, or any other seat occupied by politicians and appointees are “their” seats in the manner that we call a legislative seat a “Kennedy seat” or a “Ben Nelson seat”.  They seek to reintroduce the idea that no party’s opinion should matter more than the other party’s, unless it provides greater freedom, less government, and subsequently more benefits the individuals of the nation.  The Tea Party is tired of the politician that says all the right things on the campaign trail and enters into the insular world of party politics where they lose sight of the best interests of the individuals that put them in office.  Simply removing the prefixes Republican and Democrat will not accomplish this goal.  It’s the mindset they have–and the one we have of them–that has led us down this dark alley of partisan and bipartisan politics in our governments.  Whether or not the Tea Party’s name has been too sullied for some to align with, most would have to admit that their pursuit of nonpartisan politics has been a noble one.

{1}http://watchdog.org/45159/republican-platform-calls-for-ending-nonpartisan-legislature/ {2}http://articles.cnn.com/2010-04-02/politics/democrats.tea.party_1_tea-party-express-disgruntled-democrats-voted?_s=PM:POLITICS

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