As somebody who is sympathetic to the tea party and has attended quite a few tea party rallies, even deriving wicked pleasure from bragging to my liberal pals that I was thisclose to Joe the Plumber, I am fearful of what the tea party may do to the country in the next day or two.  

Their “once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide” day is fast approaching. It arrives tomorrow.  As summed up by the Wall Street Journal, here is the tea party dilemma:  

The debt-limit debate is heading toward a culmination, with President Obama reduced to pleading for the public to support a tax increase and Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid releasing competing plans that are the next-to-last realistic options. The question now is whether House Republicans are going to help Mr. Boehner achieve significant progress, or, in the name of the unachievable, hand Mr. Obama a victory.

The big news is that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the smart and courageous numbers cruncher, has come out for the Boehner plan. Reading between the lines, I feel certain that Ryan has put out his statement in a move to corral tea party members and prevent what would turn into a disaster for the nation and any future hope of getting the budget under control.

Ryan explains:

The Budget Control Act takes an important step in the right direction by cutting $1.2 trillion in government spending over the next decade. Critically, it does this without resorting to Senator Reid’s gimmicks and without imposing the president’s preferred tax increases on American families and the struggling economy.

This bill is far from perfect. We still have a long way to go toward getting the key drivers of our debt – especially federal health-care spending – under control. But considering that House Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation.

The Boehner plan would raise the debt ceiling $1 trillion but require $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.  The cuts would come mostly from discretionary domestic spending, leaving the Pentagon untouched. It sets up automatic cuts if spending limits are exceeded.

It sets up a 12-member select committee to find ways for further $1.8 trillion in cuts by November.  Some seem stuck on this committee-who would be on it?-and, with all the buck-passing commissions we see in this town, it’s not hard to understand why. The GOP even fears that the committee could ask for tax hikes. But governing isn’t a one-shot deal. The committee could be changed later, if it doesn’t perform. I would urge those critics to remember that this is a war that isn’t going to be won in a day. But it can be lost very quickly, as we are on the verge of learning.

The Wall Street Journal notes that some usually sensible conservatives are condemning the Boehner plan:

But what none of these critics have is an alternative strategy for achieving anything nearly as fiscally or politically beneficial as Mr. Boehner’s plan. The idea seems to be that if the House GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, a default crisis or gradual government shutdown will ensue, and the public will turn en masse against . . . Barack Obama. The Republican House that failed to raise the debt ceiling would somehow escape all blame. Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced-budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea-party Hobbits could return to Middle Earth having defeated Mordor.

This is the kind of crack political thinking that turned Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell into GOP Senate nominees. The reality is that the debt limit will be raised one way or another, and the only issue now is with how much fiscal reform and what political fallout.

I tend to think of the tea party as a noble movement. I hope they will not become so caught up in their own nobility that they will do something ignoble. If they want to demonstrate how great they are, how immovable, how incapble of governing because of their own superiority, then they risk destroying themselves, taking our hopes for financial reform in the future and a good chunk of our wobbly financial standing with them.