Chuck Schumer to woo tea partiers by pushing left-wing economic populism or something

On a slow Thursday morning, we can all use a laugh.

Seriously, what am I missing here?

Schumer will argue that Democrats must defend popular government programs such as extended unemployment benefits and student loan subsidies to persuade Tea Party voters that they can benefit from federal programs.

“The average Tea Party member, like the average American, likes government run Medicare, likes government built highways and water and sewer lines, likes government support for education, both higher and lower,” he will say.

Schumer contends powerful Tea Party patrons such as David H. Koch and Charles Koch have directed the anger of many independent voters toward the government to ease federal regulation of their multibillion-dollar industries.

“Wealthy Tea Party leaders have convinced Tea Party rank and file and many other Americans that anti-government ideology is the answer to their problems — but many Tea Partiers and sympathizers support government programs — Democrats must exploit the difference,” Schumer’s office said in a statement announcing the speech.

The goal, in theory, is to drive a wedge between the puppetmasters whom lefties are convinced control the tea-party movement — i.e. their all-purpose Emmanuel Goldstein, the Kochs — and the rabble, who I guess Schumer thinks aren’t really opposed to big government deep down but have settled on that as an outlet for their disaffection over lost economic opportunities. This is, in other words, a variation on Obama’s bitter/clinger remarks from the 2008 campaign. O dismissed red-state culture as a reaction to jobs drying up in rural areas. Sounds like Schumer’s going to make a similar argument, but focused on politics more than culture. No one could possibly disagree with statism on principle, after all; those who profess to do so are either exploiting that sentiment for their own profit or being exploited. That’s an insulting assumption, but look at it this way: At least, for once, a prominent Democrat’s diagnosing tea-party motivations as something other than racist.

The grain of truth here is that, according to most polls, tea partiers do want to keep Medicare and Social Security. They’re not libertarians, by and large, and they’re certainly not anarchists who oppose government-run roads. How you get, though, from “I’m not a libertarian” to “…so therefore I must be a Chuck Schumer Democrat” is beyond me. What he’s really trying to do, insofar as the speech isn’t a standard issue jeremiad against the Koch brothers (which, given that he’s delivering it at the Center for American Progress, it probably is) is nudge Democrats and the media to encourage tea partiers to see themselves more in class terms rather than as part of a political movement. There are differences of opinion between wealthy Republicans and poor ones on big-picture economic questions and government help. Encourage class warfare, he probably reasons, and maybe you can convince some of these people to at least stay home on election day even if you can’t convince them to re-identify as liberal.

I think he’s kidding himself, partly because the cultural distance between tea partiers and Democratic leaders is so vast but mostly because TPers really do believe that bigger government is more pernicious on balance than salutary, despite the exception they make for entitlements. They’ve had endless illustrations over the past year alone, starting with Obama forcing millions of people off their health insurance plans in order to build a new utopian boondoggle. If the GOP ever made a move to significantly scale back Social Security and Medicare, that might create a new receptiveness on the right to Schumer’s pitch. But of course, it hasn’t and almost certainly won’t, Paul Ryan’s halting efforts to push some sort of reform notwithstanding. It’ll take a fiscal crisis to make that happen. And when it does, Democrats will necessarily be along for the ride.