The Tea Party’s Freak Show

"... Be patriotic, support the military ..."

By Neil Macdonald
CBC News | September 27, 2010

Beyond providing the freak show, to use a colleague's term for it, the raging soldiers of the Tea Party have forced a few issues onto the public agenda that really, truly must be addressed, and good for them. The question is whether they want to demand real answers, or just keep clowning around in tricorne hats and muskets, waving pictures of President Barack Obama with a Hitler moustache and yelling about taking back America from socialists and gay-lovers.

The economic picture here is savage. It is by far the most serious issue in the country. Real unemployment is still at least 15 per cent, perhaps a lot higher. The U.S. may well be heading into the second dip of a double-dip recession. Home foreclosures continue at such a pace that foreclosure companies and banks are admitting they're swamped by the paperwork. Retirement wealth has evaporated, and doesn't appear to be returning soon.

A lot of this is the public's fault. Greed, stupidity and fraud caused the bubble, and the burst, that triggered all this misery.

But why shouldn't people be furious with a government that responded by bailing out some of the worst offenders with trillions of public dollars, picking and choosing who'd be rescued and who would be allowed to fail? (Job security hint: Join a big union that supports the Democrats, and your prospects of remaining employed get better).

That's what gave rise to the Tea Party. It was a righteous anger. And it has politicians on the run.

The Democrats now appear to be in serious danger of losing both their House and Senate majorities when the midterm election votes are counted in a few weeks.

A one-term president?

Most of the endangered Democratic incumbents are effectively repudiating their own president's policies. Those who voted for Obama's health-care bill are trying hard to talk about something — anything — else.

Democrats even seem to have given up on ending former president George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich, one of the only serious options for deficit reduction. If they have any serious solutions for the national finances, they aren't sharing them with anyone.

Obama himself isn't up for re-election for two more years. But if this slump continues, the man who inspired a wave of national joy just two years ago might, and I say might, wind up a one-term president. Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr. and Barack Obama. Who'd have thought?

Here's the thing, though: The Tea Party isn't putting forward any serious solutions to its own issues either, nor is the Republican Party, which, let's be serious here, is the Tea Party's party.

Tea Partiers want the deficit eliminated, but they also want their taxes cut. They want spending slashed, except for any spending that benefits them, meaning most federal spending. Instead, it's all just a freak show, and heaven help us, we in the press corps share the blame for that. Secretly, we love the freak show. So do our editors. We're thrilled at the rise of Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, and Rand Paul in Tennessee. And of course, the big self-described mama grizzly herself, Sarah Palin. She endorsed all three, and they all took Republican nominations from favourites of the party establishment.

'Entrenched in idolatry'

Sharron Angle says America is "entrenched in idolatry," and that government programs violate the First Commandment. She wants America to withdraw from the UN. She has predicted America will "transition out" of Social Security. She declared in the middle of the BP oil spill that the Environmental Protection Agency should be eliminated.

Rand Paul evidently wants to dismantle large sections of the federal government and get rid of the Federal Reserve. He doesn't think businesses should be prohibited from discriminating against customers on the basis of race or national origin.

Christine O'Donnell believes masturbation is a form of infidelity, has said that she once dated a witch and picnicked on a satanic altar (you can watch those gems on YouTube), and has accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of being a fake Christian, meaning not an evangelical.

And then there's GOP heavyweight Newt Gingrich, who has effectively called Obama a Kenyan tribesman, an "anticolonialist" one. This, of course, is the stuff that feeds the wackadoodle belief, held by half of Republicans and 30 per cent of Americans, if polls are to be believed, that Obama was not born in the United States. Or that he's secretly a Muslim, part of the conspiracy to build a mosque in the very pit of Ground Zero, on the very remains of the victims, and rejoice at what happened there.

Kurt Vonnegut could not have dreamed up a tale in which the White House issues a news release insisting the president is a Christian, which it did over the summer.

Gun fanatics, lugging heavy firepower, have shown up in a park across the Potomac from Washington, making dark references to taking matters into their own hands. (Or, as Angle put it once, seeking "Second Amendment remedies.")

How have Republicans reacted? Last week, the GOP proposed its own official remedies, in a platform titled "Pledge to America."

Be patriotic, support the military

It goes on and on about being patriotic, and getting the terrorists, and supporting the military, and not performing abortions, and opposing gay marriage.

Their remedies for the economy are less definitive.

The Republicans promise to cut spending, except for defence spending and Social Security and Medicare, which account for half of government spending. Social Security and Medicare are not just inadequately funded, but will balloon by trillions of dollars in the near future. At the same time, the Republicans promise to kill any attempts to raise taxes, which, after all, pay for government spending.

So, a new form of mathematics: Two plus two equals 1½.

Only an idiot would believe this plan won't lead to more government borrowing, which has been the preferred option of Republicans and Democrats for many years.

Really, the Pledge to America amounts to saying this: "We, the party that drove the debt to record heights under George W. Bush, want you to take our word we'll do something about it, but we can't or won't say what, because we want you to vote for us."

It'll be interesting to see whether the Tea Partiers, who claim they want straight talk, actually buy that.

So far, the people waving the muskets haven't said much.

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