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Politics as Usual: The behavior of the Tea Party is un-American

August 9, 2011

A small, radical band of zealots is attempting to take over the United States government and may be in the process of crashing the nation’s economy.
The federal government has had its ups and downs since 1789 but seldom has its foundations and operations been as threatened as they are right now. Serious people are now giving serious thought to whether the Congress of the United States can function properly any longer. And, as often happens, the spark that is setting it off is over a usually trivial, routine matter that suddenly becomes momentous.
And so we have the debt limit debacle. A tiny minority of right-wing Tea Partiers are wagging the dog of the U.S. government and the world economy with inflexible demands that they be given everything they want without compromise or they will let the walls come crumbling down on all of our heads. That is not being principled; it is being thickheaded and obnoxious.
They demand that their agenda be met completely without reservation or else. That is not the stance of responsible statesmen in a democracy. That is the rigid totalitarianism of dictators.
For all their flag-waving and constitution-spouting, for all their lip service to the Founding Fathers and their wearing of silly tri-corner hats, these Tea Party fundamentalists are profoundly un-American.
America is a vast and varied country, with 50 states that have their own individual interests and a large and diverse population. Every American’s voice, opinion and interests must be taken into consideration when making laws and running the government. All those points of view have to be synthesized into laws and policies that can achieve broad consensus. That is the hard work of governing.
One tiny faction should not get to say, “you will do it my way or not at all.” Only political dysfunction and cowardice could allow such bully-like tactics to prevail.
But that is what Republicans in general, and far-right Tea Party Republicans specifically, are doing in Washington now, and it isn’t right. When Democrats and Republicans fight, I usually like to just stand back and watch and tell you about it. I have no rooting interest on either side, so it’s like watching a boxing match where you look at punches landing and see who falls down first.
But like Bob Dylan says, “when something’s not right, it’s wrong” and what the Republicans are doing is just not right. And the stakes are now far higher than any mere political fight, even those budget debates that threaten to shut down the government now and again. Sure, it can be inconvenient when various government agencies suddenly close for a while, and closing national parks and monuments stinks for tourists, but we can get past this stuff. But if childish political squabbling in Congress prevents a raise in the debt ceiling (as this is being written Sunday afternoon, that was still up in the air) it is more than inconvenient. The whole United States economy could tank, bringing the world economy with it.
If that is still too big-picture to make you concerned, how about this: Do you have credit cards? Well, the interest rate you pay is going to go up. Got an adjustable rate mortgage? Your monthly payment will skyrocket. (FYI Home Depot sells “For Sale” signs you can put on the front door of your house. They’re pretty cheap.) Got kids in college? You don’t want to know what is going to happen to student loans.
Mindless adherence to ideology – on the part of both Democrats and Republicans – is threatening our ability to self govern. There is a famous (and probably apocryphal) story that when Benjamin Franklin was leaving the convention that produced the constitution, a woman asked what type of government they had created and he said, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Well, after 222 years, we may be in the process of letting it slip through our fingers.
Republicans are the majority of one half of one of the three branches of government, but they insist on calling the shots. The archaic, arcane and ultimately undemocratic rules of the Senate that have come to mean that 60 votes are required for any bill to pass abet this new minority rule.
There seemed to be an agreement a week or so ago that (using numbers loosely) there would be $4 trillion in deficit reduction, $3 trillion in spending cuts and $1 trillion in revenue increases through tax changes, but the rump group of Tea Party freshmen wouldn’t let Republican Speaker John Boehner do that deal. Even when the Republicans have the majority in a chamber the minority among them still holds the power.
Republicans just can’t seem to help themselves. They are once again defeating their own cause by overreaching and stubbornness. They had President Barack Obama agreeing to $3 trillion in spending cuts, including to Medicaid and Social Security. That was a win beyond their wildest imagination, but they turned it down because it included winding back the Bush tax cuts for incomes over $250,000 and taking away tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies and other mega-corporations.
A question to the Tea Party: Why is it, do you think, that you are Taxed Enough Already? Might it be because, as middle-class and working-class folks, you are picking up the slack for the millionaires and billionaires who get whopping tax breaks or the turbo-profitable corporations that pay nothing at all in taxes? Isn’t that at least a possibility?
I don’t like taxes; nobody likes taxes. But they are a necessary evil. And we agreed long ago that taxes should be progressive, that they who have reaped the biggest harvest of America’s bounty should contribute a bit more to the whole.
But that is all being turned around now. Senators and representatives are now being elected to Congress having cuffed their own hands by signing stupid “pledges” not to raise taxes for any reason ever.
But what if we get into two expensive overseas wars at once and financial institutions that, with all regulation of their reckless behavior stripped away, plunge us into financial crisis? Too bad, our elected “leaders” signed a pledge, no increase in taxes.
Ideology now outstrips responsibility in our government today–among Democrats as well as Republicans–and there is no way that works for the good of the country. To say you are going to solve a multi-trillion dollar budget deficit without any increases on the revenue side of the ledger is the worst kind of folly. And it is dishonest governing.
This is the much-ballyhooed “two-party system” run amok. It is precisely what the Founding Fathers feared would happen if political “factions” (their word for parties) became too influential in government. If we had even a small core of Independent and third-party senators and congresspersons judging issues on their merits and not hogtied by demands for “party loyalty,” maybe we could bring sanity to the buffoonery that passes for political leadership these days.

Jim Baron covers politics and the statehouse in Rhode Island for the Rhode Island Media Group. He can be reached at

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