Perhaps liberals have a hard time understanding the tea party phenomenon because it's so at odds with the spirit of the times. Those funny 18th-century costumes they sport at rallies have a deeper meaning than simply a reference to the original Boston Tea Party. Unlike most 20th- and 21st-century political activists, tea party members are not asking for anything from the federal government -- not "full funding" for this or that program, not more research for this or that disease, and not more tax exemptions for this or that industry. They simply ask that the federal government not spend more than it collects in taxes and not continue its suicidal expansion.
Tea party activists are excellent patriots -- but during the debt-ceiling confrontation, some have displayed an obtuse and even vain rigidity.
Phillips, for example, argued that "Boehner is not listening to those who elected him and is now pushing a plan with almost nonexistent budget cuts" and urged a no vote. Sen. Rand Paul vowed that he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling until after a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution passed. Rep. Jason Chaffetz explained his unwillingness to back Boehner's bill this way: "I really truly worry that the debt is one of the single greatest threats to the United States of America, that we're talking about a problem that is multitrillion (dollars) in its depth, and I think we ought to be cutting more. I just don't think it goes far enough."
Of course the Boehner bill doesn't solve the debt problem. The debt is 98.6 percent of GDP. A debt of that magnitude will take years to tame. Unlike debt-ceiling increases in the past, this one at least sets the precedent of requiring dollar-for-dollar cuts.
The Democrats control the Senate. The presidency is occupied by a Democrat. Those two uncomfortable realities severely limit the good that can be accomplished at this moment.