There is a wonderful spring-fed swimming pool a short drive from our mountain retreat that even during the dog days of summer is refreshingly cool. The regulars who congregate there include a half dozen folks in their seventies and eighties. Most are widows. The only guy is a retired Air Force fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran. The gals include two retired school teachers and a librarian. All are moderates, all vote for Democrats and Republicans pretty much in equal measure, and all are on fixed incomes and therefore dependent on the government for their well being and relatively good health.
The Tea Party and reactionary Republicanism would seem to be in ascendancy. This bloc twice nearly shut down the federal government this year, humbling if not humiliating the president and their own party leadership during prolonged debt limit negotiations that often resembled a cage match. But the power of this bloc is fleeting and 2011 will be its high water mark.
There are several reasons for this but one rises above all others: The Tea Party and reactionaries do not represent the interests of the good folks at the swimming pool. In fact, they don’t give a damn about them. They want to strip them of Social Security, Medicare, food stamps and other so-called entitlements. Which in the case of these folks entitle them to decent lives and a shot at decent health after decades of faithfully paying taxes and giving back to their country over long, relatively low paying careers.
The rise and eventual fall of the Tea Party is a topic that I have visited often beginning with the 2010 mid-term election.
Republican Party leaders, desperate for short-term votes as opposed to developing and executing a strategy for long-term growth, first handed the keys to the party pickup truck to Christianists who were determined to continue fighting culture wars that had little appeal to mainstream voters, and then to Tea Partiers determined to impose an ideological purity on Republican candidates that resulted in driving away many of the party’s moderates.
To say that the GOP has made a hash of things since it’s mid-term election victories nine months ago is an understatement, and it’s clear that the series of self-inflicted disasters it has suffered since then stem from the mistaken notion that the 2010 victories were a mandate. They were no such thing.
What the victories were was a result of a stew of anger, resentment and uncertainty amidst a recession that wouldn’t quit. While that was to an extent a repudiation of the Democratic Party, it was not an endorsement of the GOP.
It also was inevitable that the Washington meat grinder would wear down some Tea Partiers and that was obvious when only about half of the Tea Party caucus voted against the final deficit compromise bill. Tea Party Darling Representative Allen West was among those capitulating, and as unthinkable as it is, he may face a primary challenge next year for his “sell out.”
Perhaps it is willful naivete, but even after all these years, even after watching hijinks in this country that would turn the warmest heart to ice, I continue to believe in the inherent goodness of the American people. Yes, the folks at the swimming pool and many millions of others who would bleed red, white and blue for their country and for whom no sacrifice would be too large. People who understand that Tea Partiers and reactionaries are the epitome of selfishness and are incapable of playing fair.
This is not to say that the Democrats and few moderate Republicans left standing in this era of conservative purity tests hold the high ground.
They do in principle. But the blocc that twice nearly shut down government did have a point amidst all the bombast. Government spending is out of control, and those Democrats and moderate Republicans have a perhaps once-in-a-generation opportunity to not merely pay lip service to that harsh reality but to act on it.
But in a kinder and gentler yet firm way that will enable them to solidify the high ground as the Tea Party becomes a footnote in the history of American politics.