Why Tea Parties Are More Bunkers than Bunker Hill
FlaglerLive | May 22, 2010
If you still buy the bunk that tea party activists are interested in solutions to the country’s problems, if you still buy the tripe that they have any knowledge of governance, that they know their conservative principles from their hypocrisy, if you still swallow whole their claim that they’d work with Democrats or Republicans to get things done, just have a look at what happened to Robert Bennett, the Utah senator and one of Congress’ most conservative creatures.
Bennett is a three-term senator, winning his last run in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote. The gun lobby loves him. The anti-abortion lobby is in love with him, since he’s among the few lawmakers who’d go as far as forbidding individuals from crossing state lines to get an abortion. Gay-rights opponents love him, too (Bennett alone voted against a measure that extends benefits to partners of federal employees). Opponents of affirmative action love him even more, and proponents of police-state tactics like secret wiretaps and the most draconian measures against undocumented immigrants consider him a hero. Plus, there’s no business regulation or tax system Bennett would not demolish. He wants to repeal most taxes and replace them with a tax flatter than Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
For all that, Utah’s tea party activists booted him out of the state Republican Party. He is not conservative enough for them. And his incumbency is a taint. It doesn’t matter that he’s voted to the right of Ronald Reagan on countless issues. Bennett, you see, committed two sins: He voted in favor of the Bush administration’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which, most economists now agree, helped the nation from crumbling into another depression—most of which has already been repaid, with $14 billion in profits to taxpayers. And Bennett had the temerity to reach across party lines (rarely, very rarely, but still). He once tried to work out a compromise on health care reform legislation. Scandal!
“The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic, and it’s very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment,” a teary-eyed Bennett told reporters when he was thrown out of the Utah GOP convention two weeks ago. He never made it to the GOP primary. Tea party fanatics, who have taken control of Utah’s GOP, picked two unknowns to run against each other for the June 22 primary: Tim Bidgewater, a businessman, and Mike Lee, a lawyer. The winner will be more beholden to the teabaggers’ strait-jacket than to any special interest.
Robert Bennett was a terrible senator if you’re a liberal. But he wasn’t a bad senator. He wasn’t even unprincipled, at least no more so than the bulk of his colleagues. His problem was that he had a few pragmatic bones left in his creaks. Pragmatism, and the occasional flash of realistic deal-making: two mortal sins in teabaggers’ theology. So he was thrown out of their Eden.
The teabagging radicalization of the GOP isn’t unwelcome if you’re an ideologue: Right-wingers are under the illusion that it’s putting them back in the ascendance. Left-wingers need only sit back and wait out the self-destruction of the GOP by way of tea parties, which, a few state and congressional races aside, can’t sustain itself nationally with extreme gripes instead of ideas, however appealing the gripes. But governance isn’t about ideology. That’s one of the supreme lessons of the Bush years. And insurgency isn’t a strategy. It’s a tactic. Teabaggers have nothing more. Their indignant rigidity is reinforcing the slouch away from governance—from compromise, from deal-making, from pragmatism—and back toward the dogmas of bumper-sticker principles that sound great in community hall speeches but couldn’t stop a leaky faucet.
But reality is the teabaggers’ nemesis. Their most natural habitat is the bunker. It’s thick-walled and insulated against the world. It’s large enough to accommodate their clones. And it’s got just enough of an alleyway to the outside world for the mailman to keep bringing them their Medicare and Social Security checks. Bennett would be an ideal tea party member—just as long as he didn’t cross teabaggers’ Rubicon and invoked reality.