Friday, November 8, 2013

Who Lost on Tuesday?

Are we finally witnessing Peak Tea?
We know that Bill de Blasio, Terry McAuliffe, Chris Christie and Bradley Byrne won.  In the sense that elections are a snapshot of a frozen moment in time, these winners reflect the current state of the Republican brand more than any particular unifying quality.  But if the winners don't tell us anything about the future state of the American electorate, what can we learn from the losers?

An easy answer is that we are seeing the decline of the tea party, or at least that we have reached "Peak Crazy".  There is no doubt that the overall American appetite for exclusionary, apocalyptic madness has its limits, but make no mistake - Americans will continue to be tribal, bigoted, sectarian nationalists for a long time to come.  So while we may be seeing the end of the tea party as an effective force in American politics, it's worth thinking about to what extent this might be a good thing.

When you think about the GOP as the political arm of an ideological movement, it's important to recognize that it represents two separate political agendas.  The first, primary, overarching agenda of the Republican party has always been, and will continue to be, upward redistribution of wealth in American society.  That means low taxes, limited government spending, limited government regulation and the elimination of government programs that transfer money to the poor or middle class.  This primarily economic portion of the "conservative" agenda is the foundation for all that comes after it, and when all else is stripped away, will remain the hill they will die on every time.

But forty years ago the powerful elites of the Republican party realized that their constituency under those terms - the very wealthy and the corporate leadership - was, by itself, far too small to empower a national political party.  So they turned to the famed "Southern Strategy" to turn the white South into a Republican bastion through racial hatred, and they enlisted the vast numbers of American evangelical Christians through their anti-abortion stance.  These additional factions gave them the numbers they needed to win many elections in the upcoming years, at the cost of dragging the party farther and farther to the extreme right.  In particular, their response to any political setback was to demand greater ideological purity from their candidates.  Eventually, you got the tea party and the inmates were effectively running the asylum.

So you got Todd Akin and Christine O'Donnell, but you also got Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.  And the fever swamp got deeper, and the tantrum got louder, and finally you got the "War on Women", the failure of a perfectly reasonable universal background check law, a spittle-flecked rear guard action in the wake of marriage equality successes and a party that abandoned any hope of a Latino constituency by once again scuttling immigration reform.

So Cuccinelli lost Virginia, Lhota lost New York and Dean Young even lost Alabama.  So, the tea party's on the wane, right?

It certainly would appear so. You can't exclude everybody but white males from your electorate and have much hope of remaining a viable national political entity.  But if we assume that we're seeing the decline of the truly crazy wing of the GOP, the larger question becomes "is this a good thing".  The key thing to remember is that the core ideological principle of the Republican party is toxic and destructive.  If they were to abandon their racial, tribal, gender and sectarian baggage and focus on their core economic agenda, it would not be better for most Americans.  Sure, we'd get immigration reform and marriage equality, but we'd get more pollution, more homeless, more food-borne disease and fewer safety net programs to help the victims.

So if the Republican core "establishment" decides to rid themselves of the tea party millstone, they'd lose many of their most reliable base voters, it's true. But while the extemist Right may well be the GOP's most intense voters, you can't vote 'harder'.  One vote is just the same as another.  So if they stopped alienating women, gays and Latino voters, and started tailoring their message of economic bamboozlement to a more inclusive audience, they could once again begin to be competitive in national elections.  And, of course, like their mirror images on the far left, the far right voters would find themselves with no real option but to hold their nose and vote for the Republican who was on the ballot, not the one they wish was on the ballot.

In a sense, for all their madness and hate, the tea party can be seen as a moderating factor in American politics.  They are the ones who have destroyed the Republican brand.  They are the faction that has turned the 'Party of Lincoln' into a white male regional political organization with no real national importance.  They are the voters who are preventing the election of those so-called 'moderate' Republicans who "only" want to take your job, your health and starve your grandma.  I know people who fear that America has no future with the tea party commanding the Republican party, but I submit that America's future is much darker without them.


  1. They are the voters who are preventing the election of those so-called 'moderate' Republicans who "only" want to take your job, your health and starve your grandma.

    Since the Bill Clinton/neoliberal wing took over the party, we have 'moderate' Democrats who are efficiently accomplishing those goals, mikey. Hurrah?

    Bill Clinton and his Treasury Secretary, Bob Rubin, deregulated Wall Street and passed NAFTA. Obama filled his Administration with Bob Rubinites, showered the TBTF banks with money and protected them from prosecution, and is busy trying to pass 'NAFTA on steroids'.

    The plutocracy is crying all the way to the bank.

