The Tea Party’s Fatal Delusion

Nov 9 2011 @ 12:43pm

Longtime readers will know I’ve long had a theoretical scenario for politics under this president – and the results from the elections yesterday seem to confirm it. To be frank, I was taken aback by the immediate and total obstructionism from the GOP in 2009. I thought it would be a little less crass. But I never thought they’d moderate after 2008. There was always a long-suppressed backlash against the Bush era of massive debt, reckless spending, and unwinnable land-wars. And there was also a cultural panic at a biracial president and the new America he represented. Both these prompted a spasm of ideological abstraction and purism, in which there were only two choices in political life: freedom or slavery. If you think I exaggerate, try reading Mark Levin’s best-seller.

Suddenly, we found the right even more defined and dominated by talk radio, Fox News, and the far right blogosphere (yes, Mr Erickson, that would be you), and its resort to 1980s dogma as a cure-all for its woes. Hence the description of a centrist health insurance reform, based on many Republican ideas, to the right of the Clintons’ and far to the right of Nixon’s, as a form of enslavement. Hence the absurd notion that the stimulus had no impact, simply because it was too small to fill the hole in demand that the statisticians in 2009 did not accurately measure or predict.

Hence the attacks on collective bargaining for public sector workers, and the draconian anti-illegal-immigration initiatives from Arizona to Alabama. Hence the total denial of climate change and a desire to abolish the EPA. Hence a Supreme Court happy to find radical new interpretations of the Constitution, including the unlimited right of corporations to influence elections, and turning the Second Amendment into something more radical than anything previously contemplated. Hence the even more bizarre defenses of the banks who gambled with the country’s core financial stability to make even more grotesque bonuses than they had been earning already. Hence too the total silence when it comes to anything that could not just repeal but “replace” Obamacare. The uninsured simply don’t exist in the mind of the GOP.

The reasons for this pathological pattern are, to my mind, manifold. The first is that, quite simply, much smaller legislative parties tend to include fewer moderates (because they’re the ones likeliest to lose in swing districts) and so the atmosphere skews far right or far left (my two main historical examples of this are British: Labour after Thatcher’s first victory, the Tories after Blair’s). This was intensified by the pre-2010 purge of any moderates and selection of an even more ideological freshman class in the House of Representatives. The second is the dominance in the GOP of what might be called the Media Industrial Complex. When there is so much money to be made from politics-as-entertainment, the dominant public figures on the right tend to be provocative, polarizing media stars. From Limbaugh to Levin to Hannity, the premium is on conflict and provocation for ratings. After a while, this is all you’ve got in the Republican psyche, and no moderating forces acting against it. In that atmosphere, you need talk-show hosts as president, not governors or legislators. Herman Cain is drawn precisely from that media industrial complex. Mitch Daniels and Jon Huntsman are excluded for the exact same reason.

And the recession’s damage to an incumbent president’s party merely put a misleading mid-term gust behind sails rigged for winds that were blowing in the 1970s, not the 2000s. The 2010 mid-terms were what might be called a “fatal success.” Yes, there was a backlash among older, whiter voters against the 2008 tide. But to conclude from that that there was a widespread, general support for further moves to the furthest right in an economy where many are struggling to get by and where economic inequality is still soaring, was a huge over-reach. And so we see the staggering results of last night’s votes.

The Ohio law against collective bargaining rights for public sector workers did not just go down. It went down in a landslide. Yes, the unions poured money into the battle and outspent opponents. But the scale of the victory is hard to gainsay. In a critical swing state, the GOP is in full retreat. In Arizona, the recall of the official who had pioneered the anti-illegal immigration measures is another remarkable event. Ditto even Mississippi’s rejection of a ballot initiative that is a theocon’s wet dream (if theocons are allowed such things), and takes the concept of personhood at conception to new, bizarre heights and exposes the stealth theocon campaign against contraception as well.

We’ve seen the polls showing a shift in Americans’ views of inequality and their support of higher taxes for the wealthiest as part of a debt-reduction package. We’ve seen the accelerating moderation on marriage equality and marijuana. We’ve noticed the Tea Party’s further alienation of minority voters, and now, with the Cain circus, possible intensification of the gender gap. We’ve noticed that increasing numbers of voters, including independents, regard the GOP as potentially sabotaging the economy purely in order to defeat Obama. Now we are seeing the effect of all this in actual elections. And the GOP primary campaign has also underlined just how marginal, ideological and inexperienced many of the presidential candidates are. A party that gives a motivational speaker ten times the support of a two-term governor of Utah, re-elected with 84 percent of the vote, with strong bipartisan credentials and an even stronger tax reform plan … well, it’s a party in free-fall that also doesn’t understand that it is.

Look at PPP’s polling in Ohio right now:

Obama continues to suffer from poor approval ratings in Ohio with only 41% of voters approving of him to 49% who disapprove. But voters don’t seem to consider any of his opponents to be viable alternatives … On our weekend poll, which got the final result of Issue 2 correct to within a point, Obama led all of his Republican opponents in the state by margins ranging from 9-17 points.

Obama led Mitt Romney 50-41 on our poll. He was up 11 points on Herman Cain at 50-39, 13 on Newt Gingrich at 51-38, 14 on Ron Paul at 50-36, 14 on Michele Bachmann at 51-37 and a whooping 17 points on Rick Perry at 53-36. It used to be Sarah Palin’s numbers that we compared to Barry Goldwater, but Perry’s deficit would represent the largest Republican defeat in Ohio since 1964.

For this party, Herman Cain is the perfect nominee (since Palin simply couldn’t overcome her lies and pathologies). Because it is increasingly clear he is the master of complete denial of reality and has no actual experience in any public office.

Meep, meep.