Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tommy and Tea: The Two Don't Mix Well

The tea party people are a curious lot. They have selective memory when it comes to history, and their slogans are sometimes unintentionally ironic – like the well-publicized one about keeping the government out of my Medicare. That’s why at first, I was surprised to hear that the tea-sippers had invited Tommy (or, perhaps he “volunteered”) to talk last Thursday.

Along with the likes of Vicki McKenna and that shadowy group that calls itself “Oath-Keepers”. Why would these people who claim to abhor big government tolerate – much less invite – Tommy G. Thompson to their party? It bothered me for half the weekend, until I thought a bit more about it.

As my friend and YourNews colleague Bill Wineke has pointed out, Tommy is a dinosaur, from the era when the two major political parties respected each other and worked with each other, and the kind of politics Tommy practiced when he governed Wisconsin resemble the current policies of the Obama administration. Tommy, as Bill points out, just doesn’t fit with the Republican Party any more.

We like Tommy because he has the aura of the regular fellow about him. While he is a highly educated man, with a Juris Doctor degree from the UW, he talks like a man who struggled to get through high school. As governor, he taxed the living daylights out of people. (How do you think Miller Park got built?) He’s a cheerleader. He loves to say stuff like “where Eagles soar and Harleys roar and the Packers score”. And we know he loves our state.

This is a man who broke down in tears when he announced that he was answering President Bush’s call to Washington to run Health and Human Services. He loves Wisconsin. But now, he’s a Washington power-broker, who makes literally millions of dollars a year trying to help clients get millions of dollars from the federal government.

How on earth does a man with Tommy’s record fit in with the tea party people?

He doesn’t. But they seem not to know it. This is a group that reveres Sarah Palin. She railed at President Obama’s plan to reduce our nuclear stockpile, saying we need a return to the Reagan days. Yet Reagan suggested repeatedly, 25 years ago, that we reduce our nuclear stockpile by a third – the same thing President Obama is proposing.

Wasn’t Tommy the man behind Medicare Part D – which the tea party people should be calling another example of a “socialist government program”? And what about the huge bureaucracy Tommy made even bigger with his “W-2” Welfare-to-Work program in Wisconsin? Isn’t he one of those socialists the tea partiers hate?

Why was Tommy at the tea party? Because there’s no real place for him in what the Republican Party has become in this state, even though he’ll still be prominent at all their gatherings. And because he has a born politician’s love for giving speeches to crowds. He can still whip ‘em up.

Even if, like last Thursday, his very presence mocked the event.


  1. As you know, I was one of those nuts who stood out in snowstorms on highway overpasses holding up signs for Ron Paul for President. I also attended the first Appleton Tea Party on April 15th, '09. That event was truly grass roots...well before the accusations by the condescending left that the Tea Party movement was bought and paid for by the Republican Party. It was a gathering of individuals and groups, like the Ron Paul-ites, who had no idea it would be as big as it was.

    The guy who organized it, Jim Steineke, is another one of those "regular fellows" it's impossible not to like. He can't really speak his way out of a paper bag, but he is a sitting Outagamie County supervisor.

    Word of that first Appleton Tea Party spread "virally", with no real organized effort or support. We just showed up and, holy cow! 1500 people!

    Contrast that with last Thursday. I walked up to the site and saw THREE TV news trucks complete with remote broadcast towers. However, the event had about half the number of people as the previous year.

    It was a bit more organized this time. There was a guy from Fox Banquets (the company that donated the use of its parking lot) selling food. No big-name speakers at all, though there were several candidates for regional and national office there. As Steineke said, it was an event for regular folks to speak and for our representatives to listen.

    There was a doctor, a Little Chute businessman giving the first speech of his life (so he said), an economist from Milwaukee who had lived in Australia and England, a guy who runs a blog, a UW-Oshkosh student, and the fellow who was his teacher in Winneconne. They spoke about health insurance reform, global warming, the stimulus efforts, bailouts of banks and car companies, and the erosion of individual liberty. Pretty standard stuff for a Tea Party.

    I didn't really pay attention to the other Tea Parties. I thought it interesting that Thompson spoke in Madison, though I think that was calculated by him to get as much attention as possible for his announcement that he would NOT run against Feingold.

