Tea Partiers: Inside the Bubble

Jeff Alworth

The New York Times and CBS News released the results of a joint poll of Tea Partiers on Wednesday. Perhaps you've seen something about it--a blog or two may have made a mention. There are scads and scads of fascinating findings here, and you'd do well to click around to some of the better analysis--Digby did a nice job, as does Steve Benen. Perhaps one of the best summaries is the Times' own, wherein some of the more fascinating/alarming numbers are highlighted:

They are far more pessimistic than Americans in general about the economy. More than 90 percent of Tea Party supporters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with about 60 percent of the general public. About 6 in 10 say “America’s best years are behind us” when it comes to the availability of good jobs for American workers.

Nearly 9 in 10 disapprove of the job Mr. Obama is doing over all, and about the same percentage fault his handling of major issues: health care, the economy and the federal budget deficit. Ninety-two percent believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public

But what captured my attention was not what the Tea Partiers think, but what they think we think:

Regardless of your overall opinion, do you think the views of the people involved in the Tea Party movement generally reflect the views of most Americans, or not?

Tea Partiers: 85% yes
All respondents: 24% yes

I suppose it's almost axiomatic that people tend to believe their views are mainstream, and thanks to the way we construct community and consume information, this belief gets a lot of anecdotal validation. (Liberals who wish we had free college education, nine weeks of vacation, single-payer health care, and marginal tax rates around 50% may not find the same kind of validation.) Tea Partiers are strongly convinced their views are mainstream (85% is an amazingly high number for a poll), which puts these next few results into an interesting light.

Obama understands the needs of people like you?
TP: 24% yes
All: 58% yes [see note below]

Obama shares Americans' values?
TP: 20% yes
All: 57% yes

Obama has increased taxes for most Americans?
TP: 64% yes
All: 34% yes

Good idea to tax the rich ($250,000+) to pay for health care?
TP: 17% yes
All: 54% yes

Do not believe global warming is a serious problem (combined "no serious impact" and "doesn't exist"):
TP: 66%
All: 29%

There are more deviations throughout the long series of questions, but you're starting to get the picture, I think. Tea Partiers feel like Obama doesn't understand them and has seriously misguided views about public policy (even when, in the case of taxes, they're wrong). So guess how that makes them feel?

Are you angry about how things are going in Washington
TP: 53%
All: 19%

We hear a great deal about how dissatisfied America is about Washington, and how out of step Washington is with America. Some of that is true--though most of it is probably directly connected to the economy, not philosophical problems with the direction of public policy (economy "fairly" or "very" bad: 77%). But when you dig down into the numbers, the actual number of people who are hysterical is pretty low. Mostly Americans are pensive, but hopeful.

There's one last finding I want to leave you with, and it relates to that bubble of anecdotal validation I mentioned above. I'll let you draw the conclusions.

Primarily watch which stations for news?

Tea Partiers
Combination of stations: 10%
Mostly Fox: 63%
All others: 20%
Don't watch news: 6%

All Respondents
Combination of stations: 11%
Mostly Fox: 23%
All others: 49%
Don't watch news: 16%

Note that the "all" category contains the Tea Partiers, who are just a subset of the whole. In these items where there is great divergence, the comparison actually understates the gap between Tea Partiers and everyone else.

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    As I am related to some Tea Party supporters I know that this poll does a good job of reflecting their views. The election of Obama was the end of the world for them for a host of reasons. This colors everything they say and they cannot provide anything positive. (They should have listened to their mothers.)

    It would be good if pollsters could ask people where the economy is headed along with the "is the country headed in the right direction". A lot of times people assume that the answer to the second question is the same as the answer to the first.

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    John, they did, sort of.

    Right direction/wrong track: TP: 6%/92% All: 34%/59%

    Approval of Obama's handling of the economy (approve/disapprove): TP: 6%/91% All: 43%/46%

    Health of national economy (collapsed categories of good/bad): TP: 6%/93% All: 23%/77%

    Economy (improving/not change/getting worse): TP: 14%/42%/42% All: 33%/43%/23%

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      Thanks Jeff. That is helpful. Too bad the different perspective does not seem to get reported. It says that people have a much better view of the economy than the press is implying since they normally just look at the "direction of the country" statistic.

