“Mr. President, it is not only possible, it is essential . . . . Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy... the FEAR to attack.” – Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in the movie of that same title
Introduction: First Thoughts
“Since there's no other place around the place, this must be the place, I reckon.” In writing about politics, and particularly the subject referenced in the title of this post, I think it will prove helpful to make some introductory statements.
- In what I write here, I am only communicating my own experiences, perspectives, conclusions. I maintain no claim to objectivity, and even though I will try to base my reasoning in facts, my writing reflects my own interpretations of those facts, through the prism of my own experience.
- In writing what I write here, I am not concerned with whether you are liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist or something else. I am not concerned with trying to change your views about specific issues. My goal is to highlight political strategies and the way that one group in particular has helped to destroy the Republican party and hold America hostage.
- In my criticism of the Tea Party, I am well aware that for most of my life, I was ideologically in league with them in many ways. One reason I share part of my own journey in Part 1 is to reflect that reality. If I claim the Tea Party is too extreme (and I do), I am reminded that at one point, I was even more extreme and narrow in my convictions and perceptions of reality. And, to the extent that I was active and supportive of the evolution of the Religious Right and the Republican Party, I indict myself for the disastrous situation it has led to in the present.
Part 1: My Own Journey
“A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” In late January, 1977, I was eleven years old. I had started my first regular journal the year before. In my journal at that time, there is an entry I wrote as I watched the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter on TV at my grandparents' house. Jimmy Carter was from my own state of Georgia, and I was proud that he was the one who was going to take us out of the turmoil that had been Watergate and heal the wounds of Vietnam.
Three years later, in ninth grade, I was not able to vote, but if I could have, I would have voted for Ronald Reagan. I considered myself a Republican, and proudly so. The pride I had in Jimmy Carter had turned to embarrassment as all the promise I'd felt before evaporated into disappointment. My own mood reflected the overall experience of the country.
In 1982, as a senior in high school, I had two jobs. After going to school for half a day in the morning, in the afternoon I worked in the local office of one of Georgia's senators, Sam Nunn. Although a Democrat, he was conservative in all the right ways, and I admired him greatly. I still do.
At night and on the weekend, I worked in the local library. It was called Carnegie Library in those days, and in the old building on Broad Street, in Rome, Georgia, my realm was a small room in the basement called the Special Collections Department, which housed periodicals and genealogical materials. For me, it was heaven. I was Br'er Rabbit in the briar patch.
When things were slow, and my work was caught up, I was free to work on my own genealogical research which I'd become fascinated with after seeing Roots on TV. I also read voraciously from magazines that were in the library's collection.
Sometime in the fall of 1982, one of the magazines I discovered was a quarterly collection of essays about current political and cultural issues called American Opinion. It was published by the John Birch Society, and it presented a perspective which resonated with my own in the most important ways. At the same time, in one of those examples of synchronicity when the universe brings together two otherwise unrelated strands, I was getting to know the staffers in the local office of my Congressman, Larry McDonald, whose office was two doors down from Senator Nunn's office in the Federal Building downtown where I worked in the afternoon. Larry McDonald, the only other Democrat I liked, was the President of the John Birch Society (and for those of you too young to remember the JBS, you can read their history here). Not surprisingly, perhaps, Congressman McDonald's two staffers in Rome, a husband and wife, were also recruiters for the John Birch Society.
So it was, in 1983, shortly after I'd turned 18, I joined the John Birch Society. I remember going to my first meeting, and being totally surprised that of the 8 or 9 men present, five of them were leaders from my church, whom I already knew and respected. Ironically, the guest speaker that day was my own pastor. I felt like God could not have confirmed the rightness of my being there as a new member of the John Birch Society more if he had appeared to me in a blue dress and told me so himself.
One of the foundations of the world view promoted by the John Birch Society was a conspiratorial view of history. That was the only thing about the JBS that gave me pause. I just never could fully buy into the view that most things that happened in the world were the result of an orchestrated plan hatched long ago by a secretive group of elites who were hiding behind the scenes pulling the strings for their own predetermined ends.
In August, 1983, I moved to Dallas, Texas, to go to college to train for the ministry. I never became active in the local JBS chapter after I moved to Texas, but you can imagine how everything made so much sense to me when I learned that Larry McDonald was killed when the Korean Air Lines flight he was on (KAL 007) was shot down by a Russian missle. I was a true believer.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” In 1984, through a series of what seemed like coincidences at the time, I found myself working on the staff of a church in Dallas while I was going to school. While there I started a ministry focused on families in the inner city.
