Now, the speechwriter in me is tempted to name-check Mark Twain: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The problem is, no one else reported it.
That’s because, hello, the Tea Party movement is alive and thriving. It contributed to Scott Brown’s shocking Senate victory in 2010 and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall win in 2012. It was the driving force behind the astonishing 63-seat GOP pickup in the House of Representatives. It was a factor in Gov. Mitt Romney’s selection of a conservative budget hawk, Rep. Paul Ryan, as his running mate.
And its quiet, coiled force is responsible for the widely reported “enthusiasm gap” between likely Democratic and Republican voters. “Their voters are more committed to voting than ours,” admitted Kos of the DailyKos.
As evidence of the Tea Party’s irrelevancy, Dionne pointed to several factors:
1. Romney agreed with President Obama in the third presidential debate. This signaled a “total rout of the right’s ideology, particularly its neoconservative brand,” Dionne wrote.
Yes, Romney praised Obama for taking out Osama bin Laden; he’d be guilty of political malpractice if he did not. But it is the President who has made common cause with neoconservatives on drone strikes, Guantanamo, military tribunals, indefinite detention, and upholding the state secrets doctrine on extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretapping. About the only transparency the administration has shown is revealing secrets of the bin Laden raid (aka, “Operation Spike the Football”).
2. Romney is “hiding the most important details” of his budget plans, such as “slashing” Medicare.
Set aside President Obama’s plundering of $716 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare, a cut that Richard Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary, warned could make about 15 percent of hospitalization providers “unprofitable” within 10 years.
Romney and Ryan have made no secret of their plan to reform and change Medicare for future seniors. America’s aging demographics will “slash” Medicare to pieces if nothing is done to save the program — and doing nothing is the President’s position.
3. The auto bailout was “successful.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Dionne contrasted Romney’s position (“government should just sit by and let the market do its thing”) with Obama’s (“government can come in and correct certain market outcomes and prevent catastrophe”).
Not so fast. As Romney has explained, his position was similar to the President’s. Both favored a managed bankruptcy. The big difference was in how it was managed.
Obama abrogated binding contracts by compensating unions before shareholders. He slashed the pensions and benefits of tens of thousands of non-union employees. He shut down more than 2,000 GM and Chrysler dealerships, shredding franchise agreements and spawning hundreds of lawsuits. And he punted on instituting reforms to ensure long-term solvency.
The result? Taxpayers are still on the hook for about a third of GM stock, according to Forbes.com. And Chrysler is now owned by a foreign company, Fiat. Apples and oranges? More like apples and applesauce.
4. Paul Ryan felt “obligated to forsake his love for [Ayn] Rand.”
It is true that the objectivist philosopher and author has not been a staple of Ryan’s campaign stump speeches. But neither have Saul Alinsky nor the Reverend Jeremiah Wright been staples of Obama’s.
By the way, the anagram of “Ayn Rand” is “Ryan DNA.” Interesting. I may have just uncovered the lede of E.J. Dionne’s next column.
So what is Dionne’s real purpose in declaring the Tea Party dead? He revealed it in his column. “The right wing has lost the election of 2012,” he wrote. “If conservatism were winning, does anyone doubt that Romney would be running as a conservative?”
Aha! We have identified the attempted murderer, and it is the Pundit in the Beltway with the candlestick. Okay, keyboard.
This is old hat for Dionne, who has made a career of declaring conservatism dead. “By the mid-1980s, the conservative revolution had run its course,” he wrote in Why Americans Hate Politics (1991). “Conservatism’s message was neither coherent nor appealing…. Even conservatism’s greatest policy successes seemed to breed conservatism’s political decline.” (Neat trick, that: if you succeed, you fail!)
Dionne is not interested in reporting trends, but in shaping them. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, his message is the same: the American people want bigger, more expensive, more Washington-centric government to solve society’s ills.
“It turns out that there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago,” he wrote last week, dismissing the 2010 mid-term election results.
So how does that square with his claim last December that the “Republican primary electorate has shifted far to the right of Ronald Reagan”? It doesn’t.
Do the math. In 1985, the year after the Reagan landslide, Republicans held 182 House seats, 16 Governorships, and control of 11 state legislatures. Today those numbers are 242, 29, and 26, respectively.
If the Republican Party is far more successful, top to bottom, than in Reagan’s day — and if it has shifted “far to the right” — then the country has shifted far to the right. Ipso facto.
There are two presidential campaigns going on right now. One is for a man, the other for a mandate. E.J. Dionne understands the importance of ideology in American politics. That is why he is working so feverishly to attack a “dead” movement.
John K. Herr is a speechwriter and standup comedian. He has written for three Governors and four Cabinet secretaries, and served in the White House under two Presidents. His standup act has taken him to numerous states and cities, including Las Vegas for the World Series of Comedy. Herr also wrote jokes for former President George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter: @jherricane.