For many, including President Barack Obama, the Tea Party is a mere force of opposition. It exists to resist. Yet in just under 12 minutes, Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) Tea Party response to the State of the Union address crushed every bit of that impression and established the Tea Party as a movement that’s here to stay — and lead.
Lee’s speech on Tuesday evening took as its goal the transition of the Tea Party from making a point to making achange. To make this move, the Senator focused on two major themes.
1. Lee posited a new and more powerful understanding of inequality
Sure, Obama has been a dedicated rhetorician to problems of inequality. It’s a problem, as Lee pointed out, to which he “has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting.” While the President has tried pushing several answers to inequality — things like minimum wage hikes and universal preschool — his understanding of the root causes of inequality has been, at best, hazy.
Not so for Lee.
“[W]here does this new inequality come from?” he asked in his response. “From government — every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats and special interests.”
He followed with an impressive list of examples — something notably absent from both the President’s State of the Union and the GOP response. Among those examples of government-created inequality: blocking energy innovation for the sake of “partisan donors and radical environmental activists”; “guaranteeing insurance companies taxpayer bailouts if Obamacare cuts into their profits”; and “trapping poor children in failing schools to benefit bureaucrats and union bosses.”
Lee didn’t pull punches, closing out his argument with a shot at Obama’s inability to accomplish his policy goals.
“Throughout the last five years, President Obama has promised an economy for the middle class; but all he’s delivered is an economy for the middle-men.”
2. Lee flipped the Tea Party from the opposition into the leadership
Obama has continued to insist that conservatives have no viable alternative to Obamacare — even though another one came out just this week — and he repeated that charge on Tuesday night.
To remove any and all doubt on the matter, Lee produced a laundry list of what he called a “new conservative reform agenda.”
Poverty? “Conservative reformers like Senator Marco Rubio, Congressman Paul Ryan and Congressman Jim Jordan are working on new welfare-reform ideas to help underprivileged families.”
Criminal justice? “Senator Rand Paul and I are working with some of the most liberal Democrats in Congress toreform the federal criminal-justice system … creating opportunities for reformed, non-violent offenders to return to the families and neighborhoods that so desperately need them.”
Infrastructure? “Congressman Tom Graves has a transportation-reform bill to ensure our infrastructure dollars are invested in roads and bridges, and not wasted on bureaucrats and special interests.”
Lee also had solutions for education policy, corporate welfare, and, yes, health care. It seemed like Lee was determined to offer more policy proposals in 12 minutes than Obama could in more than an hour.
The Senator closed with strong words about the holistic view of this new reformist conservatism. It would thrive “Not just by cutting big government, but by fixing broken government,” he said. “Not just by making government smaller but by promoting bigger citizens, stronger families and more heroic communities. Our goal should be an America where everyone has a fair chance to pursue happiness — and find it. That’s what it looks like when protest grows into reform.”
Lee’s response was a powerful foil to the usual coverage given to Tea Party conservatives. By leveraging the power of his platform to stress the group’s movement from opposition to leadership, Lee presented both himself and his party as legitimate alternatives for those looking to reform government.
Yet for all of the policy recommendations, Lee was quick to point out the true, underlying power of innovation, growth and support in the United States.
“We succeed because within America’s diverse society of individuals and families, neighborhoods and churches, businesses and communities, freedom doesn’t mean you’re on your own,” he said. “Freedom means we’re all in this together.”
Note: The preceding is the opinion of editor and writer James Velasquez. It does not express the views and opinions of Right Progress as an organization.
A version of this article originally appeared on Red Alert Politics.