Victories come in many sizes. The Battle of the Little Bighorn, for example, at first seemed an overwhelming win for the Sioux. But it soon became clear their success would not last. Who really won the Alamo? The Mexicans? Try telling that to a Texan. So, who won the Battle of the Shutdown 2013? The conventional view is that the Tea Party Republicans were seen off by the congressional leadership in both parties. Having made their protest, disrupted the nation and cost Americans a great deal in anxiety, time and treasure, they lost the battle — but promise to resume the war another day. Perhaps as early as January.
While moderation appears to have triumphed and dogmatic extremism held at bay, the 800,000 federal workers and those who need their services were the obvious losers of the budget and debt ceiling battle. But so were those who hoped to derail the Affordable Care Act, freeze federal government spending and balance the budget.
A complete audit of the shutdown, however, shows the Tea Partiers suffered a more profound setback than they would like to admit — or perhaps even know. The exact philosophy of the Tea Party is hardly clear, but in as much as there is a manifesto it states: the government is too big and should shrink; government borrowing is out of control and the nation should live within its means; big business executives are unfairly propped up by government even when they make sizable mistakes; the government should stop manipulating the dollar through quantitative easing, and taxes should be reduced but never be raised.
It is a visceral creed, born of anger at the government’s bailout of the bankers in 2008-9 and the scale of the borrowing to prevent a full-blown slump, heavy on dogma but light on intellectual rigor. It could be called Austria Lite — all the prejudices of the big conservative thinkers without the trouble of having to read what they wrote.
The scale of the revolution that the Tea Party is attempting to foment is vast. It would turn the last 80 years of the federal government’s largely bipartisan social and economic policy on its head. It would entail closing government departments, privatizing popular entitlements like Social Security and Medicare and shrinking the military by withdrawing U.S. troops from abroad. It would mean deliberately slowing the pace of economic growth, returning to “sound money” that does not inflate and forcing Congress to stop spending other people’s money.