OK, the election is over and the Republicans gained legislative control of the where, historically, the opposition Party does well. This is, likely, a good result for President and the Democrats. The burden is on the GOP to decide whether to participate in governing or to just spew the slogans of the campaign.
In a recent post, I related an old tale.
There is a tale about a dog that, every day, chased a bus. The poor animal tried over and over to catch the vehicle but, each day, the noisy object of the pooch’s desire escaped. One day, however, the bus made an extra stop and the dog caught the rear bumper, finally victorious. And the dog learned that he had a new and more serious problem: what was he going to do next? What was he going to do with the darn bus?
Republicans, over the past 40 years or so, have been purging itself of conservative, intellectual and serious members, those willing to rationally discuss issues with their more liberal counterparts. With the increased power of the far Right Tea Party, the GOP has intensified the purge to condemn any deviation from the most rigid position; those purged are often called RINO [Republicans In Name Only].
We now have a fractured GOP: Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, a number of remaining practical politicians and some just standing by trying to decide what will be in their personal interest.
One notable example of wavering from “principles” that once had no exceptions has come from Kentucky’s Senator-elect Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite. Mr. Paul had an oft-repeated campaign promises: an absolute earmark ban. This demonstrated, Mr. Paul said, his seriousness in stopping reckless spending practices of Washington.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kaminski reported his interview with Rand Paul. Although earmarks are a bad “symbol” of easy spending Mr. Paul assured voters in his state that he will fight for Kentucky’s share of earmarks and federal pork, “I will advocate for Kentucky’s interests”. The rubber has hit the road ‘” and he hasn’t taken office yet.
I really don’t want to pick on Mr. Paul in particular, but his discomfort in an interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s This Week was symptomatic of the weakness in the GOP’s positions. Amanpour pressed Paul for specific cuts, but for the most part he preferred to talk in the same sweeping generalizations about cuts that helped win him the election and helped the tea party win the hearts of so many conservatives this year. The Tea Party folks who shouted to reduce government spending have two choices: be prepared to announce what specifically should be cut; no more “10% reduction”, away with, “cut waste”, stop with the “tighten our belts” — offer specific cuts with specific dollar amounts and identify which specific programs will be eliminated. Or, shut up and let the grownups work together.
The President’s bipartisan panel on budget reform was released today and while I have just read parts of it, no one is going to be happy. Long ago I was told that, at the end of a negotiated determination, everyone had to be equally unhappy. The Report seems to address some very sacred cows and we will see if rational Democrats and Republicans are willing to discuss and address issues seriously.
Those familiar with my views know that I often find parallels in history. Unfortunately, there is neither interest in nor knowledge of even recent historical movements or events and our schools simply do not focus of the past as a predictor of the future.
The current GOP/Tea Party is eerily reminiscent of the southern Democrats who broke with their Party in 1948, to create what became known as “Dixiecrats”.
The Dixiecrat Party started when, at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, delegates from Alabama and Mississippi walked out protesting the adoption of Hubert Humphrey’s platform “planks” calling for racial integration and the reversal of Jim Crow laws. ((The convention was marked by riots, out of control police officials and total chaos. It was also the real start of the civil rights advancements in America, the groundbreaking civil rights laws and Supreme Court decisions that aimed at getting rid of government-authorized and enforced segregation and discrimination. The job is not completed. Much is still needed to protect the rights of all citizens.)
The departed delegates and their followers met in Birmingham, Alabama, and nominated South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president. They opposed abolition of the poll tax and strongly supported segregation and the “racial integrity” of each race. Their campaign slogan was “Segregation Forever!” and their platform also included the call for “states’ rights.” Just as in today’s Tea Parties, the Dixiecrats called for freedom from governmental interference in an individual’s or organization’s choice to do business with whomever they wanted. (Just for the record, Governor Thurmond received more than one million votes in the 1948 election, winning four states and 39 electoral votes.)
I have no question in my mind that the majority of Tea Partiers are fine, decent folks, fiercely patriotic and people of good will. But integrated into their calls for a reduction of the budget deficit and smaller government are concerns about race, sexual orientation, national identity, national birth rights and who qualifies to be an American. As the Tea Party Movement has taken shape amid this fiscal rhetoric, racist, white nationalist, anti-immigrant, homophobic and anti-Semitic elements have found their way into the groups.
Tea Party’s favorite, Sarah Palin, calls for “states rights” and says, “It’s pretty simple. It’s a smaller, smarter government, not growing government to control more of our lives and our businesses and make decisions for us.” This is a page taken right from the Dixiecrat playbook.
The Tea Party, like the Dixiecrats, is not for as much as it is against. In his book White Nationalism Black Interest, the late Dr. Ronald Walters described the politics of resentment. A resentment of African-American demands for social justice and the federal government’s sanctioning the institutionalization of these rights resulting in a large number of whites becoming cynical about government and alienated from it. They are resentful of this “big government” exercising too much control over their lives. This resentment also applies to the anti-immigration and anti-gay and lesbian rights rhetoric of the Tea Party.
The Dixiecrats only lasted about four years. By 1952, most of them had returned to the Democratic Party and formed a very strong Southern bloc. They remained in the Democratic Party until Barry Goldwater adopted much of the resentments of the Dixiecrats in his politics. The appeal to our less worthy impulses has been adopted by other groups and movements based primarily in ultraconservative politics and aligned with reactionary politicians. After Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” came the “Silent Majority” and the “forgotten middle-class” of the 1970’s, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and now, Tea Party Movement.
The flaw in the Tea Party movement is that they know exactly why they are unhappy. What they do not have is any specific and detailed programs to fix the system.
One last note about an honest politician whom I know, one with the character to understand the difference between campaigning and governing. I first met Mark Sharpe, a Hillsborough County, Florida, Commissioner, when he first ran for public office. Mark, a close friend of my daughter in college, was staunch Republican and confident in the slogans of “lower taxes and then lower them again”. I tried to explain that government must provide services and those taxes were a sine qua non to providing those services.
Hillsborough County is sorely lacking in public transportation and Mark supported a 1% sales tax increase to pay for a combination of bus service, road improvements and a light rail operation. The entire anti-tax crowd arose and the ballot initiative failed; through it all, Mark remained steadfast and, wonder of wonders, was re-elected. The man has the right stuff and I hope the stuff rubs off on more office holders.