The limited applications of Tea Party ideology

THE LIMITED APPLICATIONS OF TEA PARTY IDEOLOGY…. Stories like these remain common, but I continue to find them entertaining and illustrative. (thanks to Dave for the tip)

Mike Murphree is as sympathetic as anyone to Senator Jim DeMint and his crusade against earmarks, those pet projects financed by Congress, usually out of the public eye. Mr. Murphree is chairman of the Charleston Tea Party and sees earmarks as a root cause of overspending and political corruption.

But even Mr. Murphree, 48, a general contractor, has split with Mr. DeMint on one particular earmark that many here see as vital to the region. It would advance plans to deepen the Port of Charleston, just outside the city limits [of Mount Pleasant, S.C.], to accommodate the mega cargo ships that will be calling once the Panama Canal is expanded in 2014.

At issue is a $400,000 earmark for the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study. For locals, the taxpayer money would be well spent, which is why leading Tea Party activists like Mike Murphree have endorsed the earmark. Even right-wing gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley (R), a favorite of the party’s base, wants the federal government to pony up.

This year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another ostensible opponent of government spending and earmarks, requested this earmark specifically. “I’m all for change and all for reform,” Graham told the NYT. “But this is where the reality of governing rears its ugly head.”

You don’t say.

For the right, government-by-platitudes is surprisingly easy. Spending is bad, earmarks are bad, taxes are bad. They tend to run into a little trouble when this worldview runs into practical applications.

South Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Jim DeMint, continues to be a “purist” on these issues, so he hasn’t backed Graham’s request. And as it turns out, the port’s plans won’t proceed unless both of South Carolina’s senators are on board.

By sticking to conservative principles above all else, DeMint is hurting his constituents and his state’s competitiveness — and wouldn’t you know it, his conservative fans in South Carolina aren’t at all pleased, since they’re suffering the consequences of DeMint’s ideology.

Of course, they agree with that ideology when DeMint is blocking funding for other people. But with South Carolina poised to lose billions of dollars in commerce and thousands of jobs, even South Carolina Tea Partiers are discovering the limits of their worldview.

One local told the Times, “Senator DeMint’s heart is in the right place, but he’s wrong on this issue.” Another said, “Allow the earmark. This is not an abuse. This is not a bridge to nowhere. This is a bridge to somewhere.”

What the right generally refuses to realize is that the same sentiment could be expressed for just about every spending project.