The Wednesday Outlook: Proximity and Paranoia

Updated

The Tea Party’s fiscal disconnect between spending on themselves and cutting spending on others isn’t hypocrisy. It’s not even disingenuous. But it is vital to understanding the mentality that has paralyzed our ability to manage our national affairs at the moment.

Sam Stein has an absolutely essential piece up at Huffington Post. He’ll be on tonight to talk about it, too, so make sure you don’t miss it. What he found out was that lots of freshman Republicans are cutting national spending on the one hand, while also seeking more spending for their own districts. It’s always easy to demonize people as having awful motives. And, yes, I’m sure some members of Congress are doing this simply for their own political benefit at home.

But I think if we resist demonizing them, we might find a more useful explanation – one that might help point a way forward to dealing with these people. Here’s what Jessica Towhey, a spokesperson for Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), said about the disconnect between his push for national cuts even as he sought more money for his own district:

“There’s a difference between smart federal spending and the reckless, irresponsible waste of tax dollars the American people are fed up with.”

That’s true. And it’s consistent with Rep. Bobby Schiller’s (R-OH) newfound love of infrastructure spending. But I think what’s really going on here is something we find in lots of people, not just politicians. In fact, we saw the same phenomena with gay marriage – opponents of it came to know gays and gay couples…and suddenly weren’t opponents any more. We’ve seen it with Republicans who oppose abortion, or health-care spending, open up loopholes that would benefit people they know. Yes, some of it might just be callow self-interest. But the big elements I think most people miss is the impact of proximity and the inability to abstract.

When a lot of Republicans deal with national spending in the abstract, their culture of fear and paranoia leads them to imagine that it’s all misguided at best and corrupt at worst: “Reckless, irresponsible waste,” as Towhey said.

When it’s in their district, yes, it benefits them…but it also means they see how well it works. Proximity. That’s part of why they make a distinction. Home spending is good not just because it’s home, but because it’s near enough that they see its worth.

Which means one way to undo the entire Tea Party ethos might be to open their eyes about how well it works…everywhere.

Follow Senior Producer Jonathan Larsen (@jtlarsen) on Twitter

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The Wednesday Outlook: Proximity and Paranoia

Updated