The prolonged and heated debate over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling continues to be blamed on a Tea Party that is "too extreme." However, what the controversy has really proven is that the movement should become even more extreme.
Even though the deal between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner doesn't feature any significant reform or real cuts — it will actually increase the national debt by $7 trillion — the Democrats still find it Draconian, while many Republicans oppose it, believing it doesn't reduce spending enough. Most of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates have said they do not support the deal. Even an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney doesn't support it.
But does anyone really believe that the TARP-defending Romney would've been denouncing a deal like this during the last election cycle? And does anyone really believe Speaker Boehner would have showed a hint of resistance to raising the debt ceiling if the Tea Party wasn't around?
For decades, so-called conservative Republicans have been content to tinker with the status quo, but for most conservatives during any era, simply diddling with leviathan has never been enough. In defying the British Empire, the Founding Fathers were bold revolutionaries. Barry Goldwater did not want to fix big government; he wanted to dismantle it. Ronald Reagan did not look to solve problems through government; he saw government as the problem.
American conservatives, however successful or unsuccessful, have always possessed a certain slash-and-burn temperament toward the state, in much the same way statists have always recklessly gouged and gored taxpaying citizens. That today's conservatives are somehow more "extreme" is usually just a misconception, but it also comes down to basic math: As government growth and debt reaches historic heights, so has the resistance to it.
The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart recognizes this conservative dynamic: "The 2010 elections brought to Congress a group of Republicans theologically committed to cutting government. And they have proved more committed, or perhaps just more reckless, than anyone else in Washington." New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes a similar, but more negative, observation: "The maniacal Tea Party freshmen are trying to burn down the House they were elected to serve in. It turns out they wanted to come inside to get a blueprint of the historic building to sabotage it."
Beinart and Dowd are correct that many Republican freshman represent a more radical breed of conservative, but these congressional leaders are only "new" or "radical" in that they are actually conservative. Before the age of the Tea Party, milquetoast Republicans like Romney and Boehner could get away with calling themselves conservative. Now both Romney and Boehner must bend over backward to try to prove that they're somehow really conservative while constantly fearing that the GOP base isn't buying it.
Revolution and radicalism, real or perceived, has never been incompatible with traditional conservatism, and while the ends do not always justify the means, they can help define them. The 18th-century English statesman and conservative hero Edmund Burke denounced the French Revolution because it sought to change the very nature of man, but he supported the American Revolution because he believed the "rebels" simply wanted to preserve the historic nature of the colonies and its institutions. For Burke, the French Revolution was a threat to tradition and ordered liberty, but the American Revolution was conservative precisely because it sought to preserve the colonists' political and cultural inheritance.
Today's conservative revolution — of which the recent debt ceiling debate is but the latest skirmish — is now blamed on a rowdy band of Capitol Hill Tea Partiers who are constantly urged to moderate their principles and tone down their temperament. This is nonsense. Dowd is correct in her belief that the freshmen Republicans are "maniacs" but only in the sense that they want to rescue a once-Constitutional republic from the dominant big-government consensus beloved by liberals. The Left, and much of the establishment Right, considers post-New Deal America sacrosanct and finds it bizarre that some Republicans dare feel the same way about the Constitution.
Time is on the Tea Party's side, at least for now. Writes Beinart: "Given the era of fiscal scarcity we're now entering ... the Tea Party's dream of a government reduced to its pre-welfare state size becomes ever real, [and] it was the emergence of the Tea Party as the most powerful grassroots pressure group in America that laid the groundwork for Sunday night's deal."
Obama and Boehner's recent debt "deal" may be a joke, but the Tea Party's influence is not. Saying the Tea Party is too extreme is like saying prime rib is too delicious or Natalie Portman is too pretty. What conservatives have been doing as of late isn't crazy — it's working. They should keep doing more of it.
Jack Hunter is the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington.