Dick Armey on theTea Party movement: The new majority?
Monday, February 8, 2010; 1:00 PM
Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader (R-Tex.), chairman of FreedomWorks and a leader in the Tea Party movement, were online Monday, Feb. 8, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the party's first grass-roots convention, how he feels the movement will impact this year's midterm elections and the importance of Sarah Palin.
Burbank, Calif.: The Electoral College map looks bleak for Republicans. How do you believe the Tea Bag movement will operate to get Republicans to a majority of the Electoral votes? Where do you see your movement as tilting Democratic states to the Republican column?
Dick Armey: Hello folks, thanks for inviting me. This is Dick Armey from Dallas, Texas. Lets get stated. President Obama and Speaker Pelosi can thank Howard Dean's '50 State strategy' for laying the ground work for the Democrat landslide in 2008. The tea party movement is much the same, and tea party groups exist in every state and city across the country. Back in December I was invited to an event in Brooklyn. I know groups that exist in places like San Francisco. It is because of this national network you will begin to see small government folks win in places like Massachusetts. As for specific states to watch, I expect to see conservatives pick up in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arkansas, and Colorado.
Deerfield, Ill.: I keep hearing that the Tea Party is anti-this and anti-that. What are they actually for?
Dick Armey: The tea party movement believes that government has grown too large and spends too much money. Our public policy process has elected officials on the inside who create the legislation, and citizens on the outside who pressure lawmakers. Currently, the levers of power in Washington are manned by people who put government solutions first. Right now President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Reid hold all the levers of power. This movement has learned from Saul Alinsky that the powerless take to the streets. First step is to stop bad policy. Second step is to get the right folks elected that will advance a small government policy agenda. Third step for the movement is to support the that agenda. We are only at step one.
DePere, Wisc.: To me, it sounds like the Tea Party is just Republicans in disguise. How do members of the Tea Party differ from Republicans?
Dick Armey: Most of the activists I meet in the tea party movement are independent voters. They may have once been Republicans, but are more interested in policy. By definition political parties are interested in politics. Republicans often pay lip service to limited government values, so they are closer to the tea party movement. At the end of the day you either get elected as a republican or democrat with a few exceptions. I back Doug Hoffman in NY 23 as an independent. This movement will influence both republicans and democrats, but has the greatest chance of success is in taking over the GOP.
Herndon, Va.: Economics 101 says a government should run a balanced budget or surplus during good economic times and deficits during recessions. Why no grumbling during the Bush administration (where two wars were kept off budget) and all the hubbub now? What has Obama added to the deficit other than responses to the recession he inherited?
Dick Armey: This movement got its start under the Bush years. My group FreedomWorks was vocal in opposing the Bush spending. I wrote op-eds against Medicare Part D since it was a new entitlements we could not afford. The earliest tea parties were organized back in late 2007 against the Freddie and Fanny bailouts and stimulus part I. The hubbub reached a fever pitch with the trillion dollar stimulus, health care take over, and cap and trade.
Anonymous: At the price asked to attend, do you really feel this was a grass roots group of the "little people"?
Dick Armey: I believe you are talking about the Nashville event. FreedomWorks did not participate in that event. I believe it is not your best use of money to pay to hear a politician speak at a rally or political event.
Chantilly, Va.: What parts of government spending do tea partiers want to see cut? Will we see placards that say "cut my Medicare and Social Security!" or "cut defense spending"? You know that non-security, non-discretionary spending is a drop in the bucket of total spending. It's entitlements and defense.
Dick Armey: Seems to me most tea party folks I meet want the government to prioritize spending. Across the board cuts seem popular. As for social security and Medicare, many of the small government types would like the option to opt out.
Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Armey, how do you rationalize the worst elements of the GOP, the racists, the white anti-immigrationists, the anti-government militia recruits, coming together to force the GOP further to the right? At what point does common sense and winning majorities in the middle come into play? And for the record I'm a fiscally conservative socially anarchist voter, not loyal to either party. The GOP already has a severe image problem, to the educated, the Tea Baggers and their behavior (interrupting town halls, racist Obama signs, Nazi comparisons) only make it that much worse. Seriously, how do you fix your party?
