Following his victory over the establishment’s candidate in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the US Senate, Tuesday, Rand Paul repeated the familiar Tea Party mantra that his victory shows the Tea Party movement is sweeping across the country; that we’re going to “take America back!”
Well, OK, but take it back from what? And to what?
Well first, I think that many of those drawn to the Tea Party are genuinely concerned about the rising scope and size of government and want lower taxes. Some have become fired up with rage about that (while also, of course, wanting to keep all the benefits and support that Big Government provides, as Louisiana Gov.Jindel recently discovered).
And some are so fired up that they just want to get rid of everybody on the Hill and the inhabitant of the White House – all those who are taking our country in the “wrong” direction.
But let’s take a look at what the Tea Party’s dominant ideology includes, with respect to what it thinks is the wrong course; what they advocate it it’s place; and, especially, what the Republican party is embracing as it bends over backwards to drink from the Tea Party’s cup (sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
Take Utah Republicans. There’s a movement afoot to repeal the 17th Amendment. Having trouble remembering which one that is? Well, it’s the one that gives people the right to vote for and select their Senators. That’s right – elect their Senators. Taking away that right is a favorite of Tea Party supporters, and they’re getting Republicans to join with them.
It gets better. On the other side of the country, the Republican Party of Maine has adopted some Tea Party proposals of its own. It’s official platform calls for the elimination of the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve; demands an investigation of “collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth;” insists that “healthcare is not a right;” calls for the abrogation of the “UN Treaty on Rights of the Child” and the “Law Of The Sea Treaty;” and says we must resist “efforts to create a one world government.” There’s more. If you’re interested, here’s the whole thing.
The Maine Politics blog calls the official platform for the Republican Party of Maine “a mix of right-wing fringe policies, libertarian buzzwords and outright conspiracy theories.” It quotes Dan Billings, who’s served as an attorney for the Maine GOP, describing the new platform as “wack job pablum” and “nutcase stuff.”
In contrast to the claims of Tea Partiers around the country, Washington Post columnist E.J.Dionne has pointed out some actual facts. He writes:
“…there was evidence on Tuesday that there are limits to the anti-government mood that is supposedly sweeping the country. In Arizona — nobody’s idea of a liberal state — voters supported a temporary increase in the sales tax from 5.6 to 6.6 cents on the dollar, to raise $1 billion annually. This, coupled with a large tax increase on businesses and high-income earners endorsed by voters in Oregon earlier this year, suggests a pragmatic electorate that is far less reflexively opposed to taxes or government than Tea Party cheerleaders would have us believe.
He also points out that:
The most significant result for the fall was the Democrats’ success in holding the western Pennsylvania House seat left vacant by the death of John Murtha. Democrat Mark Critz won an impressive nine-point victory over Republican Tim Burns by distancing himself from Obama and liberal positions on guns and abortion, but also by running a relentlessly economic populist message on jobs and outsourcing.
Circling back to the rising star Rand Paul, the new candidate has also made it clear that he opposes the Civil Rights Act. That’s the Act that most of the then-Republicans voted for, back in the days when Republicans were strong supporters of civil rights, back before the party morphed into a bastion of right-wing mostly southern white men. Paul emphasizes that opposing the Civil Rights Act is not racist. Go figure.
If you look at some hard data about what is, in fact, transforming our society, in contrast with what the Tea Party sees, it’s hard not to conclude that their appeal is to a small number of people and will remain a fringe movement.
Sometimes we become so convinced of our own convictions, when they are shared by others, that we seduce ourselves into seeing a movement that will transform the world. There’s a long history to such delusions.
The sad consequence for our two-party system is that the Republican Party is allowing itself to upend it’s own principles and ideals as it tries to capture this “movement,” and thus risks marching into oblivion.