God Bless the Tea Party

With 2 August looming, and The End of the World As We Know It, I’m going to go against several general mores this morning.

First, I decided that I was only going to post about London things while I was here … then this duty assignment stretched for more than three months, and while I’m not out of things to say about this great city, the timeliness of what’s happening prompts me to stop waiting on this post.

Second, I decided that I wasn’t going to talk a lot of politics on this blog … not because I don’t enjoy it, but because my intention is to amuse and interest, not cause conflict.

Finally, by nature and inclination, I try to write essays more than emotional or vitriolic posts. It’s less funny sometimes, but I’d like to be thought-provoking on occasion. I’m not sure this is going to come out sounding normal. I’m not going to throw dozens of facts and figures into my argument, because there’s just something I have to get off my chest.

To Hell with the Tea Party.

The Republicans have an opportunity right now to do something amazing, simply for its infrequency in American politics: by quoting the previous paragraph, I think they can do the right thing and position themselves to win elections.

Rewind. Let me say, I’ve always considered myself a Republican. I grew up in a conservative family in countless political arguments with my (then) liberal best friend. My aunt held several positions on a Republican governor’s cabinet. I was a precinct delegate in the 1992 presidential election and cast votes for Bush 41.

What’s more, I’m economically pretty conservative. My heart goes out to people in need and I believe that a basic social safety net is something that helps everyone, but I embrace personal responsibility. I believe in workfare, not welfare. I believe in equality of opportunity and equality of treatment, but I don’t think government can make us equal or should try. I’m pro-business. I’m pro-military, including using our military in the furtherance of our national interests. I’m pro-national sovereignty. Although the Republicans get fake credit for the idea (Reagan won the Cold War by outspending the Soviets, after all), I’m against deficit spending – I don’t spend money I don’t have, and don’t generally favor the government doing so just because they don’t have any discipline.

I always thought I had my conservative cred nailed down.

But then the the wheels fall off: I think your rights extend to the end of your outstretched fist. Legalize drugs? Fine. The arguments against them that people would commit more crime … well, crime is already illegal, for whatever reason you commit it, and people are doing countless legal things to kill themselves or put themselves on the public health dole. Abortion? It doesn’t seem to me to be the same kind of murder as knifing or shooting someone, and I’m not going to tell anyone else what to do with their body. Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one. Don’t like gay sex? Support gay marriage, because marriage is reputedly the end of good sex. I’m basically about government not telling people what they can and can’t believe or do, and government not doing anything that it doesn’t need to be involved in (including thought control). I’m against “liberals” telling me that I must accept things I think are wrong just because “people are different and we should be understanding.” Now, I usually settle for telling people that I’m a Libertarian.

Back to the Tea Party. There is a movement in our country that says Sharia law is horrible, but thinks that we’re a Christian country and that our laws should reflect God’s Law. A movement that lauds people who embrace ignorance because “normal, down to Earth” politicians are celebrated over “elitists” who might actually have the training and intellect to govern well. A movement that wraps resistance to change in a mantle of Constitutionalism, so they can refuse to allow anything to get better because God forbid we imagine that the Founding Fathers would have been in favor of a little progress. A movement that sees enemies everywhere and has publicly declared its unwillingness to compromise on even those things where they are nothing but a vocal minority. A movement that is an offshoot of the religious right’s hijacking of the Grand Old Party, mixed with nationalist brainwashing on a scarcely imaginable level.

How else do you explain people who can barely make ends meet, but beat the drum so feverishly for corporate tax breaks because the government shouldn’t interfere with business. People who are against welfare or unemployment for “those people,” but not if it’s their need. I personally think references to Nazism are overplayed and inflammatory, but the xenophobia and religiosity of the Tea Party movement feel so fascist that it scares me. Which is a shame, because I love the bare-bones economic ideas they started with, and the federalist view of what the national government’s powers ought to be. I’ve just never seen a group of people screaming so loudly in favor of things that are completely against their interests. Pragmatically, ivory tower intellectuals should be the ones for tax breaks for the rich, and these blue collar misfits should be picketing for unions, not against them.

I started thinking about this back in April when the Tea Party were holding the national budget debate hostage and Representative Boehner was showing fresh gray hair every day trying to keep his party in line. That last part hasn’t changed. All these freshmen congressmen and -women came to Washington and said, “Fine. Shut the national government rather than spend on things we don’t agree with.” And what, specifically? False statistics on Planned Parenthood. Careful, TP’ers, your hypocrisy is showing. When your willingness to crash the national spending is based on a few line items in discretionary spending, you’re going to have a hard time selling me on the idea that you’re serious about real fiscal reform. The budget almost didn’t get passed over an issue that constituted less than 0.01% of spending.

