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Archive for July, 2011

Tea Party reactionaries: Pretentious blasphemy

Posted by Ron George on July 30, 2011

Tea Party politics: Seriously looney, tunefully out of key

I don’t recall his name, but I wish I did, because he set the stage for how I have interpreted and understood American politics all my adult life. He taught ninth-grade social studies, and the class ranged from basic economics and political science to driver education – and that ranged from basic automotive mechanics to learning California’s traffic code. It was 1962. I’d never heard of Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr. or Barry Goldwater. Hair was shorter, skirts were longer and no one had heard of the Rolling Stones.

I learned how to type that year, a skill that has served me well ever since. I actually made A’s in algebra and Spanish and was praised by an English teacher in ways that absolutely embarrassed me. I played first string on the football team, first chair percussion in the band and starred in the school’s spring play. It was the last time in my life I felt truly omnicompetent. My social studies teacher was among most of the faculty who thought I was a conceited smart-ass. Right on both counts, no doubt, but I sure learned a lot that year, foundational knowledge I haven’t forgotten because so much of it has come into play these past decades. I’m grateful for all those teachers who demanded performance not excuses – but that’s another matter altogether.

Nothing in ninth grade, though, could have prepared me for what’s happened to our politics since 1995: Congress and Christianity have been hijacked by reactionaries.

As I understand it, the political spectrum of our republic is said to be arrayed along a continuum embracing five general groups: left to right, radicals, liberals, moderates, conservatives and reactionaries. The terms are purposefully generic, and while they have specific meanings, they do not exhaust anyone’s or any group’s political perspective. They are only markers amid the fluid processes of political life, helpful terms that provide perspective when interpreting politics among three branches of our federal government. (Yes, the model is facile, but it’s a starting point, and it’s clear that most Americans these days need a starting point for understanding their position and role in the political process. See Wikipedia’s discussion for more complex models.) 

Tea Party takeover: Ideology trumps principled compromise

Classically understood, moderates (center-right or center-left) tend to be pragmatic and non-ideological in dealing with social issues and political disputes. They tend to seek workable solutions based on the common good and have few ideological barriers that keep them from working with conservatives and liberals alike. They are deal makers – former president Bill Clinton, for example – who work from the center in any direction they view as productive. Their critics on the right and left accuse them of being unprincipled compromisers; and of late, that has inhibited their effectiveness. The debt-ceiling deadlock in Washington is a pluperfect example of there being too few moderates to close the deal. (Right-wing catcalls to the contrary, President Obama is a center-left moderate, not a liberal and certainly not a socialist as even some disingenuous members of Congress and Tea Party presidential candidates have suggested.)

Conservatives tend to be principled but non-ideological exponents of limited government, strict interpretation of constitutional rights and obligations, free-market economics and individual responsibility. They tend to oppose federal-government regulation of business and individual behavior, support states’ rights against federal encroachment and are less critical than liberals of military spending. Liberals tend to be principled but non-ideological exponents of strong central government, broad interpretation of constitutional rights and and obligations, a regulated economy and social responsibility for the poor and dispossessed. They tend to support justifiable government regulation of business and individual behavior, federal intervention in perceived injustice at state and local levels and are more critical than conservatives of military spending; and by the way, conservatives and liberals alike believe in strong national defense. Both are capable of compromise, willing to accept half a loaf rather than none.

Republicans since the mid-20th century have tended to be more conservative than most Democrats, who have tended to be more liberal than most Republicans. (Notable exceptions: Southern Democrats before the South went Republican in 1968; and liberal Republicans such as the late John Lindsay, onetime mayor of New York City.) The majority of our body politic, however, has been historically moderate – the great Republican and Democratic center-right and center-left, a center of gravity that shifts through election cycles to choose presidential administrations and Congressional candidates.

Obama & Boehner: It didn't have to end this way.