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    Those numbers are fascinating, especially where a class-based argument on values can be made.

    I know we don't have it, but I'd be curious to break it out even further: what do Oregonians who self-identify as tea party members feel...

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      I wonder if my old Paul G. comments got linked.

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        Maybe. Being "OK" seems to have played a role. I mean, how could you not link my posts, with my name exactly the same. The convenient error mutes all my old posts. I even put my older alias on my FB sidebar summary, so the lack of a link seems a rather deliberate "screw you". They should be glad I don't respond to those games.

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          With nearly 200,000 comments, we had to take a brute force approach -- especially since part of it involved manually looking up Facebook profiles. We just pulled the list of top 200 commenters - by email address - and matching as many of those as we could.

          On my task list is to go through more recent posts and do some additional matching, now that we're live.

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    Here is how the local branch of the Tea Party Movement describes themselves:

    "Chico Tea Party Patriots is a grass roots organization comprised of non-partisan individuals who believe in: Limited Government, Fiscal Responsibility, and Free Markets"

    Source: http://chicoteaparty.ning.com/page/about-us-1

    Now, how are their core beliefs any different than the Gingrich Republicans of 1994?

    I fail to see the difference. In fact, in conversations with friends and family, I posit this:

    Tea Party members and supporters are nothing more than Republicans who re-registered as Independent in the aftermath of the 2006 election because they were ashamed to be affiliated with the GOP of George W Bush. The election of the first African American POTUS and the subsequent change he has wrought has driven them over the edge of sanity into a foam-at-the-mouth cacophony of obstructionism with racism and fear of a White minority at the core of their insanity.

    That is how I view the Tea Party members and supporters. Nothing more than ex-Republicans who currently do not want to be associated with the GOP due to George W, but in 2 or moreso election cycles, they will register back as Republican.

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      If it was really about government spending, then where was the Tea Party Movement during George W Bush's years?

      I don't remember many conservatives prophesying the downfall of the US when the Bush Administration was pushing $40 to 80 billion dollar Iraq/Afghanistan War supplements every 4 to 6 months from 2003 to 2008.

      Yet, Republicans such as Tom Coburn will filibuster unemployment benefit extensions, while voting proudly to "support the troops" in a military adventure where we supposedly invaded the country with the third largest known amount of oil reserves, yet the price of oil per barrel is now over $80 heading into spring and summer; and another military adventure where I am hearing more stories of NATO forces spraying poppy fields, than serious efforts to capture Osama Bin Laden who is still on the lam in mid-2010.

      Such bald-faced hypocrisy from so-called "conservatives" is why I am a proud Democrat.

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    That bit about the news is interesting. Assuming that TPers weren't big infomavens before their becoming mobilized- or they would have more of a clue- one can argue that the movement has made them 3 times more likely to watch the news. Well, stuff that calls itself news.

    Maybe that actually makes sense on a more subtle level. Our biggest objection with them is that they don't listen to facts, no? Maybe Faux News is their version of glamor. I've always thought that glamor represented the step between dressing for a spouse and dressing for yourself. Similarly, maybe listening to Faux News is a step between listening to nothing and being a consumer of information.

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    Their numbers are small and their coverage in all media including BlueOregon is large. Marginilize the group.

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      Paulie's got it right! Why is anyone paying attention to this group of groups. They seem to be made up of as many nonsensical people as those with sensible arguement. It just seems like the news coverage is not really in proportion to the size of the groups that I have seen. Don't get me wrong I'm all for people getting out there and speaking their peace, even if I don't agree with them, but lets not hand over the mic to every shmoe that shows up with a powdered wig and an Obama with a Hitler mustache sign.

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    Paulie, as a political strategy, marginalizing Tea Partiers is probably wise. But I'm interested in the phenomenon. Much as I believe we must think of the President as MY president whether he's GOP or Dem (and as I thought of Gordon Smith as MY senator), I think of Tea Partiers as my fellow citizens. That a group can get so far off center and have such a large effect on politics means they are worth trying to understand.