Fast forward to the last month or so, and the disgusting politics that is being played with the enlargement of the national debt ceiling. The level of brinksmanship that these people are forcing jeapordizes our couuntry’s future. Do you realize what’s going to happen if we default on our loans? I’ve already said that I favor balanced budgets, but a constitutional amendment dictating it in a couple of months is never going to happen (and isn’t a good idea, regardless). I do believe that a deal will get done in the next couple of days, but the tenor of the debate in Washington has ensured that nothing will be easy while these people are a racuous caucus within the Republican Party.

And so, to my idea. Boehner, Mitchell, whoever … tell them to wander off back into crazyland. You don’t need them. The Tea Party is a cancer on American politics, and you can kill so many flies with one blow that next the king will be promising you his daughter’s hand in marriage for slaying a giant.

The situation in American politics is abysmal. You have the democrats on the left, and one of the things that I generally like about them is also one of their biggest weaknesses: they have no cohesion. The Right’s politics can be summarized neatly – they are pro-military, pro-God and pro-smaller government. Mom and apple pie. Flags and baseball. They like self-made men and families and dislike homosexuality and brown people. But the Left? They’re a hodge-podge of people who believe that the government can fix things that are wrong OR believe in more tolerance of differences OR favor gay marriage OR are against military action. If you put nine “liberals” in a room, you’ll get ten different political platforms. It’s not that some liberals aren’t religious or some aren’t economically conservative or that some don’t believe that we should only be good global citizens when it suits us. It’s that there isn’t any homogenous combination of those things, so it seems to me that a lot of people vote democratic because they are reacting to the rejection of one or more of their personal issues by the lockstep Right.

I’m one of those. I would still like to call myself a Republican, but I feel like my party walked away from me more than a decade ago when Newt Gingrich started lobbing ultrapolitical bombs from the back bench as minority leader and Ralph Reed somehow persuaded so many people that God should still be sending our laws down mountains on stone tablets. I vote based on my personal judgment of a candidate – are they thoughtful, and will they listen and govern carefully? I’ve never been tempted to be a one-issue voter and now, more than ever, I try to see the forest for the trees when casting a ballot.

And you know what? I think there are a lot of people like me. People who believe in fiscal responsibility and try to live their lives that way; people who love the military but believe the best way to support our troops is not to put them in harm’s way unnecessarily; people who think that church is amazing for the people it’s amazing for, but not the foundation for a system of laws beyond the normative principles that are inherent in just about every organized religion; people who long for practical leadership by intelligent people, instead of having to put up with wedge issues and demagoguery. In other words, Republicans whom you can’t count on voting that way because of all the chaff inherent in putting a conservative into office.

To the Republican leadership: my demographic is up for grabs. A lot of these people would support the reasonable aspects of what our old platform used to be, but they frequently vote for the Democrats. Not because the democrats offer anything better, but specifically because of the cancer you’ve allowed to infest us. Excise it. Tell them they’re on their own. The Tea Party arrived in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be your conservative soul and grass-roots base talking, but every time their leaders open their mouths, they reveal themselves to be the champions of every ignorant and intolerant aspect of the cause. The thing that is aggravating you the most right now is actually your greatest opportunity in decades. You have everything that Middle America hates about the conversative cause wrapped into one vocal minority. Strike a blow for sanity.

There are three ways things can go. The Republicans can allow the Tea Party movement to remain within it and eventually accede to their vitriole, which will be the end of the party’s influence for good. Sorry to be the one to break the news, but if the Tea Party remains an influence, the Republicans will discover to their chagrin that far more than half of Americans have retained shreds of common sense and will move away forever. If the Tea Party remains within the movement and the Republicans continue to fight their influence, it will give rise to a perpetual Ross Perot situation, where the base is split and the Democrats are strolling to constant victory.

Or, Republican leadership, you can do as I’m suggesting and tell the Tea Party that if they’re a party, they have to go be their own. Take up residence in the first real “middle” ground that has existed in American politics in decades. Look past the idea of splitting your base, because you will gain a huge number of voters from the other side of the aisle, people that are voting for the Democrats even though they think they’re disorganized and weak. By putting a spotlight on extremism, you marginalize the Tea Party and their ilk, while simultaneously weakening your Democrat opponents. You focus on the practical aspects of governance and solutions to real fiscal and social problems, and leave forced tolerance or intolerance to the two newly emasculated fringe parties. Instead of becoming a third wheel, the Republicans could become the only game in town and would be able to cut deals with either side on specific issues.

