For weeks the world stood on edge as Congressional Democrats and Republicans fought to iron out a debt ceiling deal. When weeks turned to days, people warned that America’s credit worthiness hung in the balance. Ally and foe alike watched as our political system unraveled before their eyes, revealing both the vibrancy of American political debate and a crippling partisanship. Shortly thereafter, Standard and Poor’s downgraded America’s rating, citing a dysfunctional political system as one of the many factors that inspired their action. The rating sparked a new bound of alarmism which led to further divisiveness rather than a reevaluation of America’s political system. One group was repeatedly blamed for the delay: the Tea Party. During the debt ceiling countdown, international news outlets and thus people around the world were introduced to the Tea Party.
Firstly, I am interested in studying the nuances behind the Tea Party’s foreign policy debates. On the one hand, the Ron Paul Tea Partiers often sound further left than most leftists. Paul is constantly horrifying and confusing opponents with his emphasis on moving away from the idea of America as an international policeman. His neo-isolationism is unacceptable to the Sarah Palin’s wing of the Tea Party, who tends to be more in line with what most would view as traditional American exceptionalism-based Republican foreign policy. The successes of the Tea Party can largely be attributed to its ideological unity. In the foreign policy realm, there seems to be two vocal tea party darlings with two very differing views of American power and influence. It will be interesting to study to what extent those views trickle down to members of Congress and what, if any, implication it may hold for their ability to exert influence over foreign policy.
Secondly, I would like to explore is that of what, if any, effect the Tea Party will have on American foreign policy. I would primarily like to study it from a comparative standpoint, looking at the Tea Party in relation to the isolationist movement of the 1930s. Although there are significant differences between the Tea Party and the isolationist movement in the 1930s, there are many similarities as well. While the isolationist movement was inspired by war wariness, the isolationist end of the Tea Party hopes to extend its domestic policies and discourse on liberty and fiscal responsibility to the foreign arena. Even without ideological cohesion, the possibility of ideological cohesion means there are still important lessons to be learned from the way the Presidency handled isolationists in the 1930s. These lessons may determine how a President can or should handle a group that attempts to exert influence on the one arena that has traditionally been almost unconditionally dominated by the Executive.
Regardless of who wins the Presidency, the struggle for power between the Presidency and Congress will likely continue. The Tea Party has already shown itself as a group who is ready for confrontation and unwilling to say “uncle” so studying them in conjunction with the rapidly changing global climate will be fascinating.