The charge of the Tea Brigade

Foreign Affairs & Security
Friday, October 18, 2013
Brian Cattell

As a tactical manoeuvre, the American Right’s daring attempt to derail Obamacare was a suicide mission doomed from the beginning. But its fundamental aims were noble and pure, and they go to the heart of what must be done to secure the future prosperity of Western societies.

As the Republican offensive on President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform crumbled into ignominious failure, I found myself recalling the famous words of Lord Tennyson:  

Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell

Tennyson’s poem about the doomed British Light Brigade charge during the Crimea War could well apply to the cavalry of America’s Tea Party, led by the loquacious Texan Senator Ted Cruz - straight into a dead end.

After weeks of battling both Democrats and moderate Republicans, the end result for the Republican right is that the Senate is re-opening the government, raising the debt ceiling, and continuing to roll out Obamacare.  And Republicans have got nothing in return.

The Senate bill extends the federal borrowing limit until February 7th and funds the government to January 15th. So brace yourself for the next battle sometime soon.

But for now, the fighting is done. Obama and the Democrats will claim a great victory, whilst the Republicans are left to appear to America, and much of the rest of the world, like a divided and dangerous rabble.

It is true, the Republican side with Cruz’s Tea Party acolytes in the vanguard, fought a poor tactical battle – one with only one possible outcome. They overplayed their hand, underestimated the resolve of their opponent in the White House and, in the process, exposed bitter fissures within their own party.

It is also true that global markets will bounce, the chattering classes will shrug, and the Tea Party “Taliban” will be denounced some more in liberal drawing rooms from Hampstead to Tribeca.

But amidst this crowing there will be relatively little said or written about what this fight was really about. There should be.

For it is a fight about the size and scope of government; a fight about the grotesquely swollen US public debt; a fight about the unceasing expansion of federal spending on entitlements; a fight about a tax burden on business and individuals that is hurtling towards European levels – and beyond.

Of course, it is not strictly about party. Both Democrats and Republicans have are to blame for where the country is today. The US Government’s debt expanded from $1 trillion in 1980 to $5 trillion in 1999 to its current level of $16 trillion.

But unless the juggernaut of US tax and spend can be turned around, everything that once made America great - its economic dynamism; its embrace of enterprise; its fundamental faith in people to better themselves; and its optimism that in doing so they would build a better society – will all be in peril.

Despite its debt, and its political dysfunction, America remains strong. But only a renewal of its core values - on a 21st Century canvas – can help restore the economic vigour and swagger of the greatest society on earth.

However ineptly, this is the crusade the American Right is trying to wage. A big battle is lost, and the troops are in disarray. But if Republicans across the spectrum can unite around the simple but big idea of smaller government, then the war can still be won.

Brian Cattell is a former Chairman of the Bow Group and a current member of the Group’s Advisory Council. He has been involved in politics on both sides of the Atlantic for over 20 years abd is a current US resident.