Dick Armey: The issue that holds the movement together is fiscal conservatism. That is how you keep libertarians and social conservatives in the same room. Even the security conservatives understand you cant have a strong military if you are broke and borrowing form potential adversaries. My guess is the hot rhetoric demagogues will marginalize themselves.
Richmond, Va.: Do you share Rep. Ron Paul's critique of the Federal Reserve? I.e. End the Fed?
Dick Armey: Lets start with returning the fed to its proper role of maintaining a stable currency, and not deflating it.
Los Angeles, Calif.: How should the Republican Party deal with the divisions of its historic support of Main Street businesses and for programs that support businesses, loan guarantees, etc., versus the rising conservatism that such policies are "corporate welfare" and need to end? Is there room in the Republican Party for both factions and, if so, where should they compromise their different views of business support?
Dick Armey: In my view small government conservatives are on the side of the entrepreneur. Big business often seek to grow its market share by colluding with big government. Just look at agriculture subsidies. Too big to fail tramples on the start up. If government is not redistributing goodies, and lets competition work, consumer and main street will win.
State College, Pa.: As a libertarian-leaning person who is completely fed-up with both major parties, I am fully-supportive of the Tea Party movement as it seemed to have started. That is, an unorganized group of people who recognize how bloated, damaging and restrictive our government has become. But it appears that the movement has somewhat transformed into a conservative movement, with all the good (limited government) and bad (social issues) that represents. Having Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker has soured me to a degree. She may be conservative, but she sure isn't libertarian. Am I wrong about this? And more importantly, do those of us who want a smaller government have any hope?
Dick Armey: This is a leaderless movement. That is its strength. If one person tries to get in front, they will be run over. Sarah Palin has a big podium to speak from, but the power behind this movement is when you see your next door neighbors take to the street. Small government folks have hope, because we understand the problem and have the best solutions. We understand that American power is not unlimited and we have to live by economic realties.
Arlington, Va.: To this centrist voter, the Tea Party movement comes across as very hearth and home and me-oriented rather than focused on the common good (we the people). I am leery of it because my image of a Tea Party activist is someone who wants to hold on to what is in his wallet only so as to benefit himself and his family, the heck with anyone else. No one seems to want federal spending, except when it would benefit himself or his family (job re-training programs, extension of unemployment benefits, agricultural subsidies, Medicare). If it's something for other folks, push the auto button and call for it to be abolished, without a thought to what their needs may be.
Jacob Weisberg recently wrote in Slate, "the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. In this respect, the whole country is becoming more and more like California, where ignorance is bliss and the state's bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya's), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives. Middle-class Americans really don't want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs-except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?" As someone associated with the Tea Party who actually knows how government operates, do you see yourself as having a responsibility to get voters to be more mature than they appear now in how they look at spending, budgeting and deficit reduction?
Dick Armey: I am a believer in the power of the individual over the tyranny of the collective. America's great gift to the world is individual liberty. But this individual does not exist in a vacuum, and for our Republic to work citizens need to be part of their families and communities. My own view is let natural organizations build themselves and flourish. Forcing individuals to sacrifice for the collective only empowers the political elites. Its is always easy to spend someone else's money to make your self feel good.
Social Security: Dear Mr. Armey -- it's not so easy to say people can "opt out" of Social Security. Someone who has paid into Social Security their whole working life will not opt out. Furthermore, their benefits are paid by current workers. If the current workers opt out, current beneficiaries will have to be paid somehow.
I know you must understand this situation very well. So why pass off simple solutions to something that is not so simple?
Dick Armey: I have long bee a supporter of letting folks opt out of social security. The transition will be long and costly, but I believe that young workers, say under age of 30, should have a choice if they want to remain in the program or put that money in their own retirement account. As for current beneficiaries, we need to keep our promises.