This changed everything for me: my vision for ministry and what I viewed as my life's purpose. My view of the world at large became imprinted with the passion I had for helping others and what that meant. It influenced my politics also, although those shifts happened more gradually.
I began to read books by Ron Sider, John Perkins, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Gustavo Gutierrez, which challenged my old paradigms and perspectives. My focus in ministry became more centered in issues of social, racial and economic justice. At the same time, I still didn't believe government had a role (or if so, it was very little) in these things. I thought it was the church's job to work for these things – and the church was failing miserably in my view. Especially the evangelical church of which I was a part.
In 1991, I moved to Chicago to live and work in an evangelical Christian community (you might be more familiar with the term “commune”) there called Jesus People USA (still going strong today: http://www.jpusa.org). For the first time, I encountered evangelicals who were committed to the same things I was (working with the poor, social, economic, racial justice) and who were mostly Democrats. Pro-life Democrats? How could you be an evangelical Christian and be Democrat? And yet, here were several hundred of the most passionate, committed, godly people I have ever known who were evangelical in their theology and liberal in their politics.
In spite of my own changing political views, I continued to think of myself as a Republican. And I voted that way. Enter George W. Bush and 9/11.
“We're all mad here.” For me, George W. Bush held such promise. He talked about “compassionate conservatism” and tried to do some huge things that I believed in: comprehensive immigration reform, education reform, and entitlement reform. With Republican majorities in Congress, I was optimistic.
Of course, 9/11 had changed everything, and initially I thought George W. Bush was the right man for that crucial period in our history. I was so wrong.
On almost all the domestic issues important to me, I watched Republicans in Congress stop, block or obstruct what President Bush tried to do. At the same time, the Republicans expanded government and deficits, badly over-reached in endangering the very civil liberties we were supposedly at war to preserve, and President Bush mangled the handling of things in Afghanistan and Iraq (in both places, we engaged in a misbegotten strategy of nation-building, trying to import American democracy, and in almost every way we could go wrong, we did go wrong; I believe now that we should never, ever have gone to Iraq – though I supported it in the beginning). I never imputed to the Bush administration the evil intentions that some had with regard to Iraq, but reached some of the same conclusions.
I felt like Republicans had lost their way, growing fat and complacent and corrupt being in power for so long, and I thought they got just what they deserved when Democrats won huge gains in the 2006 elections, even though I had still voted Republican that year.
In 2008, everything hit the fan economically, and we faced a crisis that loomed as large in its way as 9/11 had presented. And much of the seeds for what happened had been planted by Republicans, just as in the 1920's before the Great Depression. (Some of this was very well documented in the great FDR biography, Traitor To His Class by H. W. Brands. It's hard to ignore the parallels.)
In spite of those things, in 2008, I voted for John McCain, and when I first became aware of the Tea Party, I was encouraged in several ways: they talked about returning the Republican party to its historical roots fiscally, and they talked about principles that were important to me like freedom and liberty. I was also encouraged that it seemed to be a grassroots movement of people who were rightly angry. I was hopeful that maybe I could once more feel at home in the Republican party.
Still, when Barak Obama was elected, even though I hadn't voted for him, I felt a sense of hope, and I was proud of the fact that as a nation, in spite of all our problems, we had reached the point of electing an African-American as our leader.
After Barack Obama's election, I watched the influence of the Tea Party in the Republican party intensify. And, as I watched what they did, I realized that I was witnessing the destruction of the Republican party I had always loved, and I also realized that I might be witnessing the beginning of the destruction of America as I had known it.
Part 2: The Tea Party Disaster
As I watched the influence of the Tea Party grow into the 2010 elections, and their subsequent infection of the politics in Washington, and the 2012 elections, I have been disgusted and horrified at what I have seen. And it's not their political beliefs that abhor me (indeed, some of what they claim to believe have historically been things that resonate with me), but it's the way they have poisoned politics and helped eliminate meaningful discourse, not only in the Republican party, but in the nation's politics as a whole.
The ways that the Tea Party movement have ravaged the Republican party and taken the entire nation hostage aren't new. These tactics and strategies have been employed by politicians of every stripe and political party before; what's different now is the scope and intensity of what's going on and the fact that there are fewer politicians who are willing to stand up to this insanity and put the good of the country ahead of the drive for political power and despotic conformity to a destructive ideology.
One of the best sources documenting what I'm talking about is the book It's Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The authors carry no political axe to grind and do a good job examining how things got the way they are and have some suggestions about what to do about it. I highly recommend it, but since I know not many folks will be motivated enough to get the book, I'll outline some of my own observations that make some of the same points as that book. You can at least read a good review of the book here.
