Faced with no other options, the Tea Party has now begun actively rooting for the failure of the American economy. Their high-stakes decision to hold the government hostage to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act will ultimately make or break the Tea Party’s legitimacy as a political institution.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In its earliest stages, the Tea Party rallied support by vowing to defend the American economy from the onslaught of dangerous government overreach. But all of that changed on Oct. 1 when the party shifted its strategy from defending taxpayers to crippling the country’s economy. As we enter our fourth day of a government shutdown, it is important to understand why Tea Party leaders decided that an all-or-nothing last stand had become politically necessary.
Since its rise to power in the 2010 elections, the Tea Party has focused almost exclusively on trying to convince the American people that the Affordable Care Act will wreak havoc on our economy. Opposition to Obamacare has become so central to the movement’s platform that without it, the Tea Party has little reason to exist.
As the launch date of the health care exchanges inched nearer, Tea Party leaders began to see the writing on the wall. Despite voting over 40 times to repeal, delay or defund Obamacare, the Tea Party has been unable to derail the Affordable Care Act from becoming the law of the land. Once the health care policy is implemented, Tea Party leaders can no longer tell horror stories about socialism, death panels and skyrocketing premiums because reality will contradict them.
Afraid Americans would see the real benefits of the health care law, they had no choice but to shut the government down. When the clock struck midnight early Tuesday morning, 800,000 federal workers learned that a few hell-bent members of Congress had forced them out of work to prove a political point.
Last fall when I traveled all across the Northeast to knock on doors for President Barack Obama with other Yale students, I did so because I wanted to see Obama’s policies implemented. In particular, I wanted his health care proposal to come to fruition. The current government shutdown defies the basic ideas of a democracy. One wing of one party of one chamber of Congress is overpowering the will of the American people.
But the Tea Party simply has no incentive to fund the government right now. Ted Cruz, one of the most politically astute members of Congress, knows the only thing worse than the Tea Party being blamed for shutting down the government is the Tea Party being dead wrong on Obamacare. To be clear, Tea Party leaders are not shutting down the government because they fear that the Affordable Care Act will fail to deliver insurance to 30 million Americans.
Their worst nightmare is that the health care law will succeed with flying colors.
To that end, the Tea Party has deliberately tried to sabotage the health care industry, with conservative governors refusing to set up state-based exchanges or expand Medicaid. Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens even bragged that his department is doing “everything in our power to be an obstructionist” to Obamacare.
Fortunately, the Tea Party does not comprise the full membership of the Republican Party. In fact, many reasonable Republicans, including both of the last two Republican nominees for President, have denounced the strategy of holding the economy hostage to delay the Affordable Care Act. But Tea Party members of Congress, protected by gerrymandered districts, have an agenda separate from that of establishment Republicans and have necessarily resorted to extremism as they fight for their political lives.
The next few months will decide the fate of the once-formidable Tea Party. If the Affordable Care Act fails to deliver promised results once coverage begins in January, the Tea Party will cash in on years of political posturing and finally establish their legitimacy on the national stage. But if President Obama’s signature health care law succeeds, ring the death knells for the future of the Tea Party in American politics. Because their 15 minutes of fame are over.
Tyler Blackmon is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.