Hackensack, N.J.: Good Morning Congressman Armey,
Just yesterday I was discussing the Tea Party with a friend of mine on Facebook. It was clear to both of us that first, the Tea Party is genuinely a third party movement, and secondly that the Republican Party was attempting to co-op the Tea Part for its own gain. We didn't know, however, whether the Tea folks would be subsumed into the GOP or whether the Tea would constitute its own party or whether we should expect some third outcome.
As a key figure in the Tea movement and a former GOP leader, what do you see as the movement's future?
Dick Armey: If the GOP becomes the champion of limited government, I would expect that the tea party movement will no longer be necessary. But that saying a lot. I believe the movement is by far stronger being an independent force and pulling both parties to our values. Starting a third party is exhausting to both energy and treasure. After Ross Perot went on the most expensive ego trip in history, what institutionally remain to show for it?
Libertarians vs. social conservatives: Who do you predict will prevail in a struggle between pro-choice libertarians and pro-life social conservatives?
Dick Armey: If we stay focused on the tie that binds, fiscal conservatism, we are in good shape. If we deviate from the path, the big tent will collapse.
Boston, Mass.: What are your feeling towards the Republican leadership trying to get more contributions from Wall St.? Does that not contradict the Tea Party movement?
Dick Armey: Ill let the Republicans answer for that. They are jealous when they see all the Goldman, banking, and pharma money flow to Democrats.
Burlington, Vt. : A.)You say you believe government is too big, but isn't that just a rewording of anti-government or anti-big-government? B.) Where was this movement when the Bush administration was consolidating federal power and running up at-the-time-record deficits? C.) How can you honestly say that Obama, Pelosi and Reid control all the levers of power? I know you were a House member, but surely you've heard of cloture? Filibusters? Super majority?
Dick Armey: Since Newt and I left congress, I've noticed that the White House has become the driver of policy. The President clearly has his agenda, and it virtually impossible for the minority in the house to drive legislation. Our hope is rearguard action in the Senate. That not favorable ground for advancing legislation. I left Congress because I had to give up either being Majority Leader or give up being me. My wife said she married me and not the Majority Leader. I'm not anti-government, that would be an anarchist. I believe government has a constitutional role in protecting our personal and economic liberty, the rule of law, and defense. I do not think the government should run banks or auto companies.
Richmond, Va.: Do you still consider yourself a Republican? Any chance of ever running for public office again?
Dick Armey: No to both questions. I consider myself a Goldwater conservative. It's the next generations turn. I'm pleased to see emerging leaders like Marsh Blackburn form Tennessee and Marco Rubio in Florida. Politics is just about the worst thing on the planet, and I could not put my family through that again. But I do want to do my best to offer my support and encouragement to people willing to fight the good fight.
Richmond, Va.: Have you had an opportunity to look at Paul Ryan's alternate approach to health insurance reform and the budget? What's your opinion of it?
I haven't seen anything with a similar level of policy detail from the tea party movement.
I still happen to think that the Contract with America was a pretty effective campaign strategy for the House Republicans in 1994.
Dick Armey: Paul Ryan reminds me of John Kasich. Kasich was a bull dog in getting a handle on the budget in the mid 1990's, and I give him credit for the budget surpluses. Ryan is smart and I expect that we will hear much from him this summer as the GOP builds legislative alternatives to the trillion dollar deficits proposed by the President. As for his health care proposals, I know it has things like price transparency, and that would be a good thing.
Also, watch for a contract FROM America to come from the tea party activists this summer
San Francisco, Calif.: When asked what spending you would cut, you say opt-out Social Security and Medicare. A few questions later, you say this will be very costly. I still haven't heard the Tea Party push for any real spending cuts. So again, how do you propose putting the government budget into a surplus rather than a deficit?
Dick Armey: CATO and Heritage do an excellent job on the line by line details on how you give individuals the choice to opt in or out of social security. Long term entitlement reform is critical. We need across the board budget cuts. You cant have European sized government without European sized taxes. European sized taxes will permanently reduce economic growth and lead to a stagnant economy with higher unemployment.
We do need to grow ourselves out of the current budget. After you cut spending, I would also reduce taxes that inhibit investment, such as capitol gains payroll taxes. But you cant have tax cuts without budget cuts, and that is where Bush went wrong.