Another book which examines these things is Robert Draper's Do Not Ask Not What Good We Do.
Setting the stage. Though not directly related to the Tea Party's purge of the Republican party and their dismantling of constructive dialogue in Washington for the good of the country (all in the name of not compromising – give me a break!), one of the worst Supreme Court decisions since Dred Scott sets up the machinery for the Tea Party to do its work more viciously and destructively: the Citizens United case that was decided in 2010.
Declaring that corporations and other organizations have the same free speech rights as people, and removing almost a century of legislative attempts to limit and provide disclosure for certain political activities, this decision opened the door for the unregulated and largely unethical attack machines known as Super-PAC's.
And who is taking advantage more than anyone else of this sad situation: by and large Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party Republicans. Who supports this decision? Mostly Republicans.
One response to the Citizens United disaster to try and restore some sanity (or at least some accountability) is a measure introduced in Congress known as the DISCLOSE Act. It is ironic that it is supported chiefly by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. I don't support all its provisions, but it's a hell of a lot better than having nothing in place.
The stage has been set. Now, to look at what I view as the major sins of the Tea Party (and I use that word on purpose since a large part of Tea Party support comes from those calling themselves Evangelical Christians – in my view the Tea Party is the Religious Right in drag, and given the results, it is no real surprise).
Stupidity involving President Obama. First of all, I started witnessing an assault on and attempted assassination of the character of Barack Obama: the birther movement, claims of the President being a Muslim, or a socialist. And the subtle racial undertones. All from the Tea Party, or people associated with the Tea Party. I realize that is something that has characterized American politics since the beginning – at least back to the election of 1800 (and, by the way, there is a fascinating book about that which is illuminating as well) – and I certainly remember all the vitriol aimed at George W. Bush.
However, there is a difference in the tone and volume that surpasses anything we have seen in my lifetime. That is directly a result of the way the Tea Party has chosen to wage political battle on purpose, and they are aided to a great extent by the awful Super-PAC's that are one horrible result of the so-called Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court.
Some (maybe most) Republicans might disclaim any involvement in these things, and the Tea Party would perhaps deny supporting such attacks on the President. However, I am not aware of one single leader of the Republicans or the Tea Party who has denounced such claims as the falsehoods they are. And, Mitt Romney, who has been taken hostage by the Tea Party evidently (you know, at one time, I might have been able to vote for him), not too long ago had a fund raiser where Donald Trump (a business genius, but an idiot in his birther fetish) was a prominent guest.
The Purge (did they consult with Stalin on how to do this from the grave?) The second thing I witnessed that was just as horrible to me was the huge shift to the right in mainstream Republican politics, and the resulting war to purge anyone who was moderate or just not crazy-conservative enough. Tea Party Republicans were not just running against liberal Democrats – they were (and are) attacking good, conservative people. And their tactics were beyond anything I have ever witnessed. In their view, evidently anything is justified as a tactic if it achieves more dominance and power, and ideological purity.
I will include a very small sample of examples of this from memory, though there are many. It's happening everywhere. Sane Republicans are being challenged by these Tea Party zealots, and losing, usually because they are floating in plenty of money and using horribly negative campaigning to try to destroy their opponents. The sad thing to me is that people are actually voting for these parasites.
- When I moved to Kansas in 2010, I did some research into Kansas politics in order to be able to vote intelligently in the elections that year. My Congressman was (and is) Lynn Jenkins. In 2010, she had a Republican primary challenger. I got a brochure from this Republican challenger, and one of the assertions made against Lynn Jenkins was that she was “too liberal” and had actually talked to some Democrats in Congress. I was like, “Really? A liberal Congressman in Kansas? And a Republican?” I did the research into Lynn Jenkins' voting record, and found her to be consistently conservative, even more than I was comfortable with. Thank goodness the Tea Party-sponsored bozo lost the primary.
- Also re Lynn Jenkins: since the 2010 elections, I have noticed my Congressman move further to the right, and consistently side with the Tea Party-dictated House Republicans to maintain the party line. This has happened to more and more otherwise (and once) good people: they have had to shift dramatically to the right in order to avoid the not-so-subtle threats of facing Tea Party rivals. This saddens me as much as almost anything else: and it has happened not just here, but in many places. John McCain (I never would have thought he would cave to some wacko minority and give up sensible principle), Orrin Hatch, and many others.
