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.