    1. Where I continue to disagree with you, Thunder, is in your simplistic and demonstrable false "not a dimes bit of difference between 'em" stance. Would I like to see a more liberal Democratic party? Certainly. But they are orders of magnitude better than either the taliban wingnuts of the tea party or the rapacious thugs of the 'moderate' Republican party.

      The Democrats passed health care reform. The democrats want to raise the min wage. The democrats want to implement common sense gun control. The democrats are driving marriage equality and women's rights. The tea party wants to make gay sex a crime. The Republicans want to eliminate the EPA. Sure, Democrats deregulated the banks, but what do you think that process would have looked like under Romney. The choice is between clunking along with some policies I don't agree with and full-on scorched earth horror. And that's why your single minded focus on bashing Democrats when Republicans want to kill you and eat your children confuses me...

    2. Well if you keep saying I'm simple-minded, I will surely come to see the superiority of your arguments.

      But first, I'm going to note that you're arguing against what you want me to say, and not what I said: Which is that we aren't winning, the people with all the money are. What happens when the lesser evil is getting more evil all the time? When the less evil wins, you're still losing.

      "The choice is between clunking along with some policies I don't agree with..."

      Let's be clear what those policies are: Unemployment has been over 7% since December of 2008. That's not a little thing to gloss over, mikey. If a President McCain had tried to do as much for Wall Street and as little for the average American over this time span, he'd have been thrown out on his ass in 2012. And I doubt he could have gotten as much done for Wall Street while he was in takes a Democratic President to get Democrats to go along with reprehensible policies.

      Moving along: And that's why your single minded focus on bashing Democrats when Republicans

      How did gay rights groups get Obama to evolve on gay marriage, mikey? Did they patrol the internet, telling Obama critics to SHUT UP!, because the lesser evil, Q.E.D.?

      No. Obama needed their money in 2012, they told him, "give us this, you cynical fuck, or you don't get the money." And presto-chango, our President evolved.

      I think we should want to see more of this, mikey. And less "the teabags are scary, therefore I'll defend Obama, his people, and his policies, no matter how shitty they are."

      Obama isn't running again, you know. But just like Bill Clinton did in his last year in office (NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagal, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000), Obama has the opportunity to do enormous damage to his base while ticking off the last and biggest items left on his corporate to do list.

    3. I actually don't disagree with any of that*. If the Democrats run a more progressive candidate, I will support the hell out of him or her. But the system is massively corrupt, with huge amounts of private money driving the process, so there's really no way that's going to happen no matter how activist Americans get - and Americans for the most part don't do activist. So I see it like this. If Russia and Moldova both declared war on your country the same morning, you'd martial your resources to defeat Russia before turning to Moldova. Because while Moldova can cause you some problems, Russia can destroy you.

      *I actually DON'T agree with this: Obama has the opportunity to do enormous damage to his base while ticking off the last and biggest items left on his corporate to do list.

      Neither or us have any way to know what's in his head, but I look at Obama I see a pretty liberal guy by nature who, as you say, is no longer beholden to the corrupt American electoral system. There's no reason for him to continue to serve them, and there's no reason NOT to do the good things he'd like to do.

      Except, of course, for the obsolete structure of our system of governance that allows the minority party the power to prevent the President from acting at all...

  2. I agree with you completely. We watched with horror as the Tea Party dragged the country into right wing conspiracy laden land. However, I want the Tea Party to continue to undermine the GOP even though the rest of us get the blood splatter. If the 1% were able to take the Republican Party back and given how dangerous the 1% have proved themselves to be, even to themselves, we would indeed be in very deep crap. The US works best when there is a reasonable balance between regulation/oversight and capitalism. When it gets out of balance we get into trouble. It's clearly out of balance now, given the stunning and growing gaps between the 1% and the rest of us. If the 1% were able to take the country back there would be no stopping them. They will gorge themselves until chaos reigns.

  3. Much as I am in favor of giving the Republican Party an anvil while they are drowning, I would be pleased to see the Teabaggers waning. But I am not so sure. The Baggers still seem to have enough juice to twist their own party even further to the right through primaries by certifiably insane people, while still not having enough votes to actually get them elected, except for gerrymanderrific cases like Ted Cruz.

    I think one of the more interesting takeaways, though, is that when the Teabag candidate goes full misogynist and/or anti-sex, middle of the road women kick their asses. Come on, Virginia in an off-year election, running on the Obamacare website rollout and enjoying a pretty strong vote purge? Cuccinelli should have won in a walk, and I think he would have, if he could have kept his Anti-Sex Brigade urges quelled.

    The big winner? Christie.

    And, of course, everything else is the fault of Obama, or, maybe, Democrats.

    Sheesh. The idea that McCain or Romney would have been LESS corporate-whore than Obama is ridiculous.