Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Tea Party Taliban and the Duty of True Republicans

"....like putting lipstick on a pig." I've always loved that metaphor when describing efforts to make something ugly look more palatable. Right now the Republican Party is that pig. The omnipresence of the Tea Party in the machinations of GOP politics has made the Party a turnoff to the vast majority of pragmatic Americans residing in the "middle," that great mainstream that is the American public.

Tea Party politics are so far to the right of center that even in those rare moments when Tea Party affiliated party members show some willingness to compromise, that compromise still keeps those compromises too far to the right of center. I say rare moments because the Tea Party is perhaps the most rigid ideological cohort of people in recent US history. Ideology in and of itself is not a bad thing, but American tradition, especially the tradition of policy making in an environment of divided government, is to leave ideology at the door when it is time to do "the nation's business."

More to the point, the rigid ideology and unwillingness to compromise is anathema to the great tradition of our nation, a tradition borne out of liberal science and the virtues of the Enlightenment. For true democracy to flourish, no one can have the final say, no one can claim a monopoly on the "truth," for in reality there really is no such thing as "the truth."

They may hate to hear it, but the Tea Party has more in common with groups like the Taliban than with the Democratic and Republican parties. Tea Party members are fundamentalists in the truest sense of the word. They not only claim a monopoly on the truth, but they are willing to punish- in this case by defeating candidates in the primaries or incessantly attacking them while in office- anyone that opposes their views.

The presence of the Tea Party has made it impossible for the Republican Party to diversify, to seek out citizens whose tendencies support a belief in limited government, gradual but progressive cultural change, a view of federalism that favors state government over the federal government, and that seeks for solutions in the private sector and private associations before leaning on the federal government to solve our problems. These are, to me, the traditions of the Republican Party, and they are traditions that can appeal to people cutting across gender, race, geography, economic status or any number of characteristic features of our populace.

I often hear that America is now becoming more liberal, that conservative thought is waning. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. I vehemently disagree with anyone who tries describing the mainstream of America that way. While there are of course strident liberal and conservatives, radicals and reactionaries, libertarians and statists, the majority of Americans belong to another political philosophpy: the pragmatists.

Americans are a pragmatic people; that is in fact a distinguishing part of our nation's character. We are independent minded, entrepreneurial, and pragmatic, especially in our politics. As a people we will assess the positions of both parties and then gravitate towards the party whose solutions seem the most likely to affect a solution to our problems.

Today there are two main fiscal issues on the agenda, our debt and our jobs. The Democratic Party has staked out a position that jobs are the immediate problem and debt is our long term problem. The Republican Party, as expressed through the Tea Party lens, is that our debt is the most important problem, and jobs aren't even on the radar. Greater employment is in fact seen as a consequence of tackling the debt.

The majority of Americans see the Democratic Party's position as the most pragmatic, giving President Obama a strong negotiating position. But it doesn't mean we are becoming more liberal!

I was once a faithful member  of the Republican Party, but I no longer feel at home under their tent. Sadly, there are many Americans who identify with the party "plaform" I sketched out above, but they are completely turned off by Tea Party adherents who project a fundamentalist aura, who believe that diversity of opinion is somehow tantamount to betrayal of the Republican Party, when in actuality it is the true tradition of Repulicans. It is Tea Party members that are the RINOs, the ones that don't belong.

My Republican Party is the Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan, Eisonhower, and, yes, Richard Nixon. I'm still trying to figure out who Tea Party members look to for inspiration in the Party's storied history. Joe McCarthy? Jesse Helms? Strom Thurmond? I honestly can't think of one American statesman that could be held up as the personification of Tea Party virtues.

It is time for the more moderate members of the Republican Party, and these days that would include true conservatives in the William Buckley tradition, to reclaim their party and cast the Tea Party into exile. This "Taliban Wing" will resign the GOP to the backburner of national politics. In fact, if it wasn't for some very favorable gerrymandering and other manipulations of the political and legislative processess, the GOP would already be a true minority party.

I want to be a Republican again, but I can't do it unless the Party's mainstream grows a backbone and realizes that confronting the Tea Party now is the key to its long term strength. Until that time, I will wait on the sidelines, assess both Party's positions through a pragmatic lens, and vote accordingly.

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