Las Vegas, Nev.: I've checked the Tea Party Express Web site at the bottom of the page is a list of their "partners" I researched the sponsors and came to the conclusion that there is nothing "grassroots" or "independent" about the "Tea Party." Just another outlet for more over-the-top rhetoric from the GOP in a practice known as "astroturfing," which involves setting up front groups that appear to be independent but are, in fact, backed financially by Republicans. What are your thoughts?
Dick Armey: FreedomWorks has been around in one form or another since 1984. That the group I know. We have 450,000 emails in our data base, and regularly recruit and train activists. This is the 'we want less coalition.' If you are looking for Astroturf paid operatives trying to influence the political agenda for special privileges and to redistribute wealth, I would check out the unions. When the left organizes, it is something to celebrate, when the right does it, it is Astroturf. Kind of a double standard don't you think?
London, U.K.: A British minister once said that Members of Parliament were in favour of "general economy and particular expenditure" and I guess it's no different in your country now; everyone wants spending cuts but everyone has some pet project on which more should be spent. When I see scores of representatives calling for cuts in federal expenditure in their own districts I will be impressed. And I will watch the pigs flying past.
Dick Armey: I think we did that from 1994 to about 1998. Then the policy entrepreneurs lost out to the political bureaucrats. The tea party movement is not impressed with earmarks or pork projects. When Tip O'Neil said 'all politics is local,' he was talking to Democrats. I think you hit on what tea party activists are looking for, legislators to stand before them and be celebrated for not bring home the pork.
Richmond, Va.: What's your opinion of the recent Supreme Court decision on removing the restrictions on corporations from running campaign ads?
Dick Armey: I do not think TV ads have nearly the power of grassroots activism so it's not that big of a deal to me.
Health insurance reform: If health insurance can be sold interstate, won't that violate states' rights to regulate the quality of policies in their populace's best interests? If interstate sales are allowed, won't some state become an industry mecca not unlike South Dakota with respect to credit cards, to which so many of the company headquarters flocked because S.D. allows the highest interest rates?
Dick Armey: If I said that folks in Michigan could only buy a car made in Michigan, I would be laughed out of the room. I believe health insurance should be made available across state lines. States are free to regulate it, but citizens should be free to decide what is best for them. I will always err on the side of consumer and individual choice. If no one in New Jersey buys insurance in the state, that should tell the state bureaucrats something.
Boston, Mass.: My guess is you probably won't answer this, but I'll try anyway.
What is the difference between your group and the far left liberals? What I mean is that unless you start a new political party, you will either vote Republican or stay home. Just like the far left will either vote Democrat or stay home.
Dick Armey: This year we have had some strange coalitions. We joined Move On to protest big Pharma. Libertarians and the left have much in common with their mistrust of big business. IT is just that liberals tend to trust big government and we do not. I would expect to see more strange bedfellows coalitions moving forward. Your fear is mine, that if the tea party folks will just as likely stay home if they do not feel they have choice. They did that with McCain.
Cupertino, Calif.: I would like your opinion on the issue of 'giving back.' It strikes me that the single most consistent thread in the tea party's agenda is that, despite living in a country and a society that has given you the opportunity to become wealthy, you feel no sense of obligation to give back any of that wealth so that the society can continue to offer those same opportunities to others. You act as if you owe nothing to the country that allowed you to thrive. How can you justify this stance?
Dick Armey: Thanks again to having me. Let do this again. I wanted to answer the question of 'giving back.' Too often libertarians and conservatives are portrayed a heartless. My experience is that conservatives tend to be active in their community and very optimistic. When we say we believe in the individual, it is the power of the individual to do good. I have noticed that people are happy when they are creating something, such as a painting, a business, a family, or simply just following their passion. When people create, I share in that creation. Bill Gates has made my life better, and so has Waylon Jennings. Both improved their community at the same time they made a stack of cash.
We are about the freedom to create and peruse dreams, and all society will benefit. It is one thing to be generous with someone else's money, it's another thing to be generous with your own.
See you next time. And lets all agree cheer for the Dallas Stars!
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