Populism and Opportunism
One inevitable side effect of any wave of populism is that you’re going to have opportunists looking to latch onto that wave as quickly as they can. With the recent wave of anti-federal sentiment courtesy of the tea party movement, the hollow rings of opportunism have reached a similar crescendo. They range from the somewhat plausible to the laughably transparent (I’m looking at you, Orrin Hatch). To those of us with a track record of opposing the never-ending reach of federal power, it’s galling to find a bunch of wannabes and hypocrites attaching themselves to these ideals while simultaneously stoking the bonfire of crazy that seems to accompany it. It doesn’t just insult our intelligence, it makes us look bad.
A bigger problem is that it becomes very difficult to tell who’s just speaking the language and who really believes that the federal government must be reigned in and power given back to the states. This is only compounded when the frequency and volume of such statements seems to coincide with a run or desire for higher political office. Mark Shurtleff, for instance, didn’t seem to have much to say about federal issues until just before he tossed his hat into the ring for US Senate. Even if he’s sincere, the timing makes him look phony as can be.
That’s the unfortunate problem with the entire tea party crowd. Deficit spending and federal overreach are hardly new. Neither are sweet deals for powerful corporate interests and the politically well-connected. It is very suspicious, then, that members of this movement suddenly find their taste for protesting loudly once the White House changes hands to a Democrat despite the complicity of both parties in the policies they protest. How is anyone supposed to take such a movement seriously when it appears on the surface to be comprised primarily of disaffected Republicans, ones who seem to care more about which party is doing it than that it is being done? Politicos who then attach themselves too readily to this movement pick up some of the same taint.
Voters who truly care about restricting federal power owe it to themselves to not fall for these traps. We must look beyond the hyperbolic public statements and curiously-timed posturing to see what track record lies beneath. A failure to do so is to invite more of the same.