Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tea Party Fundamentalism is Anathema to Democracy

The more I listen to members of the Tea Party, the more convinced I become that its members are ill suited for a republican political system based on a clear separation of powers and distinct branches of government, a government potentially governed by both parties. My greatest concern is that the closemindedness of Tea Party members, their intransigence, their uncompromising belief in the veracity of their own views, will prevent progressive Republicans like myself from rejoining the GOP.

On the one hand I have a great deal of respect for people that demand obedience from its members for the views of its Party, so I have no problem with Tea Party leaders expecting obeisance its membership. The problem is that the days where Republicans or Democrats were all of "one mind" went away a long time ago, basically since the time our nation moved beyond the Mississippi. You need look no further than the varied geography of our nation to understand that unanimity is impossible. I am not arguing that the Republican Party can't have an overarching philosophy such as limited government, a belief in the relative virtue of free market solutions, or of the primacy of traditional families as a social goal. But there must be room for nuance, for accepting different paths to reach a goal. And there must be acceptance of the fact that the poltical process demands compromise, and that ideology must yield to pragmatism for our system to work.

In a parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister is chosen by its party members, ideology plays a more fundamental role. Party discipline is not only desired but expected and justifiably demanded. But we are not a parliamentary democracy with one party rule. Our parties are by and large huge marketing firms enlisted to help people win elections. The parties have a philosophy, but they must also demonstrate some flexibility.

The Tea Party just doesn't get it, they don't understand that for the GOP to survive and grow that it must be inclusive, not exclusive. And it must understand, most of all, that a democractic system is founded on what has been termed "liberal science," an expression of which can be found in this quote from Jonathan Rauch in his wonderful book Kindly Inquisitors:  "Diversity, of belief, thought, opinion, experience, is a fact, like it or not. Harness it, and you have the engine that generate knowledge."

Thus, he concludes, our nation is founded on skeptical principles, on the belief that "sincere criticism is always legitimate." The logical conclusion of this belief in skeptical principles is that, to again quote Rauch, "No one gets the final say, and no one personal authority."

Most Republicans, and most Democrats, accept, though grudgingly in some cases, these basic first principles. The Tea Party does not, and their resistance to liberal science and the skeptical principles that make democracy flourish makes them ill suited for our political system. I'm sure they can find some small island whose inhabitants they can dictate to, but the United States is not that place. The Tea Party should be rejected by the Republican Party, its members cast out to form a party of their own. Their fundamentalism is a threat to the future of the GOP. There are tens of thousands of "displaced" Republicans like me just waiting for an opening, for a chance to restore vitality to the Party we were raised in. I feel like an orphan; I want to come home.

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