    Your characterization of Thompson is interesting, too:

    >> ...the kind of politics Tommy practiced when he governed Wisconsin resemble the current policies of the Obama administration. <<

    Leaving aside the fact that "politics" and "policies" are quite different things, I wonder if you're talking about the same Tommy Thompson I remember. While he did initiate BadgerCare, he also pushed through welfare reform and school choice programs...not something you'll see President Obama advocating any time soon.

    And your last thrust:

    >> Even if, like last Thursday, his very presence mocked the event. <<

    Oh, gawd! Now we slip into the condescending snarkiness, not just your garden-variety snarkiness! I will propose that the Tea Party organizers in Madison vet their speakers through you next time.

  2. The author stands by his comments.

  3. Umnnhhh....

    It's my contention that TT "invited himself", as you know; and I think that the reception he got, while warm, was not overwhelming.

    You're right: TT is a Big Gummint kinda guy, but his policies were not so much "tax" as they were "bond-it". Miller was an exception, largely b/c it only affected 5 of the 70++ Counties in Wisconsin.

    Yes, he did achieve welfare-reform--which directly caused the Pulitzer-Prize winning 'babysitter fraud' schemes. He achieved welfare reform without bothering to enable audits. Who needs AUDITS? We have "reform"!!

    Yes, he pushed for Part D. He was NOT joined by Conservatives on that one; rather, he was joined by other Big Gummint folks.

    I thought TT was a decent guy; he certainly was a contrast to Tony Earl, and managed to control, if not squash, the Extreme Left of that little crook who ran the Assembly.

    But he is not a TEA Party guy; in fact, he's one of the factors which engendered the TEA Parties.

  4. The chickens always squawk loudest when they think the fox is in the barnyard. It never registers with them that the fox is smarter than that; when he’s afoot, they’ll never know it. So it is with the teabaggers and their shopworn bag of assorted frustrations. While they are out there clanging the tocsin about the evils of Big Government, their lives are being looted by the real villain – Big Business.

    Let’s focus that claim a bit.

    Health care reform would not have been necessary if Big Insurance had not greedily raised its rates at several times the rate of inflation and used every trick and stall and subterfuge it could dream up to avoid making good on the contracts they had with their customers. Health care is a business, you say, an industry, and this is a capitalist system. Indeed it is, and businesses in such a system exist to make profits, ever larger profits. If that means brushing off people who can’t pay the rates (think unemployed auto workers in Janesville and Kenosha, not illegal immigrants or whatever stereotypes that may more readily come to mind), so be it. If that means flicking people who might get sick, out with them.

    That’s a sensible way to run a business, but not a good way to promote the general welfare of a great nation.

    Financial reform would not have been necessary if Big Finance had not greedily and knowingly loaned naïve people sums of money that could never be repaid, then “packaged” those debts and, again knowingly, bamboozled others into buying these rotten bundles of impossible obligations. Caveat emptor, baby. There was enough greed to go around; the securities folks and the haplessly gullible Big Bank customers who snapped up the toxic offerings were like the horse that got into the oat bin and couldn’t stop eating.

    Of course the whole shabby structure collapsed in a huge economic mess. Meanwhile the government watchdog snored soundly.

    It might seem sensible to wake the watchdog and put him to work, but not to the teabaggers. They blame the watchdog for the shenanigans of Wall Street, and want the beast euthanized.

    After all, didn’t the original Tea Party mob stick their collective thumb in John Bull’s eye, way back in ’76, for “taxation without representation”?

    Well, not exactly. The real problem was the East India Company (note the last word of its name), an investor-owned mercantile organization which had a stranglehold on the economies of the colonies. The Big Merchants could dictate who you bought goods from, and where you bought them; how much you paid, what ships could deliver the goods and, indirectly, how much you were taxed. It wasn’t British government interference that was to blame, it was the lack of regulation of the rapacious economic masters.

    Ah, but the lens of history has a soft focus. These things are cyclical in our capitalist society; we fall for basically the same schemes again and again, and eagerly rally around anyone who sings the music our ears want to hear: Big Government BAD! Ronald Reagan, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul … Where is that bundle of contradictions, Harold Stassen, when you need him? Now there was somebody the issue-dizzy teabaggers could have marched with.