I could be wrong, but I think I’m not. And while I think such an incredible opportunity would also take incredible political courage that the Republicans probably don’t have, I’d like to be wrong about that last part. More than anything, I’d like to have some reasoned leadership that is more interested in solving problems in moderate fashion than in taking advantage of gridlock to hear out every lunatic with a piece of posterboard and a spelling problem. This could happen now with one well-timed set of expletives and a bus ticket.

If my intolerance for nonsense isn’t your cup of tea, take to the comments and I’ll happily expound on or discuss any particular points. Or explore my normal brand of nonsense in the rest of the blog and call me on my hypocrisy.

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13 Responses to God Bless the Tea Party

  1. pithypants says:

    You know what drives me nuts? The debt ceiling ISN’T an economic debate; it’s a political debate. But the grandstanding all these jackasses are doing only serves to draw foreign eyes to our nation’s weakness. Tea Party d-bags call themselves patriotic? Way to increase our vulnerability by shaking faith in the U.S.

    • popdialectic says:

      I think that’s spot on, that it’s not an economic issue. When Mastercard writes me and tells me that they’ve increased my limit, my immediate reaction isn’t to go out and spend myself further into debt. The decision to spend is a political one and the consequences become economic.

      I scent a little irony in the fact that a lot of the people making a big deal out of this are the same ones who said if you disagreed with the war in Iraq, you were unpatriotic.

  2. Cory Wagner says:

    This is truly a telling time in politics. It seems that everyone is focusing on all of the wrong things and our executive branch has tried to bend over backwards to accommodate everyone, to a point where they are now taking a stand and not putting up with the BS. One would hope that the majority of voters use common sense when electing officials – but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. People argue over what should be in the Pledge of Allegiance – something that was created by some Boy’s Life\Boy Scout type person and rejected when it came to congress for the first few times. People screaming about who or how people are getting married. Fist fights ensuing over what they call a “fact” about this being a christian sovereign nation, when in fact the founding fathers have stated otherwise (and those people often misquote those founding fathers as “proof”).
    It’s unfortunate that there is a group of people that vote based not on facts, but on what they believe to be true – without any due diligence on their own part. Buzz words and pop culture swallowed whole because of change they want now, but neglect to see how it affects the future.
    Party politics thrown out for ad hominem discussions between 2 separate party members. It’s more like a junior high lunch room than a governing body (not to mention people walking out of others meetings because their rules aren’t being used in their game).
    So what do we do? How to do we resolve the issues? I don’t know. Educating the public has been tried, and I must say that smear campaigns seem to be working. Commercials, billboards, radio ads – you name it: Everyone is champing at the bit to discredit someone – truth be damned.
    I’m a liberal, and I hated the Bush administration and was vocal about it – but as an American I stayed on the side of my country – and I am always educated in anything that I say (you have to be – you don’t want to get caught spouting BS that isn’t true) but thankfully those years are over. I see a great opportunity that is being squandered by everyone involved because a group of people in congress are acting like children – and everyone else is playing their game.
    I am not a fan of Sarah Palin – but even SHE has made attempts to sway the tea party to act responsibly; and that is downright FRIGHTENING to me – when someone such as her has to ASK the tea party to play fair.
    Everyone sees it.
    I learned in the military that when in actual combat you do NOT play the other person’s game. If they are a boxer, you kick. If they are a kicker, you wrestle. If they are a wrestler, you box. If they are all three – change your tactics. Better yet, get them to play YOUR game. You can apply this to any competitive situation. I am wondering how the tea party got everyone to play their game. They want change, but instead they destroy progress because they aren’t getting their way.
    In a relationship – this is normally when I break up with the other person.

    So again – what do we do? How do we solve this issue? I am out of ideas. I see a lot of people arguing about this very topic everywhere – especially online. But no one is actually doing anything. I have to believe that is because no one really knows what to do.

    There is a lesson to be learned here…. I am just wondering what it is.

    • popdialectic says:

      What to do? They pull a knife? You pull a gun. They put one your your guys in the hospital? You put one of there’s in the morgue. That’s the Chicago way. But do it intellectually.

