Tea Party prominent: Palin not presidential
Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo was the opening speaker at the recent Tea Party conference with Sarah Palin. In an interview with NRC Handelsblad, he spoke his mind about Palin. "I really don’t have this feeling about her as being presidential.’’ He referred to John McCain as a “nasty, mean’’ and “peculiarly unstable’’ man. Moreover, Tancredo pointed to a possible personal embarrassment: if Tea Party activists would find out he actually voted for the bailout of the financial sector in 2008, he concedes he would loose his credibility.
As a Republican congressman from Colorado, Tom Tancredo became well-known for his hard-line opposition to illegal immigration. Last year, the 65-year-old retired from the House of Representatives after a decade. Meanwhile, the country shifted to the left during his prospectless bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Moderate John McCain won the primaries, Barack Obama became president and there seemed to be no place left for Tancredo in national politics. But now he has made his way back into the limelight as one of the faces of the Tea Party movement.
In the course of last year, anti-tax protestors took hold of the public debate on government spending and healthcare. Mainly libertarians and older conservatives from rural areas in particular are taking to the streets with fierce slogans (‘Obama = socialism’) and a deep loathing of “cultural elites”. Earlier this month, Tancredo was the opening speaker at the movement’s first national convention in Nashville.
In an interview with NRC Handelsblad, he talked about the Tea Party movement, senator John McCain and Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate and a heroine of the movement.
After her speech at the Nashville convention, Palin said she is considering a run for the presidency in 2012. Tancredo however, does not believe she is fit for the presidency.
"I really don’t have this feeling about her as being presidential," he Tancredo said. "I don’t know what it is exactly. I don’t know if the issues really are that difficult for her or not.”
He questions if she has what it takes, and whether she really wants it. “As governor of the state of Alaska, she doesn’t have all that kind of experience. She can get better. But I don’t know if she is really looking to do it.’’
It could all be a commercial thing, just a way to sell books?
“Sure. Make a lot of money and stay in the mix. I think that’s a great idea.’’
John McCain has brought over his former running mate to campaign for him in Arizona, where the Tea Party movement is challenging his seat in the Senate.
She will campaign against J.D. Hayworth, a friend of yours who is on your side in the immigration debate. What does that tell you about Palin?
“That tells me she is a Republican. I am not. I mean, I am a member of that
party and that will always stay that way. But to me it’s only a mechanism, a
way to get on the ballot and all that. But she is a real Republican.’’
She has to do this to rise in the party ranks?
“I think so.’’
So she is just as much an unprincipled politician as all the rest of them?
“To a large extent.’’
And you still love her?
“I didn’t say that!’’
Well, in your Tea Party speech you pointed out that she could finally say all those wonderful things now she’s free from McCain.
“I said: ‘Now she can tell it like it is.’ And she chooses not to.’’
So at the end of the day you are not that fond of her?
“You are right. I was much fonder of her before she chose to get involved in the McCain thing. She didn’t have to do it.’’
His loathing for McCain has a long history. “I don’t like him,” Tancredo said. “He is not a very pleasant person. He is nasty, mean; the skin of an onion would look deep compared to his. He has a short fuse, he is almost peculiarly unstable.”
He still remembers his first encounter with the senator from Arizona. In 1999, Tancredo was elected to the House with 54 percent of the votes in his Colorado district. “When you win with less than 55 percent of the vote, you are seen as vulnerable. So then the party will go out to the superstars and say, can you please pick one or two vulnerables and do a fundraiser for them.” Somebody in McCain’s office picked him. “And I go, that’s great!” Tancredo recalled.
One day, he went over to the Senate and bumped into McCain in the elevator. “I had never met him. So I shake his hand to thank him for doing the fundraiser.” The senator then asked if he could count on Tancredo’s support for McCain-Feingold (a bipartisan campaign reform act McCain had drafted with Democratic senator Russell Feingold). Tancredo opposed this proposed regulation of political campaign financing, and he told McCain. “So I go: ‘I am voting no, I don’t like it. I actually think it’s terrible’.”
“It was like a bomb went off in his head. He exploded! He was screaming at me! It was, ‘When I come across the fucking street, you are…’ And, ‘You don’t know what the fuck you are talking about!’ And I said, ‘What?!’ I was just so taken aback. But then I went after him: ‘Hey, nobody told me you are coming to help me for a quid pro quo for a shit bill!’ It just got worse. It was really bad, I remember us getting out of the elevator and people stepped back way up because they couldn’t handle the screaming.”
The two never reconciled. “From there, it only went downhill,’’ according to Tancredo.
So what you are saying is, he would have been a really bad president?
“A terrible president.’’
Meanwhile, the real target of the Tea Party movement is president Obama, his proposed healthcare reforms and his bailout of the banks and the auto industry. At the Tea Party convention, Tancredo referred to Obama as a “committed socialist ideologue’’.
What makes him a socialist?
“Well, first of all, the definition of socialism is constantly evolving it seems. And given today’s definition, I guess I should have used the word ‘euro socialism’. European type socialists think that big government is acceptable. You don’t own the means of production but you tax the hell out of them for the purpose of redistribution of wealth. That’s closer to his position than the textbook definition in which the government own the means of production.’’
So it’s not necessarily true that he is socialist?
“No. But the ends are the same. You have a flattening income curve and redistribution of wealth mostly based on taxation. He has talked about that. He likes that idea. He talks about the people that have influenced him, and some of them are committed Marxists. So he thinks that way, he works with people who think like that, and he really has no qualms about the government taking over General Motors. I mean, the government saying who can be the chairman of GM? I do not understand that anybody can look at that and say, ‘No that’s not socialism’.’’
In Congress you voted for the bailout. Doesn’t that make you a socialist?
“In September 2008, when I was still in Congress, we voted on the purchase of toxic assets for 700 billion dollar. In my view that was not socialism.’’
The government took over AIG, the world’s biggest insurer, with that money.
“But there you have the problem: that is not what we voted for. The idea, as they presented it, was to give tax brakes to companies in trouble. That’s not socialism. And it is not meant to redistribute wealth. That’s the whole thing.
“The difference from my point of view is the government deciding who has enough and who doesn’t. And then stepping in, demonstrative, to change that arrangement. That to me is socialism.
“Giving tax breaks to companies is something else. I don’t like it, but under those circumstances I supported it because I believed the alternative would have put an end to our free market system. I was told by everybody – Bernanke, Paulson, and other specialists, all brilliant guys – that if we didn’t do this in 48 hours, nobody will be able to get money out of the ATM.”
“But I am happy to acknowledge that things ended quite differently. The biggest mistake I made was that I ended up voting for something that was not clearly defined. They talked about toxic assets. But apparently it wasn’t narrowly defined, they could use the 700 billion where ever they thought it was best.’’
But there you were, staunch conservative Tom Tancredo in one of his last days in Congress, supporting a huge government program for the financial sector on the side of all the liberals you loathed your whole life.
“Oh, it was very strange. It was bizarre! But let me tell you the interesting aspect from my point of view. There were several people that essentially said to me (and many, many, many more who didn’t say it), ‘I can’t vote for it, but my God, I hope it passes’.’’
They wanted to be re-elected, and you were not?
So it comes down to the hypocrisy of politics?
“Of course!” he laughed. “Everything does.”
Do the Tea Party people realise that you supported the bailout?
“I don’t know.’’
And if they knew, wouldn’t they be angry with you?
“Yeah, I am sure that would take the lustre off.’’