(Note: a mid-cycle extra to send the Old Year out with a bang, not a whimper. Happy New Year!)
Nothing in John Boehner’s life prepared him for the Tea Party. Like most centrists, he believes politics to be the art of legislating the possible through debate, negotiation, and compromise. He thought the Tea Party little different from other fringe groups to be ignored or other third-party movements to be absorbed, by a larger, centrist party. But since the 2008 campaign, the Tea Party has become a political force so powerful that it spurs other Republicans fearing farther-right primary challengers, to support its far-right positions.
Boehner has not been alone in underestimating or misunderstanding the Tea Party. Commentators are befuddled by its positions and baffled by its performance. They are amazed that, despite Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress, Republicans ignore the majority and act as if they won the election. Commentators cannot see the pattern in Tea Party politics because they cannot conceive of an American political party professing patriotism committed to subverting representative government.
For the Tea Party seeks to replace American democracy with a limited democracy or an oligarchy, of white, economically or socio-culturally conservative, Christians. Thus, the political history—action and reaction—of recent years: Obama’s candidacy, election, presidency, and re-election versus Republican insistence on Obama’s otherness; and its implacable resistance to, and legislative intransigence about, what it regards as deviation from, even perversion of, the “American way of life” by an emerging demographic less white, less conservative, and less Christian. Fearful of, and angered by, this accelerating change, the Tea Party fears, and is angry at, an American government of all the people.
The evidence of the Tea Party’s efforts to undo American democracy is everywhere apparent. At state and federal levels, by diverse and often devious means, Tea Party members or enablers are undermining, or attempting to undermine, democratic government by the consent of the governed as ascertained by a majority of voters electing representatives reflecting, and responsive to, their informed interests.
Tea Party members or enablers are perverting democratic processes by legislated or administrative means differentially affecting minorities, seniors, students, or the poor. They are restricting the franchise by imposing onerous and costly voter ID requirements on the pretext of voter fraud, manipulating the electorate by extreme gerrymandering, or suppressing the vote by reducing the number of voting places, days, and hours.
These Republican candidates, when not denying facts or spreading disinformation, mislead the electorate about their views or priorities. These “stealth” candidates do not state their views on many issues on which they intend to act, for they know that their views are unpopular with most Americans. Although most Republican candidates in 2010 House elections campaigned to create jobs and reduce deficits, those elected have opposed proposals or obstructed legislation to repair the economy, resisted raising the debt ceiling, undermined the nation’s credit rating, and passed unpopular legislation on “culture war” issues.
In contempt of public opinions contrary to its own, the Tea Party opposes popular positions like balanced tax and fair immigration reforms. This “taxed enough already” party claims to favor lower, and to oppose higher, taxes. But, in the debate about the “fiscal cliff,” created by Bush-era Republican legislation, its refusal to support legislation holding tax rates low for 98% of Americans ensures hoisting tax rates higher for 100% of Americans. The irony of this Tea Party position results from an inflexible ideology and an equally inflexible politics, both indifferent or unresponsive to the interests of almost all Americans.
In disrespect of the Founding Fathers, whom it purports to revere, the Tea Party advocates positions on immigration which counter the American Revolution’s rallying cry of “no taxation without representation.” When not pushing “self-deportation” by 12 million illegal immigrants, it pushes legal residency with no pathway to citizenship. It wants these Hispanics to obey the laws, support themselves, pay taxes, but not vote—no “consent of the governed” for them either—in disregard of basic ideals of American democracy.
Tea Party strength-of-government positions on economic and socio-cultural issues make no more sense. The Tea Party wants a federal government too weak to intervene in the economy, but strong enough to meddle in citizens’ private lives on matters of choice about their social relationships, family size, and religion. Yet its “big lie”—its excuse for assault weapons—is that the federal government is infringing on individual freedom.
Since its inception, the Tea Party has adopted positions and approaches forcing the Republican Party to the right, away from representative democracy. The party which conspicuously professes patriotism does not love this country because it hates its government, which necessarily responds to a demographic growing increasingly different from its own. The Tea Party encourages suppression of this emerging majority by legal subversion now, perhaps by supra-legal arms later. Its imprudent rant about “Second Amendment remedies” and its impassioned rationale for assault weapons imply a possible move from political repression to military insurrection. Tea Party rebels thus spur Republicans to a Second American Revolution.