More and more in recent years, the political center has been populated by independent voters who tend to be pragmatic across a broad portion of the political spectrum – from libertarians on the right to socialists on the left – whose principal desire is government that works. Little else unites independent voters, but when they’re fed up, big changes are in the wind, as in the 2008 election of Barak Obama in reaction to the disastrous presidency of George H. Bush; and the Tea Party’s remarkable surge to the far right in 2010 in reaction to Obama’s health-care law and spiraling national debt.

Reactionaries embrace conservative values but regard them in polarized, ideological terms; moreover, they tend to dismiss other points of view and find it difficult if not impossible to compromise their values in order to reach a policy solution. They tend to be intolerant of government regulation of any aspect of social and commercial interaction. Reactionaries believe constitutional rights and obligations pertain only to that which the framers originally intended and would overturn many settled matters of constitutional law; for example, a woman’s right to choose abortion. Likewise, radicals embrace liberal values but take them to ideological extremes, and they tend to dismiss other points of view and find it difficult to work with others toward policy solutions. Their underlying concerns are “the greatest good for the greatest number” and protecting minorities’ rights; and they would employ governmental and socio-economic restrictions to achieve these goals; for example, by creating a single-payer health-care system that covers all Americans. (Like that’s ever going to happen! Just what is wrong with Medicare for all?)

Reactionaries and radicals are alike in many ways, though their politics are poles apart. They are ardent political enemies but they are also deeply mistrustful of their conservative and liberal allies. John Boehner’s problem in the House is precisely that Tea Party reactionaries in his own party won’t budge on the debt ceiling. It’s their way or the highway, period, end of conversation; and they’ve got 87 votes to inflict their views upon the majority – which consists of their own party! It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re putting the nation’s slowly-recovering economy at grave risk. What matters most is that they remain ideologically pure. These congressmen do not want to govern; they want to rule. Obama has a similar problem: Liberals in his party – far fewer of them than Tea Partiers – have pressured the president not to give in to Tea Party demands lest he lose their support for necessary cuts in social programs. The standoff, then, is not between Boehner and Obama but the extremes of their own parties. The debt-ceiling crisis would have been averted long ago except for the ideological split between extremes.

Reactionary Texas governor Rick Perry: The most dangerous man in America

Beyond the clear and present danger of Tea Party ideology and politics to the republic itself, the most galling thing about this movement is its religious pretension, as though its regressive social policies and big-lie political strategy express Christian values – and that, of course, to the exclusion of all other Christian points of view. The governor of Texas, for example, says he’s feeling “called” to run for president, as though God were anointing him to run the nation as he as has run Texas – favoring cronies through economic-development slush funds, demonizing and punishing his enemies, gutting social services, pillaging state agencies and generally walking roughshod over anyone that stands in the way of his political ambition.

Rick Perry’s is the politics of fear writ large: It’s us against them – immigrants, homosexuals, liberals, plaintiffs’ lawyers, Democrats, non-Christians. Rick Perry seems to be a reincarnation of 19th-century xenophobia, and his political ideas come unadulterated from that era. Perry and his reactionary fellow-travelers want to return to those “good old days” when women and minorities couldn’t vote, when banks and securities dealers were unregulated, when the elderly were not protected by Social Security and Medicare, when schools were segregated and labor unions outlawed. It doesn’t seem to matter that that world collapsed amid devastating wars and economic depression between 1914 and 1945.

It doesn’t seem to matter that those reactionary policies, revised and restored during the Bush presidency, almost resulted in a second great depression. Perry is a pure reactionary – not a principled conservative – but a dedicated ideologue determined to restore America to a failed version of itself. Among his most dedicated followers are troupes of Christians who believe their faith is best invested in hating homosexuals, defending gun rights and dismantling the nation’s social safety net for the elderly and poor. How all that comports with the teachings of Jesus is simply beyond me, but it’s an article of faith for Perry and his minions, and it’s the cornerstone of the Tea Party’s reactionary movement.

There is no place on the American political spectrum for the Tea Party’s pretentious blasphemy.


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