    FWIW, I'm backing off the derisive "teabagger" tag. It's a defensible name because Tea Partiers unwittingly gave it to themselves. But in truth, I'd rather have a country where 18% of the population we're hysterical and weren't feeling isolated. I don't see how my calling them teabaggers helps much, so I'm turning over a new leaf.

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      Jeff, I am not a tea partier, but I am a sympathizer. Thanks for your resolution not to use the epithet "teabagger" anymore.

      Although I don't speak for the movement, I think I understand it. Tea partiers see themselves as solid citizens who play by the rules and are sincerely concerned about how the rules seem to be changing.

      For example, tea partiers believe that individuals should receive the benefit of their own efforts and risk-taking, and be responsible for the consequences if those efforts prove unsuccessful. High marginal tax rates and government-sponsored bailouts of people who bought houses they couldn't afford are inconsistent with that world view. So are government-sponsored bailouts of large, unionized companies like General Motors and large, politically-connected banks like Citibank and Goldman Sachs.

      Tea partiers are suspicious of governmental power. They may not like private health insurance companies, but they believe that in a private market they have some choices. They see ObamaCare not as you see it, a first step towards a humane provision of health care to all, but as a first step towards a government-ruled system that ultimately will be governed by the same folks who run the DMV.

      Supporters of the movement tend to be people who are employed by smaller private companies or self-employed, not employees of the government or big companies that can exert effective political influence. They usually didn't attend elite schools and they didn't make their money because of political connections. They feel their success was based on hard work and a willingness to take risks. They fear an economy that is already dominated by big players that are deeply entwined with the government, that is moving towards new tax and regulatory policies that will make it harder for someone who isn't already successful to get successful. They feel the new regime will reward the already-haves and the folks well-connected enough to go to the "right" schools.

      Tea partiers may not be highest marginal rate taxpayers, but they aspire to be. Tea partiers see progressive tax rates as inherently unfair, because they make it possible for the government to tax people who are doing well--the people the tea partiers identify with--without increasing tax rates on everyone else.

      The economy hasn't been good for a couple of years. Even a tea partier (or tea party sympathizer) who may seem "rich" to a Blue Oregon poster is worried about how he will meet his financial obligations, keep his business afloat, pay for his kids' college (without financial aid) and pay 45% of his taxable income in federal and state income taxes. It doesn't help to hear that he's not paying his "fair share" and that his taxes will be increased even more. He worries in this new environment how his kids will have better lives than he did. And for a lot of people like I just described, the tea party movement seems like a good place to turn.

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        Bob, thanks for the comments. I'll respond, not as an anti-tea partier, but as a fairly standard issue liberal.

        "High marginal tax rates ... politically-connected banks like Citibank and Goldman Sachs."

        I think there are two issues here, and they get conflated. One is a political philosophy. No one on the left thinks that big companies should be bailed out on principle. What they think is that if the companies aren't bailed out and go Lehman on us, then we have 25% unemployment. Pragmatically, it makes sense to bail out GM and AIG even though it creates an issue of moral hazard. For lefties, preventing 25% unemployment is more important than punishing foolish risk-takers. But that doesn't mean we don't think regulations shouldn't be implemented to prevent further risk-taking for which taxpayers will be culpable. This is where tea partiers and lefties part company. Tea partiers would accept 25% unemployment AND failed risk-takers.

        "They see ObamaCare not as you see it... governed by the same folks who run the DMV."

        Yup, and we see that trojan horse as the ONLY thing that makes this deal worth taking. Nobody admits it, but everyone recognizes the stakes. (We're right, btw!)

        "Supporters of the movement tend to be people who are employed by smaller private companies or self-employed, not employees of the government or big companies that can exert effective political influence."

        Actually, they're more likely than the general public to be retirees on Medicare and SS.

        "They usually didn't attend elite schools and they didn't make their money because of political connections. "

        Most liberals didn't, either. Many of us are just working stiffs, and many of us are NONWHITE working stiffs. This is what Tea Partiers don't get.

        "They fear an economy that is already dominated by big players ... folks well-connected enough to go to the "right" schools."

