10/29/2010 02:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

4 Tea Party Leaders on "Last Word": "Social Security and Medicare are NOT Socialism"

Lawrence O'Donnell scored a political coup d'etats on his program last night, interviewing 4 leaders of various Tea Party groups, asking each whether Social Security or Medicare were "socialism". After each said "no", O'Donnell pointed out to them that there was nothing more socialistic than our government directly paying out retirement benefits and medical benefits to recipients. Later in the segment, he was able to get one of them to call social security payments "socialistic", but was still not in favor of eliminating them.

As the Tea Partiers are complaining about "out-of-control" federal spending, O'Donnell asked them each what they would cut. One, representing Dick Armey's Freedom Works, proposed a massive cut of about $1B (!) in spending from a government program helping businesses access foreign markets. Another said that Social Security disability should be eliminated. A third said she had no idea whatsoever.

Then, all chimed in about eliminating the Department of Energy and the Department of Education, although one of them hedged and suggested the latter be reduced "to sub-cabinet level". When O'Donnell pointed out that reducing it to sub-cabinet would not save money, he seemed genuinely surprised, but then advocated its total elimination not because of spending but because "federal bureaucrats should not be determining what children should be learning".

The fourth proposed cutting medicare in half. When asked whether he would cut benefits in half and have individuals pay for the rest, he began to talk about changing the structure of how we deliver healthcare--regrettably, the segment ended there, since this had possibilities.

One suggestion for O'Donnell, should his show ever be graced by these Tea Party leaders again: ask them if they would eliminate the FDA because it regulates about 30% of the economy. That is government regulation of businesses and a strong contender not only for socialism but for intrusive government power. He should tell them some of FDA's powers: it can order a drug or device or food or cosmetic off the market, immediately; it can disapprove any of those products from being sold in the first place; it can arrive without notice and inspect manufacturing facilities, and shut them down; it can prosecute wrongdoers for lying to them.

The FDA's powers should be a very difficult pill to swallow for Tea Partiers, once they know what it does. I would be fascinated to hear what they think of "'dem apples". That's 30% of the free market US economy right there. Depending on their responses, O'Donnell could then lead them in either direction (e.g., if they OK the FDA, then why,philosophically, not regulate worker safety, air quality, water quality, mine safety, oil drilling as these pose threats to human health as well---if they are not OK with FDA, then how can they be confident that the drugs they take would be safe or effective, the food they serve their children would not be contaminated, the cosmetics they used would not cause scarring, and so forth--note that if they say that companies that did such things would go out-of-business, or be sued, then they are at once accepting what could be a high level of injury or death first and/or the value of trial lawyers!)

A second, more basic philosophical suggestion: ask them about freedom versus justice. That is, your freedom to do whatever you want on your land may pollute my land and make it unsafe and valueless. How do they propose to balance liberty and justice if we do not do that collectively, through government action?

Finally, since they all punctuate their sentences with "the Constitution", it would be fascinating to find out just what it is they know about the document. Christine O'Donnell touts her "course" in Constitutional Law, but seems to know nothing whatsoever about it, nor the Supreme Court cases that interpret it.

Overall, this program was a great "get". It would be great if O'Donnell could tape a 90' off-air session with this Gang-of-Four, and then post that on a website. I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall for that one!

That is not to suggest that any of the Tea Partiers left with a scintilla of doubt about the rightness of their own beliefs. True believers need only 0.01% of reality to be consistent with their belief system to continue to believe, absolutely. Moreover, they have followers and just received Warhol's 15' of fame. Hard to relinquish because of a few pesky facts or inconsistencies.

Nor is it to suggest that any of the secret backers of this movement actually care a plugged nickel about what these "leaders" think. The Koch Boys and their comrades have invested to eliminate taxes and regulations and to globalize the labor market so as to reduce wages.

If the Tea Partiers ever figured out how they were being used and manipulated--now THAT might cause an uprising!