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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Tea is Bad for You

Some days when I get really bored (usually on Fridays and Saturdays when the office is closed) I stare blankly at the TV screen as I flip in between Fox News and MSNBC. This masochistic exercise has shown me a number of things, namely that there are crazies on both extreme sides of the aisle. But that's the key: they are on the extreme sides of the aisle.

Why? Because that's what America is buying today and let's face it, money talks.

Contrary to most of my fellow insignificant armchair pundits, I actually think the current 'dialogue' can be a good thing. For one, it shows that people are interested in where their tax dollars are going thus holding elected officials more accountable for their actions. For two, it's darn good television entertainment; I have no idea where Glen Beck and Keith Olbermann come up with some of their quips, but I can only guess that after the writer's strike of a few years back many of the once-funny SNL writers jumped off either the right or the left side of the ship straight into the arms of Fox and MSNBC.

The problem is when people start to take these two extremes too seriously, convincing themselves that attacking the other side is more productive than having substantive and reasonable debates on the issues. Worse is when these entertainers entice physical and non-physical violence (with no accountability/culpability for what they've said) against people who don't agree with them. Even worse, some seem to have convinced themselves that such extremism is mainstream, which leads me to the central point of this rant:

The Tea Party is bad for America.

I am a firm believer in a strong multi-party system and am the first to express fear over super majorities that limit debate. However, the strong push from the extreme right to not only say 'no' to, but also to ridicule, everything coming out of the White House and Democratic chambers of Capitol Hill is unhealthy. The American people deserve action, they deserve results, and they deserve to have their elected officials spend their time coming up with solutions as opposed to setting up one roadblock after another. Smart, conservative Congressmen/women should not have to fear for their reelection (or radical outbursts from the Tea Party) if they agree with a majority of a piece of legislation that includes two sentences regarded by Glenn Beck as unacceptable.

I'm not completely naive; I know that politics is a game of sorts, but there comes a point when 8 hours of Monopoly is enough and it's time to pass Go and collect $200. The unfortunate and ironic thing for a Republican Party that is still recovering from years of misguided leadership in the 2000s is that, by consolidating and reinforcing a base that will vote to the right no matter what, they are isolating the very independents to whom they must appeal to win.

The Tea Party represents a fractured group of frustrated (predominately white) people who unite under the simple idea that everything President Obama (the Socialist/Marxist/Nazi/Communist/Fascist/Maoist man blamed for miraculously being the extreme of both sides of the political spectrum at the same time) does is an effort on his part to destroy the United States of America as they see it. Born out of a disastrously long, complicated and thank-God-its-over health care debate, these group of angry Americans have lost all sense of reason and civility, something that will come back to bite them sooner rather than later.

Intelligent, compassionate, fiscally conservative and sensible Republicans running for office are being dragged to extremes by this extremely vocal minority of people who have garnered a lot of support... at least in the press where rallies of thousands of adoring fans are shown hanging on to every word scribbled onto a blackboard by Beck. Media manipulation is a two-way street, and the extreme right has become very adept at getting the attention of an ever growing group of people.

Tea Partiers point to the election of Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's seat as their crowning achievement, indicative of the power of their tactical persuasion. However, I'm not totally convinced that they made much difference in a place where the people of Massachusetts had voted for a man (Kennedy), not a party, for so long and at a time when health care (more specifically the lack of any progress of health care reform and the resulting attentive inaction of the Obama Administration increasingly threatening to push through health care reform at all costs) was dominating everyone's attention everywhere. I'm willing to bet a majority of people of Massachusetts voted against a super majority in the Senate that would make it easier for Democrats to push through health care reform without debate; not for the Tea Party.

Now that the health care mess is largely behind us (don't fool yourselves, 'Repeal Baby, Repeal' is not a viable option and they all know it), the Tea Partiers are grasping at straws in an attempt to keep themselves relevant. And, not surprisingly, at the head of the pack is our favorite beautiful woman-cum-governor-cum-ex governor-cum-celeb 'politician:' Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is not stupid. Much like Glenn Beck, she has built for herself a devoted following and, in the process, crowned herself queen of a burgeoning right wing media empire. That is shrewd business, not stupid. She has catapulted herself from unknown Alaska hockey mom to making millions of dollars despite having lost a national election. That's impressive, not stupid. However, like the Tea Partiers, Palin knows that her time in the limelight is finite and has chosen to say 'no' even louder instead of listening and providing fodder for meaningful cross-party debate.

