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Why the Tea Party Is Far More Dangerous Than Progressives Give It Credit For

This post originally appeared on Booman Tribune. I think Bill Scher is spot-on in everything he has to say about the Tea Party and its historic and contemporary place in American politics. But there is one very important thing that he misses. He's completely correct in saying this:
The Tea Party is nothing new. It is merely the latest incarnation of the right-wing fringe that predictably overheats whenever a left-of-center reformer is elected to the presidency. It was the John Birch Society and the National Indignation Convention in the early 1960s, the Moral Majority and other "New Right" groups in the late 1970s, and Rush Limbaugh's "dittoheads" and the militia movement in the 1990s.
I have said these same things many times. But the difference between now and the 1960's or even the 1990's is that the fringe of the right-wing has now spread to the whole carpet. Sure, only 18 percent of the electorate self-identifies as a Tea Party supporter, but that's a huge percentage of the Republican electorate (and, yes, they are almost all Republicans). Fringe has built upon fringe. How many Republicans have had to back down and apologize to Rush Limbaugh for contradicting or criticizing something he's said on the air? Republican politicians are dealing with an insane base that's been fed on paranoid hate-filled garbage from 'entertainers' for decades. It's a rare Republican who's willing to tell it like it is to these people. After Rep. Bob Inglis told South Carolina Republicans to stop listening to Glenn Beck, they gave him a meager 29% of the vote in the primary. His opponent got 71%. Here's what Inglis says now:
Republican Rep. Bob Inglis, who last month lost a primary battle to retain his seat, is now taking aim at some members of his own party - the second ousted Republican to express frustration with the GOP in as many weeks.In an interview with the Associated Press and confirmed to CNN by his office, Inglis targets the "death panels" phrase made famous by Sarah Palin when the former Alaska governor inaccurately claimed the Democratic-backed health care legislation would ration health care for the elderly. "There were no death panels in the bill … and to encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership. It's not leadership. It's demagoguery," said Inglis, who lost his primary challenge to conservative Trey Gowdy by 42 points last month and faced heavy criticism for voting in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2009.
What's changed is that the nutcases on the right are capable of beating a sane Republican incumbent by 42 points if they step out of line. Believe me, every member of the GOP in Congress is aware of this fact. They have to eat chicken dinners with these people and ask them for money. Arlen Specter knew his goose was cooked as soon as he saw the reaction to Sarah Palin. In fact, it was the selection of Sarah Palin to be a vice-presidential candidate that put this Tea Party movement into overdrive. Up to that point all their energy was being put into Ron Paul's delegate-deprived run for the presidency. McCain made the single most irresponsible political decision since a lame-duck James Buchanan sat silently while half the country seceded from the Union. But I'm getting off my point. My point is that, while Scher is correct to point out the Tea Party is merely the latest incarnation of the right's rage at being governed by a Democratic President, and to point out their overall numbers are small, he's wrong to give the impression that we're not dealing with something extremely dangerous. Because, if you haven't noticed, the Republicans are voting in absolute lockstep, and they're dancing to the Tea Partiers tune. They are terrified of opposing them. And even when they do oppose them we see outcomes like Rand Paul crushing the establishment candidate in a socially conservative (i.e., not a libertarian) state. I've never seen a fringe movement take control of a party's soul and mind like this before. I was hoping that the governance of Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and Karl Rove was the worst the right could offer, but it's not even close. The Republicans have been cynical so long that they've been taken over by the duped. Actual Republican congresspeople (with a handful of exceptions) have no interest in the Tea Party's priorities. Want proof? Read the Mission & Platform just passed by Maine's GOP. It's cuckoo land. And that might be the saving grace for this country, because the establishment GOP doesn't intend to become the party of Rand Paul. They just want to use that energy to get back into power and take the gavels back from the Democrats. But, first of all, we just saw what 'reasonable' establishment Republican politics can do to our country, so we can't take much solace from the fact that that establishment is taking their cynicism to eleven by playing footsie with these people. Secondly, a bunch of the new Republicans elected this November are going to be certifiably Michele Bachmann-insane. And just like with the Republican Class of 1994, sixteen years later some of the people will be governors and senators. The Republican Party that impeached Clinton was dangerously insane. They took it up several notches after 9/11. But what we're witnessing now is of a totally different scale. The parasite has taken over the host. So, I don't dismiss these people at all. I think they rank with climate change and nuclear proliferation as threats to humanity. And we have no time to be dicking around arguing over the soul of Barack Obama.
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