Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hail to the Tea Party

A few weeks ago after a number of primary elections, I commented that the tea party may be losing its attraction.  A number of establishment republicans had withstood strong challenges for the November midterm election, causing me to posit that perhaps moderate republicans had finally realized the no win scenario that tea party candidates presented in swing states, states with a growing percentage of independents, and states where registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans.  With the recent defeat of Eric Cantor by someone further to the right, and with the severe tilting to the right of many establishment Republicans as they fend off tea party challengers, it is clear that my supposition of the tea party's demise was premature.

So, I raise my glass to the movement and say well done.

Its' OK, calm yourself, I am not tearing up my Democratic party registration card.  On the contrary, the continued success of tea party candidates at the polls will re-energize me, and should do the same for those of you who recoil at some of their rhetoric. 

My praise is directed to their ability to get those who agree with their positions to the polls.  While it is true that Cantor's loss in Virginia was partly due to his arrogance and his taking for granted his constituents' votes, it is also true that David Brat spent hundreds of hours going door to door to meet the voters, while focusing his campaign almost exclusively on one issue; immigration.  The fact that Cantor was one of many Republicans who have fought any immigration reform bills that included amnesty or a way to citizenship, did not matter to Brat, or those who favored him.  Cantor did not adamantly oppose a path to citizenship for the children of illegals, even though a majority of Americans believe that children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents.  Cantor had the gall to agree with Obama that perhaps it was time to craft a bill which would allow those children a shot at the American dream and that was all it takes for the hard right who have been fed a steady diet of Obama as Muslim sympathizer, hater of America, etc, etc, to label Cantor as a traitor, and elect someone who will never agree with anything Obama. 

Think about it.  The number two guy in the House of Reps, the guy who has successfully stalled dozens of  Senate passed bills, while supporting House bills that fly in the face of the president's initiatives, this guy is defeated, rather handily, by a novice who spent pennies to the dollars that Cantor spent.

Of course, there was probably some celebration on the left at this loss.  Whether we choose to call it karma, just desserts, or the monster turning on its creator, many Republicans are feeling the wrath of the very movement that they supported when it was convenient to use them to defeat Obama's bills and policies.  Once painted as the devil himself, moderate Republicans have no way of turning back the clock when Obama proposes something they support.  The least bit of compromise is considered treachery by those who bought the years of character assassination that Fox News and right wing radio have perpetrated on the President and his Administration. 

Yet, despite that so many of the tea party's positions are poorly received by most Americans, the movement continues to gain traction.  They are successful at framing the issues, successful at communicating their positions on those issues, and successful at spurring those in agreement to vote.  It is long past time that the Democrats pull their heads out of the sand, stop pretending that this movement will sputter on its own, and learn and adopt some of the tea party's methods.

First, there are clearly some specific issues that will inflame the base and inspire independents (and perhaps even some moderate Republicans) to vote Democratic in November.  The easiest targets are the very tea party representative themselves who have voted repeatedly for budgets that would turn Medicare over to the private sector, budgets that continue to grant massive subsidies to corporations that earn billions but avoid their tax bill, budgets that slash government oversight which act as a deterrent to those who would cut corners in the manufacture of our food, cars, clothes, or befoul our air and water, budgets that do nothing for middle class Americans but everything for those with the money to buy campaign ads and politicians' largesse. 

Funny thing, initially the tea party evolved from those aghast at Wall Street's shenanigans which led in large part to the recession of 2008 and required a massive bail out.  Influence, power and growing economic strength of the 1% is an issue that, if properly framed, could produce an overwhelming voting edge for those trying to level the playing field.  The danger of course, is that many Democrats are just as guilty of pandering to the rich, but it is still fact that Democrats are the ones proposing equal pay for equal work bills, minimum wage increases, and laws which protect workers rights, all which are voted almost in unison by tea party republicans. 

We need to educate the voters about the actual votes being taken in Congress, all those votes which have done nothing to create jobs, nothing to provide assistance to the victims of Wall Street's ill advised money games, and nothing even to help prevent future Wall Street hedge fund managers and derivative creators to repeat the disaster of 2008.  Even disaster relief has been voted against by tea party representatives, until, of course, the disaster happens in their states. 

And let's not forget the complete disregard for the overwhelming evidence that climate change may make all our economic problems look like kindergarten issues as the earth continues to heat.  The proverbial Rome is burning while Nero fiddled is a perfect description of those in the tea party movement that are controlled by the energy companies that are the source of so much of the carbon in our atmosphere. 

Immigration reform, the assault on women's access to birth control and to make decisions about their own bodies, environmental changes, the rich buying our democracy, sensible gun controls, the ease at which we want to go to war, the right to marry the person you love, the denial of voting rights.  It is time to pick an issue, connect the dots of those voting on the wrong side, and present an alternative to just saying NO.

If the tea party can be successful with distortion of the facts, finger pointing and an avoidance of actual solutions, we should be smart enough to be able to use the truth, acceptance of our mutual problems, and a platform of ideas that will begin to address those issues.            


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