Today is Thursday, October 17, 2013. So it looks like my Social Security check will arrive after all and my husband heads back to work this morning at the Veteran’s Administration. We have three months to breathe before things heat up again threatening to shut down the government and default on the debt. These extreme conservatives who have driven this sixteen day exercise in futility need a history lesson, I think. I’ve been thinking seriously about the conservative claims that America is on the brink of collapse; American influence is on the decline; the American way of life is being replaced by some socialist hell led by the devil himself, President Obama, whom they ironically and stupidly often characterize as a kind of Black Hitler. (So, tea partiers, is President Obama a socialist or a Nazi? He can’t be both!) And to let all this happen will lead to the end of capitalism and democracy in America as we know it.
In any case, I was born in 1950 and have watched this country in the post-war period, experiencing on some level the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2 and now Obama. I’ve experienced the polarization over Vietnam, the corruption of Nixon, the politically ineffective but heartfelt idealism of Carter, Reagan’s questionaable trickle down economics and deregulation, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc, Bush1’s amazing international coalition in Gulf War One, the Clinton boom years and US intervention in Yugoslavia, 9/11 and the Iraq/Afghan wars…and no matter how much we as Americans disagreed with this that or the other policy, we always took the middle path to tolerance if not acceptance of differing political points of view. The Democrats learned their lesson about extremism in the ’72 election and it took a while to reconfigure their political objectives and platform and have relevance again nationally, but in the end the pendulum swings in our politics have always led to consensus and great strides forward in American political, social and economic life.
My point is this: In the last 60 years, in spite of our domestic political disagreements, this country has produced the largest and most successful middle class in the history of civilization. We have created the most politically stable, militarily powerful, economically vibrant, culturally creative, globally influential country in history. We have most of the best universities in the world and our music and film industries have global reach. We are envied, admired, hated, and loved for all of the above reasons. And we did all this with a sense of humility, moderation and compromise.
Now, however, we have no civility, humility, moderation or compromise. Our extremist conservatives have this apocalyptic belief that America is on the brink of collapse and they are desperately trying to avert the Great Disaster. This is ostensibly due to our spending-to-debt ratio and the A.C.A., combined with social/cultural developments like gay rights/marriage equality/gays in the military; increasing non-white, non-Christian, non-European electorates; their inability to change abortion laws, and then there’s a non-white man in the White House with a ‘Muslim’ name. So, they use procedural tools in Congress to block the democratic process in order to force their intolerant and extremist views on everyone.
This modern form of conservatism has been on the fringes of American political life ever since I was a kid–well, they became fringe once they had been marginalized after McCarthy was censored and discredited in 1956-57. But I can remember them as the John Birch Society or, in the 60s-70s, Lyndon LaRouche and his followers. There’s also a distant element of Libertarianism in this new conservatism with ideological roots going back to Ayn Rand. You know this just by the presence of Ron and Rand Paul in the GOP, although any real Libertarian philosophy is very minimally present in the tea party ideology. Yet, today, this form of political extremism is dominating the GOP. Without a doubt, debt and spending are problems we have to solve, so from a fiscal and economic point of view, I have some sympathy for that tea party issue. Beyond that, these extremists seem to me to be nearly anarchistic in their hatred of government, and their social positions are so primitive it seems their calendars still say 1313 and not 2013.
If you listened to Ted Cruz after last night’s vote ending the shutdown, he still raged on about how the A.C.A. will bring us to the apocalyptic brink of disaster, as if he were some modern St. John giving a new exegesis of Revelation. This silver-tongued demagogue knows how to turn a phrase and speak with conviction and that’s what makes him so dangerous. He has this religious sense of the coming American Apocalypse, he sees signs of it everywhere and he’s smart and articulate enough to convince millions who aren’t thinking critically about his words. We’ve seen his kind in American politics before– McCarthy and Huey Long come to mind. It never ends well for these people if history is any guide!
What is disheartening to me is the fact that Ted Cruz and his tea party cohorts are politically safe in their own districts in their home states. The gerrymandering in the last round of redistricting in the South, particularly, has created very polarized local politics without much chance of finding middle ground on anything or defeating tea party candidates. So, I expect that we will continue to have to fight against the politics of the American Apocalypse into the next couple election cycles. The GOP needs to look at this problem very carefully. They need to find a way to neutralize the tea party within their ranks or risk irrelevance in the near future. As it is now, they have no ability for long term planning or problem-solving–after all there hasn’t been a budget since 2009. This is the PRIMARY job of the House of Representatives, so it’s pretty clear these elected officials are ineffective in doing the job they were elected to do. Since the 2010 mid-term elections and then the 2012 national elections, the wave of recalcitrant tea party lawmakers has made doing the business of government very difficult. In their zeal to stop their believed collapse of America, they have successfully created fear in the hearts of business and foreign governments over the ability of the U.S. to continue to lead the world. The tea party strategy could, in one grand Irony, cause the decline of American influence in the world, if we can’t control them.