Searching in vain for Tea Partiers’ consistency

SEARCHING IN VAIN FOR TEA PARTIERS’ CONSISTENCY…. President Obama, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, launched military strikes against Libya on Saturday, without caring much whether Congress liked the idea. Most of his White House predecessors have done the same thing, and in each instance, at least a few lawmakers express outrage.

But over the last few days, the loudest cries have come from the left, not the right, and Dennis Kucinich has been far more incensed than any red-state Tea Partier. Dave Weigel wondered why this is.

[O]n Monday, Obama issued a presidential message to Congress explaining why he’d joined an “international effort” and “began a series of strikes against air defense systems and military airfields for the purposes of preparing a no-fly zone.”

This was the 119th message of its kind since the passage of the War Powers Resolution. It was the first since the rise of the Tea Party, the conservative movement that defines everything it does as a way to keep faith with the Constitution. So the relative lack of Tea Party angst over the no-fly zone has been surprising. There is no discussion of Libya happening at Ginni Thomas’ Liberty Central, no statement from Tea Party Patriots or the Tea Party Express.

Weigel largely chalked this up to Tea Party groups being busy elsewhere — activists are focused primarily on fights over spending, not foreign policy. There’s no doubt some truth to that.

But I also think political observers should realize that Tea Partiers don’t always stick to a predictable script, generally because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Yes, there’s a budget fight underway, but from the perspective of Tea Party groups, a radical leftist president just launched a military operation on a foreign land without congressional consent. Tea Party organizations can’t so much as issue a press release?

Well, no, because their alleged obsession with constitutional fealty is quite limited — which is to say, they don’t really care. They have a narrow ideological agenda, and if they can use legal arguments to justify those ends, great. But it’s not like we’re dealing with constitutional scholars itching for a debate over the nuances of Article II, Sec. 2.

Indeed, this seems to come up all the time. In December, when policymakers reached a deal on taxes that would be entirely financed through the deficit, it was tempting to think, “Shouldn’t Tea Partiers, who claim to be obsessed with the deficit, be complaining about this?” But of course they said nothing.

And last summer, during the fight over Wall Street reform, one might have thought, “Shouldn’t Tea Partiers side with consumers over a bunch of bailed out banks and their lobbyists?” But that didn’t happen either.

The point is, we should stop looking for ideological consistency from a group of well-intentioned but easily-misled conservative activists. As I’ve mentioned before, if you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you’d only see one circle.