Caricatures of themselves

CARICATURES OF THEMSELVES…. Over the last couple of years, a certain caricature of Tea Party Republicans has emerged. This is a group of well-intentioned folks who bring a great passion to public affairs, but who aren’t especially well informed, don’t really understand the issues they seem to care about, and have bizarre priorities they struggle to defend.

With that in mind, ABC’s “This Week” yesterday hosted a “Tea Party Panel” featuring four far-right House Republicans — Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.), Steve Southerland (Fla.), Joe Walsh (Ill.), and Allen West (Fla.). Putting aside whether such a panel is a good idea, after watching the segment, that caricature is starting to look pretty accurate.

It’s tough to know where to start, exactly, since the gibberish-per-sentence ratio was strikingly high, but let’s focus for now on one noteworthy exchange. Host Christiane Amanpour noted that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, among others, believe it’s critically important for Congress to do the right thing on the debt ceiling. She asked Allen West if he agreed. He replied:

“Well, one of the things, having served 22 years in the United States military, I don’t believe in leadership by fear and intimidation. I think that leaders have to come up with viable solutions, I agree with one of the things that Joe Walsh just brought up, we need to have a balanced budget amendment.

“We need to put in spending control measures, such as a cap on federal government spending. I say 20 percent, because that’s historically a good spot to be at. Right now federal government spending per the GDP is about 24 percent, and the president is going to take it up to 25 or 26 percent.

“But I think also now is a great time where we can cut our corporate business tax rate in half, bring it from 35 percent down from 22 to 20 — 20 to 22 percent. Because there’s a lot of capital just sitting out there we could use to invest in long-term sustainable job growth.

“But the most important thing, we should have some type of trigger mechanism so that when you reach a certain percentage of getting close to this debt limit, there are automatic spending cuts that come right in.”

First, it’s rather hilarious for West to denounce “leadership by fear and intimidation,” not only because Geithner and Bernanke are simply stating facts, but because of West’s background. The right-wing Floridian has, for example, associated himself with a dangerous outlaw gang, urged his supporters to make one of his rivals “scared to come out of his house,” and recommended right-wing activists remain “well armed.”

Second and more important is West’s policy vision. In the name of deficit reduction, he wants spending caps, a balanced budget amendment, and automatic spending reductions — all of which would cause drastic consequences for the government’s ability to do much of anythng — and he wants to cut corporate taxes in half, which would make the deficit worse.

West’s ideas are incoherent and dangerous, but lest anyone think he’s just some random nut, and not representative of the radical Republican faction, his rhetoric was entirely in line with what his colleagues were saying on the same program.

That these folks are helping shape federal law, and are weighing the possibility of destroying the economy on purpose, made watching the segment deeply unsettling.