        That's the definition of liberalism. Given that the GOP from Reagan through Bush II did more to advance corporate welfare and trust fundism, it's shocking that the Tea Partiers would randomly find their venom only when a black liberal gets elected. It's why liberals find it very hard to accept the good faith of tea partiers. I believe in understanding everyone in the body politic, which is why I posted this piece. But tea partiers need to recognize their own rank hypocrisy on this score--and the own damage birthers and incoherent, angry people who call Obama a "socialist" cause.

        "Tea partiers may not be highest marginal rate taxpayers, but they aspire to be...."

        This is a legitimate difference in political philosophy. I want Sweden, baby!

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          Jeff, for the most part, your reply does highlight the differences in political philosophy between the tea partiers and what you describe as "standard issue liberals." Only two points need a response.

          First, I agree that most rank-and-file liberals didn't go to elite schools. In fact, if the country goes the direction you want it to go, most of you will be disappointed. You'll have won the battle, but you'll discover that Citibank, Goldman Sachs, GM, leadership of the big unions and the politically-connected graduates of the Ivy League will continue to run the show. You'll just have new bosses.

          Second, I have to respond to your implication that tea partiers are racists. If Obama were a libertarian, there wouldn't be any tea parties.

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            There is an element of race in the TP anger.

            From the NYT article:

            More than half say the policies of the administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public. They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.
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            Bob, on the racism issue. I don't think it's as simple as racism. Tea Partiers are far more white than the general population and when they think of "America" and "us," they think white. This doesn't necessarily imply racism, but it blinds them to certain obvious facts and makes other less plausible explanations seem more so.

            The Democrats and liberals in general are hardly made up largely of elites (which in the Tea Party view are Harvard-educated Boston Brahmins). It's a broad-based coalition that includes large majorities of non-whites and working people. That some well-educated folks, and scholars in general, support this group as well doesn't mean they constitute the majority.

            In my post, I tried to point out that Tea Partiers both think their view is mainstream and that everyone shares it even while their own views are often sharply out of step with other Americans. On issues of race, this is also true.

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          • "This is a legitimate difference in political philosophy. I want Sweden, baby!"

          ummm, yup, legitimate difference... Switzerland, baby!!


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      While I respect your desire to understand these folks and make sense of their efforts--it seems to me that you're reinventing the wheel. We already know and understand where they're coming from--because it's essentially the same ideologically driven type that we see every time there's a progressive resurgence in the country.

      It's a mistake to take on guilt or concern about their marginalization. They choose marginalize themselves. By not recognizing this and acting accordingly we help them justify their position.

      The consistently excellent Rick Perlstein touched on that just this week:


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        Actually, Carla, it may be obvious to you, but I found the results a bit surprising. I skipped a bunch of the highlights others have noted: how white, old, and liable to be on "welfare" Tea Partiers are (Medicare and SS). I found their insularity fascinating. And I guess part of my surprise was to see how the predictable results--how angry they are, how much they hate health care, etc--is not broadly shared. You sure wouldn't know that by following the media.

        And perhaps that reason, more than any, is why a nuanced discussion of Tea Partiers is useful.

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          Thank you, Carla, for laying out your position. It really gets to the heart of our differences.

          "They choose marginalize themselves. By not recognizing this and acting accordingly we help them justify their position."

          That's the crux of the issue, for me. I agree 100% about not enabling. Many of my comments about toleration were sarcastic, trying to point up the fact that a lot of "faux respect" that goes for PC correctness does the exact same thing. So, I agree on that basic point.

          To my mind, that means definitely confronting disinformation with facts. I have a problem though with the idea that being marginal is some kind of sin. It smacks of the Chinese dictum, "the peg which stands up will be pounded down". I like freaky little parties with their lopsided agenda and weird symbols. Again, agreed, "but first, do no harm". And that isn't happening. But how much is it that they're being used by Faux News and such, making them more of a threat than they actually represent? Maybe, in this case, we should kill the messenger!

