Tea Party gatherings April 14 in North Carolina showed that the movement is undergoing the necessary if sometimes difficult process of growing to meet further challenges.
The “tax day” rally in Greensboro drew about five hundred people; a similar event in Raleigh attracted a sparser crowd. But it would be a mistake to draw too stark a conclusion just from numbers. For as many speakers observed, the problems the tea parties have decried have only grown worse.
In March, the federal government ran its biggest monthly deficit ever ‑ just shy of $200 billion, said Frank Roche, a candidate for the post of state Treasurer. March also saw the government spend $396 billion, the largest monthly spending binge in U.S. history.
In other words, more than three years after the Wall Street meltdown, with politicians pontificating all over about how they’ll solve the debt problem, it is only growing worse.
That isn’t just a number, either. It’s a financial burden each of us already bears. According to the U.S. Debt Clock, the official national debt was more than $15 trillion. As of Saturday, each American was saddled with $49,980.99 in federal debt. Think about your own bills; then add fifty grand on top of them. That’s what Washington has run up on your tab.
Moreover, that’s only the official debt. The federal government uses accounting tricks that Enron would have blushed at trying. A number of observers say the real debt is closer to $50 trillion, with the Debt Clock estimating it at $57 trillion. Others put it at twice or even three times that.
The essence of the problem was put by congressional candidate Bill Randall, who at the Raleigh rally introduced a couple of young boys. Then he said, “These two young men are already saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Is that fair?”
Of course not ‑ it’s utterly unjust. The debt debate isn’t just about numbers or even money. It’s first of all about justice. Debt is being piled on children who didn’t have a say in its accumulation, and are unlikely to reap all the benefits the politicians have promised them.
The government debt crisis is about all our futures. The day may come that the government can’t sell bonds to pay for that debt. If that happens, Roche said, “The next day 49 percent of our obligations can’t be met.” Even liberals should realize this: There may come a day soon that we can’t pay for government functions that really are needed.
Yet, what is to be done? The Raleigh event featured a host of candidates and activists surveying the many threats and what might be done about them. Immigration, government regulation, gun control, the role of women, gas prices, bureaucracy and unemployment were just some of the topics that engaged the speakers and the crowd. With so many threats to our freedom and prosperity, naturally there was much discussion but no final answers as to how they might be solved.
To consider one example, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich showed up in both Raleigh and Greensboro, and provided one of the more imaginative takes. He highlighted the immense growth of U.S. energy resources, thanks to new technologies. If the nation fully developed those resources on federal lands and offshore, energy companies could end up paying up to $16 trillion in royalties, he said. Put that into a debt fund, and restore some fiscal sanity in Washington, then those little boys wouldn’t be crushed under a mountain of debt. “We could pay off the federal debt and they will owe nothing,” he said.
In short, the Saturday events suggest the tea party still has its eyes on the problems; now it is questing for solutions. This is less glamorous work that is unlikely to grab headlines. Some of it also can be included as growing pains. These are tough problems that won’t be solved overnight. And solving them might involve fewer rallies and more work on papers, researching, networking and lobbying. But as long as the U.S. debt keeps growing inexorably, there will be work for the Tea Party to do.
Jim Tynen is director of communications for the Civitas Institute, North Carolina’s conservative voice.