Now that the 14-month health care debate that stalled every other inch of progress on anything is behind us, Obama can move on to other things on his agenda. Unfortunately for Palin and her Tea friends, he has done this with a vengeance. For better or for worse, Obama has tackled student loan reform, foreign energy dependence ('yeah, but he isn't doing enough off-shore drilling' is a pathetically weak comeback - I should know, I'm the king of pathetically weak comebacks), and nuclear non-proliferation (among other things - like a weekend visit to Afghanistan and not backing down in the face of Bibi Netanyahu's not-so-subtle slaps in the face) in such a way that no one who pays any attention can rationally say that he hasn't accomplished anything in his 15 month presidency. He may have accomplished things with which you're not happy, but he still accomplished them. This is an unfortunate situation for Republicans who bet their money on Obama's inability to perform and, for the sake of the party and for the good of the country, they need to shun the Tea Party and play the part of the compassionate, intelligent opposition they have the potential to be.

Fortunately, Palin and the rest have started to show the kinks in their once shiny armor. By comparing Obama's nuclear non-proliferation efforts to a schoolyard fight, she not only over-simplified a complex international issue, she also invited comparisons to her own competencies as a foreign policy expert. What did years as a community organizer teach Obama about nuclear politics? Probably not much. What did 15 months of regular briefs from America's brightest military and political minds (some of which, including the SecDef, served under W) teach the man with a law degree and higher than average intellect? A lot more than you, Sarah.

Even Newt Gingrich has tossed himself into the ring over the nuclear non-proliferation issues of today (and dare I say, the 2012 presidential race) when he appeared on the Hannity Show right after the caption "Obama Drastically Curtails U.S. Nuclear Defense Options" and between objective analysis from the fair and balanced Fox 'Newsman' about how Obama is the worst president in the history of mankind. Unfortunately for Newt, he was wrong in almost everything he said (as the 1-2 readers of this blog know I much prefer commenting on facts/issues others present rather than proving new ideas right or wrong, which takes way too much time... but in this case it was too easy - thank you Daily Show). For example, the Newt-Hannity love fest said that the U.S. would not retaliate whatsoever should it be attacked with chemical or biological weapons.

Let's think about that for a minute... does it make any sense to you? Do you really think the brightest military experts on the planet would endorse such a policy, much less any policy that willingly endangers the United States of America? Just in case you are now flagellating yourself over the use of your common sense, seek comfort in the fact that none of the policy initiatives championed by the Obama Administration say these things. So from where did these seemingly factual (cue Hannity checking an official looking document on his desk and saying "that's what he said!") statements come? My guess is that he's a victim of the Tea Party-inspired radicalization of the right, but as usual your guess is as good as mine.

Fortunately for Newt, Fox News viewers are unlikely to fact-check his statements by reading the New START Treaty and Protocol with Russia or the DoD's Nuclear Posture Review. Unfortunately for the rest of America, Fox News viewers are unlikely to fact-check his statements.

Here's my prediction: if Republicans continue to move to the right at the behest of a loud minority of extreme right-handers, they will lose even more ground and, as a consequence, become more and more radicalized. It may not be seen in 2010 since saying 'no' 4,593 times and calling the President of the United States rude (yet never anti-patriotic) names may resonate just long enough to garner a few votes by this November, but by 2012 the right must chart a more pragmatic path. This is especially true if the economy continues to recover despite what many Republicans have been calling 'dangerous' economic policies. Presidents and their parties don't get re-elected during economic downturns; unfortunately for Republicans (and regardless of whether the Democrats had anything to do with it or not) the economy is on the way up.

The bottom line is this: Tea Party 'conservatives' are the extreme, even if we choose to disregard the 'patriots' among them who yell obscenities at Congressmen and devote themselves to cleaning their militia-issued shotguns each night. Their ideas are emotionally burdened, destructive, disorganized, and bad for America. They should of course be allowed their voice - it is a free country after all. It's ultimately up to voters to decide whether the Tea Party is right or wrong.

I think they're wrong and that the writing is on the wall for an extremely divisive political movement. I just hope America can read.