          The other diff, would seem to be that I only say, "you are SOOOO stoopid" when I respect someone. I don't say it when I think the person actually has issues. Of course, I'm the last one to witter on about small presentation variables, but, to my mind, it just isn't cricket.

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    3 interesting polls/analyses of the NYT poll:

    1. Tea partiers come largely from the ranks of the Glenn Beck alternative universe (http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/04/tea-party-bears-becks-imprint.html)
    2. Tea partiers reflect higher levels of "reflect higher expressed levels of racism, xenophobia, and homophobia" than the average American per a poll by UWs Christopher Parker. (http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2010/04/you-asked-for-it-you-got-it.html)
    3. Tea partiers don't know anything about the subject they are supposedly protesting -- taxes (per a poll by the conservative David Frum) - (http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/18/tea-party-ignorant-taxes-opinions-columnists-bruce-bartlett.html?partner=relatedstoriesbox)
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    Sorry, that should be "weren't hysterical."

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    Bob,glad to see you on the new Blue Oregon.

    The distinction between you and the Tea Partiers is that you actually have a coherent political philosophy and deal with factual reality. My Tea Party relatives do live in an alternate universe created by Glen Beck and take everything he says as gospel. It is near impossible to have a discussion on Obama that doesn't end in them ranting conspiracy theories that would work on SNL.

    The truth is that they are terribly frightened by having Obama in the White House. In one case they are having difficult economic troubles (construction industry) and in the other they are doing just fine economically and are just fearful about life thanks to Mr. Beck. They are willfully ignorant about the world. They don't read newspapers or books. Their sole news source is Fox or Rush. Their education was limited after high school.

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    My Two Cents:

    I just try to use the Golden Rule when interacting politically with folks from the Tea Party. I know the national debt is a point of concern for them, as it is for many folks.

    Strategically, I welcome their presence. It's America. I'm liberal, they have some differing views. I think marginalizing them could backfire (or at least confirm for them that folks are out to get them) and that this will run its course but could also be an opportunity to educate people. Further, their presence if they throw up a candidate that isn't just a front for the Republican Party (they should be tiring of them soon I hope), would split the vote in a general election. I’d imagine that would be good for Democrats. Republicans already know this so they are obviously all over the Tea Party folks.

    I think Tea Party activists are people too and that they are particularly hungry for answers, and that there needs to be avenues to provide them with those answers beyond Glen Beck. I try, in my own little effort, with one friend and his wife from college who are active in the Tea Party here in Oregon. It goes without saying, they feel as a group, and personally, that they are under attack and that’s not good. My friend is a good person, so is his wife. They aren’t racist and I can attest to that personally. They just look at some problems and solutions differently as far as I can gather.

    I may be alone in this as a Democrat but I honestly think there is room for common ground with folks from the Tea Party on specific issues.

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      The common ground should be Wall Street. The Republican leadership is protecting wall street which the Tea Partiers claim to consider a problem. Based on their rhetoric they should side with the Democrats. Don't think that will happen, but hope it will. If I could find a way to talk to them I would be eager to do so.

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      As a fellow liberal, I have to respectfully disagree on finding "common ground" with the Tea Party.

      First, were liberals in 1994 trying to find "common ground" with the Gingrich Republicans of 1994?

      Of course not! You do not negotiate and compromise with a political force whose sole purpose is to destroy liberal interests via limiting the size of government.

      Second (maybe this should have been the first), is there philosophical compatibility between the Tea Party and the Democratic Party to arrive at pragmatic solutions without either side compromising their core principles?

      I have yet to see it. The Tea Party who was not around when Bush was pushing through $500 billion+ in Iraq War supplemental from 2003 to 2008, is now lauding US Senators such as Tom Coburn who filibuster any attempt to provide extensions for the unemployed. Very big philosophical difference.

      Finally, after 2010 will the Tea Party have any credibility and momentum to become a viable third party?

      No, what you will see is the Tea Party members and supporters voting overwhelmingly Republican in 2010 onward.

      The only lasting effect the Tea Party will have on the US political landscape is to drive the GOP further to the right before the Tea Partiers rejoin the Republican fray.