- Perhaps the worst example of what I'm talking about happened in Indiana during the Republican primary for the Senate seat held by Richard Luger. He was defeated in the primary by Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party candidate. And a memorable quote I read right after the election that is emblematic of the inherent problem of the Tea Party's view makes him the poster-child for everything that is wrong in the Tea Party and in the Republican Party right now. He basically said that his idea of “compromise” was that others in the Senate should come to his viewpoints on things as a starting place for negotiation and debate. Here's one of many links talking about his views. I hope the people of Indiana realize how corrosive this guy will be and will not give him a stage in the Senate. (Note: I realize that Richard Luger created most of his own problems in Indiana, and I'm not saying that he could or should have been re-elected, but what I'm saying is that the guy who won the Republican primary to replace him is so dangerous that I fear for our country if he, and others with his same mentality, are given the keys to Washington, D.C.)
Holding America hostage. The third thing I witnessed was that when the Republicans made huge gains in the 2010 elections, their primary objectives became (1) keeping and gaining more power and (2) obstructing, reversing, defeating anything that President Obama or the Democrats tried to do, even in situations where they actually agreed in principle with the ideas, and even in situations where they themselves had been in favor of the exact same ideas before. The fact that President Obama was in favor of it made it automatically something these idiots were opposed to. And they were doing this in the worst economic crisis of my lifetime. They were (and are) willing to throw the country under the bus to achieve their own insane ends, all the while blaming the President and doing it all in the name of “no compromise”.
Two horrible examples:
- During the debt-ceiling debate in 2011, the Republicans “played chicken” (as termed in It's Even Worse Than It Looks) with the President, and were willing to make the nation pay the price (which it has) for its stupidity even if it meant economic disaster. No matter what compromises the President or the Democrats brought to the table, they were met with resistance and no-holds-barred idiocy in the name of “no compromise”. This wasn't steadfastness in the name of some principle; it was a high stakes game of treason against the American people for political gain.
- During the past two years, Republicans have consistently blocked, opposed, sabotaged measures that would help the American people – and what is most amazing to me is that they have done this repeatedly, consistently in issues where they were previously supportive, or even initiated them. How insane is that? In this time when there should be more dialogue and compromise, these “insurgent outliers” (from It's Even Worse Than It Looks again) have transformed into two-year-olds in the sandbox demanding everyone play by their rules (which they change on a whim for their own selfish ends) or they are not playing at all (my apologies to two-year-olds).
Today's Republican party claims to venerate and idolize Ronald Reagan as their patron saint and inspiration (and I would be in that camp), but Ronald Reagan couldn't even get nominated in the current Republican party: he's not conservative enough and (oh my god!) he actually compromised and dealt with Democrats in order to get things done for the good of the country.
As I have watched the kidnapping and hijacking of the Republican party (and, in some ways, the nation) by the Tea Party, I feel like I have no choice. I'm not a Democrat, but I'm certainly not a Republican these days.
But, you can be sure that, at every turn and opportunity, I will be voting for and working for the election of Democrats, including President Obama. The worst-case scenario imaginable at the hands of the Democrats is better than the sure and certain destruction that will come should the Tea Party Republicans get even more control of things. God help us if that happens.
I hope that you will read the books I have mentioned. Get mad as hell. And go vote. It's time to send the Tea Party packing back to their little echo chambers so that America can get on with the business of solving our problems.
Conclusion: Thoughts and Resources
I am aware that my own migration away from conservative politics (especially on social issues) over the last 30 years might have resulted in my eventually leaving the Republican party anyway. However, even if I were still as conservative as I used to be, the things I've outlined about the tactics and mindset of the Tea Party would have yielded the same result. I am angry and disgusted. And I'm embarrassed that I was ever involved in much of what would become the foundation for what the Tea Party has been allowed to do.
In addition to the two books I mentioned earlier, there are several resources I recommend for informing yourself about what's going on in Washington so you can make your own decisions.
- http://votesmart.org/ - this is one of the best (though certainly not the only) sources of non-partisan information for anyone wanting to be more informed (and if your primary sources of information are places like Fox News or MSNBC, you are not informed; you are indoctrinated. And there is a huge difference).
- http://www.factcheck.org/ - again, not the only resource, but one of the best for seeking a more objective view of facts without the spin.
- http://www.congress.org/congressorg/megavote/ - one of my favorite resources. Sign up to get a weekly e-mail detailing exactly what Congress voted on and how your Congressman and Senators voted.
My favorite resource for political news is on SiriusXM satellite radio, and is the POTUS channel. It is truly non-partisan, and they do a good job of presenting views from many perspectives.
I would challenge each of you, regardless of your political views, to expose yourself to other points of view and perspectives. If you listen to FOX or MSNBC, listen to something else occasionally. It might be enlightening, if you are open to being enlightened.