Tea Party backers have been taking a lot of heat from their critics lately. They have been called delusional, addicts, zombies, racists, Hobbits, extremists, and this week Vice President Joe Biden called them “terrorists.” I suppose this is what passes for the “new civility” on the left. But there are definite advantages to being thought of as crazy.
During the recent debt ceiling dispute fiscal conservatives dug in against any tax hikes as part of the final deal. Raising taxes – what the liberals called the “revenue component” – would be foolish in a sputtering economy. But this issue became the Democrats’ rallying point, and President Obama even made a last ditch appeal for new taxes on national television. But his speech flopped, and ultimately the liberals caved.
One reason the left gave up on new taxes was that they believed their own hype about the Tea Party. A hard deadline for default was looming, and fiscal conservatives were not budging from their anti-tax position. The liberals were afraid that Tea Party “radicals” would rather face an economic meltdown \ than compromise on the tax issue. So in the end the Democrats blinked and abandoned the “revenue component,” politically wounding Mr. Obama but paving the way for a debt ceiling deal. Mr. Biden calls that “terrorism,” but it is really just the art of the deal.
Ronald Reagan made good use of his reputation for irrational extremism. During the transition period between President’s Carter and Reagan, a rumor began to spread that one of the incoming president’s first actions in office would be to deal harshly with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was then holding 52 Americans hostage. Mr. Reagan had been described in very unflattering terms during the presidential campaign; he was called senile, a throwback, a warmonger, and a nuclear cowboy, among other things. The Iranians had come to believe that Mr. Reagan was unstable and unpredictable, and could not be pushed around like Mr. Carter. And according to former Reagan National Security Advisor Richard Allen, the transition team was quietly feeding this rumor, playing into the negative stereotypes that the left had pinned on the Gipper. The ploy worked; the hostages were released virtually the minute Mr. Reagan took office. Like the Tea Partiers, Mr. Reagan was crazy all right – like a fox.