      Hell, if Reagan was Governor of California today doing the tax hikes that he did in his first term, Glenn Beck, Breitbart and the rest of the Tea Party loons would be calling him a RINO.

      This is how far to the right the Tea Party and its supporters are.

      Divide and conquer. Never compromise with those whose sole purpose is to destroy your long term interests.

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        Thanks for the feedback Mr. Voluntad. I'm not a fan of divide and conquer (nor announcing it before you use it) and am sure not willing to defend all of the federal government. I like unite and let self govern.

        I got a message the other day from a person from the Tea Party on FB. This person was not pleased with the federal government's entitlement programs. I said I wasn't an expert on all the programs and but proceeded to respectfully defended social security. I'm not an expert on that either for the record. :-)

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        with a political force whose sole purpose is to destroy liberal interests via limiting the size of government.

        Is that what you really meant, that the only way to pursue liberal interests is with the growth of government? Can't you have a small and efficient government that makes progress towards the liberal utopia?

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          Sure, but get the steps in the right order: First make government efficient, THEN shrink it.

          Otherwise, you end up with a small, inefficient government that is wholly owned and operated by big monied interests. Seems to me, a lot of the tea people would think that would be just great.

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          Sure you can, if you buy wholesale into the Libertarian ideology.

          Libertarians are the types to advance the toll road argument where the toll road is built by a majority 51% or more Federal, State and Local funding, while the bulk of the future toll proceeds go towards private interests. Henceforth, I do not trust Libertarian ideology because it appears to me as using government to wholly benefit private interests.

          I believe in Big Government to provide public goods such as social welfare, defense, protection of the environment, continued advancement of civil rights to Gays, Lesbians and Transgendered individuals, and an equitable tax code that promotes a more equal society via taking from those who make 100 times or more than the median wage of $35,000.

          It comes down to this for me, public goods can never be distributed in an equitable manner if you outsource it to a private interest whose vision extends only to short-term, quarterly profits. Public goods in the past (before exorbitant outsource contracts) were deemed unprofitable by the private sector, thus the Government or nonprofits filled the void. Nowadays, Government will bid out a government service such as cleaning up of a pond to private and public sources who bid the provision of the public good up to 7+ figures of tax payer dollars just so that they can get the profit margin they desire.

          This is why I am a hard liner Leftist and not a Libertarian.

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            I trust the private sector to deliver private goods even if those goods such as food and fuel are necessities.

            Fact is, Corporate Boards, CEOs and all the COOs, CIO, CFOS, and other upper and middle level management within your typical private sector corporation are not up for a public vote every 2 to 6 years like the US House and US Senate is.

            I would be a fool to say and think that elections put into position, the incorruptible pillars of humanity. No, politicians are representative of the best and worst of the public whom elects them.

            Once CEOs and corporate boards of Fortune 500 companies are up for a public vote, then maybe I could see entrusting them with the provision of a public good. Until then, I put more faith in our elected leaders because we can throw them out if we get too upset with the actions or lack of action.

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            "Libertarian" means none of those things to me, or any of the ones I know. Should we change our reg.? Seriously, is it the case the the Libertarian that says that ALL those services are vital, and would use tax money to fund them, in part, is not a Libertarian?

            If so, you can toss out the reg. stats., or divide them by at least 2!

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    Cool. The side effects of updates!

    I would like to know what the typical Teabagger thinks of spending $120 Billion dollars a year protecting the US against the conquered countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. And also what they think of the decidedly anti-Socialist privatized armed forces (Halliburton, Blackwater...) who receive a large portion of this Pentagon welfare.

    For that matter, I'd like to know what ardent supporters of Obama think, knowing he wants to add $30 Billion more fuel to this fire this year and next and...

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    what I don't get is why the Oregonian and other papers are spending so much time covering the Tea Partay? I'm mean, really. Is that the most interesting or captivating thing going on in our world right now? really? they must either have some kick-ass funding going on, or the left is not telling a very captivating story.

    I feel like the left and Dems are trying to save a sinking ship, and the Tea Party folks are shooting holes in the boat.

    I say let's start telling a more captivating story that they are. and perhaps it also means taking to the streets. procession of the species, anyone?

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