Remember the angry activists in the health care debate? The ones who railed against government intervention, then added: “And keep your hands off my Medicare!” That kind of thinking is working its way into the rhetoric of the upstart tea party candidates in the midterm election campaign.
For example, Joe Miller, who upset incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary in Alaska, says that federal unemployment benefits are unconstitutional. But in trying to explain that position on “Fox News Sunday,” he said the government has an obligation to pay Social Security to seniors.
“What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality,” Miller explained to Chris Wallace. “I think we as a people need to stop being disingenuous about what the Constitution provides for,” he added, claiming the 10th Amendment gives to states all the powers not expressly provided to the federal government. “It does not provide for this all-encompassing power that we've seen exercised over the last several decades. It's what's gotten us into this bankrupt position.”
But asked what that means for Social Security or Medicare, Miller, a Yale-educated lawyer and former part-time federal magistrate from Fairbanks, said that these programs amounted to contracts between people and government. “I know that my parents, who are on Social Security, they've got to continue to receive it,” he said. “They're dependent on it; it is their primary source of income . . . Our seniors have got to have the trust and security that those benefits are going to be paid.”
It’s a good reminder that the hard line on heavy fiscal themes from this new crop of candidates can devolve quickly into contradiction. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell put his finger on what might give the tea parties some coherence. “This movement doesn't become a real force until it starts to talk to the issues,” he said. “I want to cut spending, I want to have lower taxes, but how do you do that? You can't just have slogans, you can't just have catchy phrases, you have to have an agenda.”
Murkowski is already beating up on Miller, criticizing him on CNN for wanting to get rid of Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Education and all earmarks. Miller’s argument that the federal government should shrink so that power returns to the states is particularly curious coming from Alaska, where, as Miller acknowledged, some 40 percent of the economy is derived from money coming from Washington.
Speaking of earmarks, they make good political targets but amount to a tiny fraction of the budget, as CNN’s Candy Crowley reminded one of their biggest foes, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
“It's like saying the engine is a small part of the train,” DeMint responded. “You look at health care, pulled through by ‘Cornhusker kickbacks,’ that's an earmark. The bailouts failed in the House until they went back and added earmarks.”
If Miller doesn’t quite make sense, don’t look to GOP mastermind Karl Rove to straighten things out. Also appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Rove sounded confused about what kind of Republican can win this fall. He said candidates like Miller and Rand Paul in Kentucky would prevail by sticking to a conservative line. “Message trumps resume every day of the week,” he said. “Message with resume, like we have in Alaska, is a powerful combination.”
But when you’ve got a resume like Christine O’Donnell, Rove said, message is not enough. Despite her victory over veteran Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware’s Republican primary, Rove thinks O’Donnell’s history of unusual statements and questions about her taxes are too much of a handicap.
Rove also predicted that President Obama and the Democrats would lose the debate over whether to extend tax breaks to households making up to $250,000, while denying them to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Rove said polling shows that more people support extending all of the tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year than extending cuts to all but the most wealthy, which is the way Democrats have framed the debate.
Rove added: “The other way to word it is: do you believe that we ought to be raising taxes in a recession or when the economy is fragile? And that is a huge winner for the Republicans,” he said.