Teatopian America?

Slate's Reihan Salam offers us a vision of what America might look like if the Tea Party achieved its aims and was able to implement the necessary changes in how government at all levels operates and shifts more of the power and responsibility away from Washington and mack to the states and municipalities.

I have to admit that at first I thought this was going to be a snarky piece that would do its best to paint the Tea Party as some kind of right wing theocracy, but as I read it I found Salam did a pretty decent job trying to stay to the topic and not stray off into political diatribe. However there were times when he skirted at the edge of doing so, but then pulled back.

One reason it is challenging to describe Teatopia is that Republicans who identify with the Tea Party movement are diverse in their ideological inclinations. Some Tea Party conservatives favor limiting immigration. Others, including the deep-pocketed Koch brothers, believe that welcoming immigrants of all shapes, sizes, and skill levels is a bedrock principle of Americanism.

Deep divisions notwithstanding, there are a number of principles that unite the movement. The most important of them is a devotion to subsidiarity, which holds that power should rest as close to ordinary people as possible. In practice, this leads Tea Party conservatives to favor voluntary cooperation among free individuals over local government, local government over state government, and state government over the federal government. Teatopia would in some respects look much like our own America, only the contrasts would be heightened. California and New York, with their dense populations and liberal electorates, would have even bigger state governments that provide universal pre-K, a public option for health insurance, and generous funding for mass transit.

More conservative states, meanwhile, would compete to go furthest and fastest in abandoning industrial-era government. Traditional urban school districts would become charter districts, in which district officials would provide limited oversight while autonomous networks of charter schools would make the decisions about how schools are run day-to-day. Parents would be given K–12 spending accounts, which could be spent on the services provided by local public schools and on a range of other educational services, from online tutoring to apprenticeships designed to provide young people with marketable skills.

I much prefer the mix as described above as it does foster innovation in government and does not apply a one-size-fits-all solutions to problems that tend to be regional in nature. That has certain been a failing with the federal government since the late 60's and it's gotten nothing but worse since then.

Will all of the social engineering programs that have had the opposite effect from the intended ones survive such a change? Obviously not. Many of the existing federal agencies agencies and programs would disappear, some devolving to the states deciding to keep them as is and others either ending or modifying them to serve the needs of a state's citizens, staying with the state's means of funding it, and ensuring it doesn't mutate into another unresponsive and expensive bureaucratic monster.

But the big issue is that the existing government as it is structured, meaning primarily the Executive branch, would change in ways that are long overdue. Power that had been usurped by the federal government would return to the states where it belongs. Again, the one-size-fits-all mentality would end.

The goal of Tea Party federalism is not for states to serve as “laboratories of democracy,” in which programs that work in Houston are eventually adopted across the country by dint of federal pressure. State governments wouldn’t serve as a kind of minor-league farm system for the big leagues in Washington, D.C. Rather, the goal would be for different states to offer different visions of the good life. Citizens would vote with their feet in favor of the social-democratic societies that would emerge in Vermont and the Bay Area or the laissez-faire societies that would emerge in large stretches of the Mountain West. The Tea Party movement sees this approach as the best way to honor and reflect what you might call America’s normative diversity—a diversity that has less to do with ethnicity and race and more to do with the virtues that we as communities want to cultivate in our children, and that we want to see reflected in our collective institutions.

I disagree with the “laboratories of democracy” statement, at least when it comes to successful experiments being adopted by other states. I agree with the premise that the federal government shouldn't mandate adoption across the board because, yet again, the one-size-fits-all solution doesn't work, particularly in those states that don't have the problem the solution is supposed to address. It will be up to the individual states to decide what they will or will not adopt, period. Creating a homogeneous society with identical laws, regulations, and societal structures means that we would become a boring, and in the end, moribund country. It is the differences that makes this country an interesting place, not the similarities. Not that similarities are automatically a bad thing, but they shouldn't be the only thing that defines us.

Would “Teatopia” be a perfect place? No, of course not. No such place exists. But I think we'd find it to be a much more vibrant, open, and welcoming place to those who value their freedoms and have the drive to succeed. Not that a social safety net wouldn't exist, but it would be much smaller because a larger one wouldn't be needed. The multigenerational government dependence would no longer exist, nor would the entitlement mentality so aptly fostered starting with the Great Society 'reforms' of 1965. We would be a nation of doers, not whiners.

Does the article linked at the top paint a fairly accurate picture of what Teatopia might look like? Probably not. It borders on snarkiness, but still tries to stay on target. In the comments, on the other hand, the long knives come out and we see the same tired and inaccurate depictions of Tea Party beliefs (“They want to create a Christian theocracy and keep women barefoot and pregnant!”). I support the Tea Party, specifically its focus on the Constitution and smaller government. I could care less about the social issues as in the end they are unimportant if government at the federal, state, and local level is too big, too inertia laden because of multiple layers of unneeded bureaucracy, and incapable of responding or performing its duties in a timely and efficient fashion. If government fails to perform its function, then the rest of those oh-so important social issues don't matter.

We are very close to that point, at least at the federal level, because the proverbial left hand of government has absolutely no idea what the right hand of government is doing, and more often than not they work at cross-purposes without even realizing it. Is iy any wonder the grassroots Tea Party wants to change that? Goodness knows we aren't getting our taxpayers dollar's worth as it is now.