The Tea Party's Whiny Takeover

The Tea Partiers talked of changing the system, but when they got to the House Republican caucus last week, the revolution was over on day one. John Batchelor on a coup that's all talk.

11.20.10 7:59 PM ET

The Tea Party class of 2010 scurried into the House Republican caucus like rosy-cheeked kindergartners last week and demanded total attention and outsized authority from the Speaker-in-waiting of the House John Boehner and his leadership team. It is a measure of the worst that is yet to come that Boehner, who thinks of himself as Dean Martin, not only granted the Tea Party kids the run of the House but also lavished affection on this squeaking mob of 80-plus as if it was taking over the casino and changing the rules.

"Boehner and his leadership team showed they are afraid of them," remarked a Republican observer. "Boehner knows there is no leadership to discipline them."

What about Eric Cantor, the next Majority Leader? "Boehner treats Cantor as if he is still working for him," commented a Cantor supporter. "He's already putting distance between them. Boehner's not the leader anymore, but he acts like it."

An immediate sign of disorder was that Boehner could not figure how to choose between two self-important newbies, the camera-loves-me rancher Kristi Noem of South Dakota and the loquacious African-American insurance agent Tim Scott from Charleston. So Boehner chose to give them both the meaningless First Prize medal of class prattler.

The peerless self-importance of the class continued in the burlesque house-setting of the caucus chamber, with some of the prideful rubes still sporting their campaign paraphernalia as if this was Animal House awaiting the toga moment. The pay-off for Boehner arrived when it was time to vote by secret ballot on the leadership for the 112th Congress. The froshers settled down dutifully and, without any doubts or even questions as to why there was only one name on the ballot for each leadership position, they voted for the men and women who had twice approved the Bush administration's TARP heresy in 2008 that began the long fall of the country into bailout nationhood.

"The Tea Party kept the TARP leaders in power," scoffed an unhappy veteran Republican. "The revolution was over the first day."

It is a certain fact that John Boehner as Minority Leader forced every member of his leadership team to vote for Hank Paulson’s slap-dash, inexact, and even counterfeit Troubled Asset Relief Program on Monday, October 29, 2008. It is a more significant fact, a proof of combat survival, that the overwhelming number of Republican House votes that day, and again on the second try on Friday, October 3, 2008, were against the TARP as if it was the sin of avarice itself. Boehner does not mention the TARP anymore, as if it was some other Buckeye sharpie who signed on to rescuing the banks too-big-to-fail with taxpayer money, but Boehner surely remembers the haughtiness he manufactured back in 2008 when challenged the handouts for maximum bankers, "This is no time for ideological purity."

"They act like they're the first people to get elected," measured a Republican veteran after several days of giddy freshmen enthusiasm.

Ignorant or indifferent to aggrandizing the TARP-in-Chief of the GOP, John Boehner, the class celebrated its inauguration by squirming in its seat to vote on the earmarks novelty. The game Boehner was playing was to choose between a "moratorium" on earmarks—the piggy bank that pols use to reward their cronies out of the public pocket—or to vote on a "ban" on earmarks. This heroic choice has the same meaninglessness as choosing between refusing to eat a chocolate eclair tonight and claiming you are never, never, never going to eat chocolate again—that is, who's kidding whom? A Tea Party freshman was overheard to boast of the pending vote for a ban, "With this freshmen class, it's going to pass."

The sugar-high members retired to their parochial media star turns after the vote, leaving Dean Martin's last imitator in charge of choosing the chairs of the committees. Boehner, who controls a number of votes on the Star Chamber of the Steering Committee, rewarded the Tea Party class with three seats at the table in another gesture of self-indulgent parenting for the endlessly self-satisfied. Behind closed doors, however, the lush Rat Pack gathered quickly to claim its lieutenancies, led by Jerry ("J Lew") Lewis of California, the ex officio on all Appropriations subcommittee. Lewis, whose reputation suggests Romulan cunning, is term-limited to chair Appropriations again, and he aims to gain a waiver in order to return to the pork business. What about the Tea Party ban? The answer is that it is not only an indifference, a matter of what is an appropriations and what is an earmark, but also the bold alternative chairmanship choice for Boehner could be Hal Rogers of Kentucky, who is regarded second only to Lewis in bacon-crisping.

A third candidate emerged from the lapidarian pages of the Wall Street Journal as a solution to the Appropriations quandary, Jack Kingston of Georgia, who boldly started campaigning for chair as a reformer of the GOP's talent for spending Main Street's money on its K Street and Wall Street pals. Mr. Kingston's bona fides includes his wish to keep the Capitol Police force smaller than an Army regiment.

Does the Tea Party class know that the earmark-ban game is already over? Does the Tea Party class understand that it is in Washington to placate Washington while it runs for re-election without a wave behind it?

"They act like they're the first people to get elected," measured a Republican veteran after several days of giddy freshmen enthusiasm. "They elected Boehner, who wept on opening day. Where are the adults?"

If you are asking again, where is the new Majority Leader Eric Cantor in this Boehner care-giving carnival, you are correctly identifying the frailty of the House under Speaker Boehner. Dean Martin is weak tea.

John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Follow John on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.