Volume 80, Number 7 | September 23 - 29, 2010
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Talking Point

The Tea Party’s over; Wacky nominees will do ’em in

By Barrett Zinn Gross

Summer is almost over, and so is the Republican revival.

For the last three summers, grumpy old men and women have dominated the news. In 2008 it was Maverick John McCain and his pistol-packin’, liberal-smackin’ Grizzly Mama. Tied in the polls with Obama in early September 2008, the sultry surprise V.P. pick was whipping the heartland into a frenzy with her homespun homilies. No less an authority than my high-priced business consultant brother-in-law saw brilliance in her unlikely ascension; McCain, he assured me, was a shoo-in for inauguration.

Of course, history followed a different course. Lehman’s bankruptcy on Sept. 14 revealed the rotten core of a financial system hollowed out by a decade of absentee Republican regulators; turns out we were all about to be Madoffed. Then two days into the fall, the Alaska Disasta, a.k.a. the Wasilla Quitta, suffered a fatal fall, courtesy of Katie Couric and CBS News. Meanwhile, the stock market swooned and fiscal apocalypse loomed. McCain absurdly responded to the crisis by suggesting a temporary suspension of the presidential campaign. Obama called his bluff, McCain scurried back to the Capitol to capitulate, and Palin flew solo the rest of her campaign while her staff cast aspersions. Obama and Biden were easily elected in November.

The story in the summer of ’09 followed a familiar arc. It may have been soggy and foggy in New York City, but the hinterlands were hot, hot, hot over healthcare reform. Mobs of angry, elderly, and ill-informed Caucasians appeared at congressmembers’ town hall meetings across the country. They denounced Obama’s “death panels” and demanded he keep the government’s mitts off of their Medicare. But these were not run-of-the-mill Republicans, according to the fair-and-balanced folks at Fox News. They were part of a populist, patriotic and nonpartisan movement, and their mantra was “Taxed Enough Already.”

This bunkum was as blatant as the previous summer’s notion that Sarah was a suitable second-in-command. The so-called Tea Party’s seeds were sown by two right-wing think tanks, former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and the David Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity. A wholly owned subsidiary of the G.O.P., consisting largely of the dead-end 25 percent who approved of Bush to the bitter end, Koch’s Astroturf anti-healthcare caterwaulers fizzled like New Coke, another summer marketing fiasco. Obama returned from vacation, Congress returned to session, and the Health Care Reform Act of 2009 was duly passed.

So it’s September 2010, and here we go again! The record-breaking heat wave broke — not a lot of chatter from the climate change deniers these days — and surprise, surprise, the Tea Partiers turn out to be registered Republicans who vote in primaries. The result? Senate nominees in Alaska, Nevada, Kentucky and Delaware so wacky they have jeopardized Republican chances to retake the Senate. All four states would have been easy pickings for centrist candidates; instead Dems will probably take two, with a fighting chance for all four. And let’s not even talk about the New York G.O.P.’s nomination of Crazy Carl Paladino, which will save Democratic donors millions that can be invested in other gubernatorial races.

Other end-of-summer signs the Tea Party Express will run off the rails before November? Glenn Beck candy-coated his racist rally by calling it a religious revival, but it still failed to draw 100,000 to D.C. on the laziest day of the summer. And in Florida, a bellwether state for extreme politics, the pork chop-sideburned, Koran-burning pastor called off his Fahrenheit 451 theme party under pressure from the U.S. military, of all places. (He and his son still had to buy new side arms, though — to deal with the death threats.)

Despite Fox’s best efforts to sell their snake oil, the Tea Party is peddling old right-wing whine in new bottles. The stubborn fact is that we, the people — especially the WEalthiest people — enjoy spectacularly low taxes compared with our global peers. Thirty years of Reagan-Bush cut-taxes-but-still-spend fiscal policy have left a deficit so dire that drastic action seems demanded. But Bill Clinton’s simple adjustment to incremental tax rates in the 1990’s balanced our budget while the economy boomed. (Then-Minority Leader Armey — remember him? — famously predicted on the House floor that Clinton’s tax policy would lead to the next Great Depression.)

The Tea Party, far from starting a right-wing revolution, is an early Christmas present to progressives. Their anti-science, anti-progress platform is antithetical to American values of equality and justice for all. For the third straight year, our enlightened nation will again awaken as the autumn equinox arrives. A Republican civil war is unfolding, their dreams of impeachment vanishing like a mirage in the desert heat. Cooler heads will prevail, thanks largely to the intensity of the Republican radical right, and Democrats will retain control of both houses of Congress — at least until Obama wins re-election in 2012.


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