      I’m having fun with the quote, but what I mean is, stop indulging the wedge issues. Those are unwinnable because you can’t win an argument that doesn’t care if they’re correct, only whether they’re right. If they want to agitate over Obama’s birth certificate, just realize that you’re never going to win that argument and so don’t enter the fray. If these people want to argue about immigration, you talk about the future of Social Security. If they want to argue about the Pledge in schools, you argue about engagement in the international community or the taxation system or healthcare. That’s something to do. My whole point is that someone needs to be the adult in this political system. Sooner or later, if you do that, enough of the electorate will notice that you’re all about solving problems and these people are having arguments with themselves like that crazy guy in the park who mumbles over the bottle of malt liquor.

  3. bonnie says:

    I’ve heard so many people say “Let’s vote them all out and start over.” Problem with that, in my eyes, is that candidates get chosen and initially financed by the people who are active in the party administration, and we keep getting the same kinds of candidates sponsored by them. Also, the costs of campaigns in this country mean that candidates are running for years before being elected initially, and running continuously thereafter, which leads to the lack of courage you refer to. (I’m a big believer in the British limitations on campaigns with both finances and limits on how long before an election campaign events can be held.)

    I sure would love to see the majority of Congress agree to reject extremism and try to do a better job of basing policies on what is best for the majority of us. This sounds like a great way to do it. But if we can’t get the media to stop believing that the only way they can attract committed viewers is by focusing on extremists, politicians are unlikely to adopt it. Middle of the road, normative principles don’t attract enough headlines to keep someone in office.

    I love your ideas, but I’m wondering whether the system is “too broke to be fixed”, given that the people who need to do the fixing are the ones who allowed the system to deteriorate to begin with. Sometimes I wonder whether, instead of the compulsive military service so many countries have, we should have compulsive participation in volunteering for political parties for a year or two. If we got everyone involved in understanding and participating in the process, do you think things would get any better?

  4. Marybeth Steil says:

    I agree with you, but from the other (left side). These Tea Party people irk me, mainly because they make up, and then repeat, their own facts. Sure, I’d believe some of these crackpot ideas, too, if their underlying ‘facts’ had any basis in reality. It is like they are from another planet.

    Two quick points: 1. I seem to remember Pat Buchanan predicting the split in the GOP after 1992, mainly along these lines. Maybe he was just speaking too soon. 2. The problem may be in gerrymandering. The districts are drawn to attract each party’s base, and not most of the moderates in the middle.

    • popdialectic says:

      That’s a really great point about the gerrymandering, MB. I’ve been thinking about it since I read this and trying to figure out how to solve the question – after all, why would you need to engage moderates in your message if you don’t need them to win? I’ll confess, I don’t have any good ideas yet, but I think you’re definitely on to something.

  5. bonnie says:

    Ed Koch (D) and Michael Turner (R) were on TV this morning, saying much the same thing you did.

  6. stephenczar says:

    Your point that the left lacks a cohesive front inversely makes the Tea Party increasingly relevant. It seems most people just need something, someone, somewhere who will pretend to listen to their views, or at the very least identify with their fears and prejudices. Alas, politicians, whether they wear blue or red do not represent the common man’s interests.

    On an aside, I would love to hear you opine on the lack of industrialization in present day America. Without an industrial base, where we actually produce some kind of export of actual value and not just trade debt, we seem destined to meet the same fate as the Romans and other great empires that were so hell bent on their inner strife that they lost their worldly perspective. The American dollar continues to slip on a global scale, the price of food is just the beginning. Obviously the only treasure chest left to raid will be Social Security and medicare… again, debt brokering not actually producing things. Sigh. Maybe the system is not only broke, but broken.

    • popdialectic says:

      There was a really good editorial in Rolling Stone a while back that basically said that people shouldn’t be laughing at the Tea Party, no matter how crazy they sound, because the more scorned and marginalized people feel, the more they’ll cling to a sense of belonging and power (even in a movement characterized by its lunacy). I think my problem is what you’re mentioning – political motivation based on fear and marginalization. It’s what makes these wedge issues relevant in the first place. I don’t think I’m advocating anything new in that I want to see a courageous group of leaders willing to embrace the middle as an alternative, who will take a more constructive tone and try to actually solve problems. I just spoke up because it seems like, in the face of the vitriole on one side and weakness on the other, there’s actually an opportunity to achieve that right now.

      On an aside, the Popdialectic takes requests! Let me get back to my roots with a couple of whimsical entries while I think about your suggestion, but it sounds like an issue into which I’d love to sink my teeth.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. J says:

    I hope “then” only modifies liberal, not friend.

    See you and Alison sometime soon we hope.

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