Just as the temperance movement at the turn of the last century convinced its millions of followers that if you simply got rid of alcohol, America would almost magically revert back to the American they preferred, the tea party elite have manipulated their millions of grassroots followers to believe the same about government at this moment in time.
Tea party adherents see an America that’s not reflective of themselves, and the America they have known, and they just don’t like it. We have entered “the second machine age,” a transformation of work, leisure, and life that wouldn’t have been recognizable when Reagan entered the White House. The distribution of power is changing to include more women, more African-Americans, and more Latinos.
So somehow the tea party elite managed to switch cause and effect of the financial crisis. The deficit, which was caused by Republican policy decisions to not pay for two wars, a Medicare prescription drug bill and regressive tax cuts, and the necessary and emergency policy responses by both Presidents Bush and Obama — became the cause of the financial meltdown, not the result.
Democrats had an opportunity to counteract this story, but we didn’t do a good enough job explaining the nature, causes, and severity of the financial crisis. Neither did we explain how the stimulus and government spending would help ameliorate the problem. We focused on health care — an urgent problem, to be sure — when income inequality was a bigger concern. There was no effective defense of government.