NPR Offers Tea Party a 'D-Minus' on Christmas Morning

December 28th, 2011 11:38 AM

NPR marked Christmas morning by whacking at the Tea Party. NPR anchor Audie Cornish handed over her Weekend Edition Sunday microphone to American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein, who gave the Tea Party a B if the goal was to “try and keep government from functioning,” but in “actually trying to make things happen in a constructive fashion, we’re down in the D-minus level, and that’s being generous in the Christmas season.”

Ornstein was much happier a year ago. On the morning of December 23, 2010, he told NPR’s David Welna the country had the “most productive lame-duck session” since the 1940s and Welna added “Ornstein says this lame-duck session was a fitting climax for an amazingly productive 111th Congress.”

Ornstein went on to crow "This is really a very big fat cherry on the top of the whipped cream of a quite nutritious filling, maybe even fat-producing, sundae. [Harry] Reid deserves a lot of credit for what was a masterful performance as leader."

Sadly, NPR’s Welna described AEI as a “conservative think tank,” which certainly does not fit Ornstein even if it fits many AEI experts. This year, Ornstein was all thumbs down:

AUDIE CORNISH: Let's run through some of the legislative debates that turned into struggles this year. We had the bill funding the federal disaster assistance for hurricane victims; multiple threats of government shut down throughout the year; of course, the supercommittee for deficit reduction; and the debate over raising the debt ceiling.What grade would you give Tea Party freshmen this year on their report card?

NORMAN ORNSTEIN: Well, if their goal was to disrupt Washington and try and keep government from functioning - even in its basic levels - you got to give them a B or a B-plus. If the goal is, as Harry Reid alluded to, governing - actually trying to make things happen in a constructive fashion - we're down in the D-minus level, and that's being generous in the Christmas season.

CORNISH: At the same time, Norm, I remember being at protests with Tea Party activists and there was a real feeling that they wanted to send lawmakers to Congress who would put a halt to all of what they considered over legislating by the previous Congress. So, you know, I was really surprised to see the way The Wall Street Journal or Karl Rove or these folks were coming out against the move by the House here.

ORNSTEIN: Well, what Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial writers - John McCain, Mitch McConnell and so many others - were saying is basically pick your fights. And this is a really stupid place to pick a fight. Their goal is more a political one of trying to make sure that they can both defeat Barack Obama but also win a majority in the Senate and hold a majority in the House.

Early on, the kind of push from these Tea Party members, to basically say to the president: We'll bring the temple down around all of our heads unless you give in, had worked. And this time it didn't. And a lot of the old pros in this process didn't want to stick with it.

CORNISH: So, how does this change the atmosphere for these lawmakers in 2012 and for Tea Party activists in 2012?

ORNSTEIN: Well, the first thing to remember here is we're going to be back to the bargaining table. And if anything, the Tea Party freshmen are going to be more intent on holding the line and getting a better deal if this is going to go for the full year.

Boehner's headaches aren’t over. And for many of these freshmen, some of them are going to divert from the path of saying take no prisoners, no compromise. The rest of them will hold onto it. And it'll be very interesting to see what kind of damage there is in the end to them and their election chances, as well.

It would not be hard to imagine that Ornstein is rooting for "damage" to the Tea Party's political viability, or that NPR wouldn't like to see any threat of a defunding from Republicans vanish at the ballot box.