How Tea Party Extremists Bastardized the Conservative Movement and Took Over the Republican Party
Historically, the Conservative Movement in this country was founded on a few pillar ideas; beliefs that are so constant or fundamental that they characterized the very essence of the movement itself.
These included respect for old norms, support of republicanism (the belief that people have certain inalienable rights that simply cannot be abridged even by the power of the majority), preservation of "the rule of law and the Christian religion, and the protection of Western civilization from the dual assault of modernist culture and totalitarian governments."
The foregoing thought processes were then rounded off in the 1970s by stridently traditional positions on moral questions around abortion, sexuality, and the family and, again, further solidified in the Reagan years by defining postulates on tax cuts, the belief in the rollback (as opposed to the mere containment) of communism, a strong military, deregulation, the defense of the nuclear family as the only ethically tenable unit of social organization, commitment to Christian morality, and small/limited government.
Granted that the movement has over time undergone considerable mutation and splintered off in various directions (such that attempts have been made by adherents to distinguish between Traditional Conservatism, Social Conservatism, Fiscal conservatism, Paleoconservatism, Libertarian Conservatism, Traditionalist Conservatism, Limited Government Conservatism, Christian Conservatism, etc.), as far as the aforementioned core values go, references are oftentimes made to the celebrated hierophants of the movement like Dwight Eisenhower, William F Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Robert W. Welch, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, William Rehnquist and George Will.
However, since President Obama took office, the movement has witnessed the ascendancy of an extreme right wing with a bizarre but fascinating cast of characters and a jarring cacophony of voices: from the fabled Fox News, to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party Movement, and Glenn Beck. And as recent primary results indicate, with the rise of the likes of Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell, the extremists appear to have essentially overran centrist conservatives.
Reasoned, sound, inclusive discourse has now given way to irreverent, divisive and often irrational posturing that appeal to the basest of human impulses. The line between what is acceptable public dialogue and reprehensible, racially-motivated speech has gotten so blurry that it is difficult to decipher what might be deemed intolerable in the current climate.
But the reality is that such is the new face of the movement today. It has to all intents and purposes, been reduced to a level of buffoonery that is abysmal and inveterate. And underneath all of this is that certain, nativist, hatred and xenophobia-laced belief that America must return to its white Judea-Christian origins. In the comfort of this umbrella, blacks, gays and lesbians, Muslims and anyone else that does not quite fit the mold must be summarily dispensed with.
Hitherto moderate conservative stalwarts fearful that allowing a showdown with these activists to unfold might prove too costly, have either co-opted the same zealous tactics or conveniently looked the other way while the blood-letting is underway. In reality, some of these so-called leaders are phonies and sycophants lacking in cerebral stamina and rigor. As opportunists of the worst kind, they made the calculation earlier on to seek modicum relevance by occasionally publicly embracing these rabble rousers. Little wonder, therefore, that from time to time, you would see ordinarily mainstream conservative leaders like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty headlining rallies and speaking events with loonies like Gary Bauer, Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin.
To demonstrate the illogic and intemperance of the dominant voices within the movement nowadays, I’ll now invite readers to reflect on the more outlandish positions of some of its flag bearers for the 2010 mid-terms.
Sharron Angle, the Nevada Republican Senatorial nominee is on record as advocating for the US’ total withdrawal from the UN, abolishment of the US Department of Education, privatization of Medicare, privatization of Social Security, elimination of the IRS code and both Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac, and a federal marriage amendment to ban same-sex unions. She is also known to not only view the scientific community’s consensual man-caused global warming theory as a ruse but, under the guise of protecting or exercising Second Amendment rights, openly goad her followers to armed insurrection if they do not get their way through the electoral process!
Rand Paul, the son of the famed Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul and Kentucky Republican Nominee for the Senate, wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and eliminate the US Department of Education, opposes abortion (even in cases of rape or incest), and advocates for limited government (cutting of both taxes and spending). He denounced the health care reform act as a classic case of “an overreaching government,” called for a review of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" so as to deny birthright citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, and supported the blanket denial of visas to citizens of “terrorist” or “rogue” nations.
Not too long ago, Paul set off a firestorm when he ridiculed the 1964 Civil Rights Act with the revisionist and reductionist claim that it was okay for private businesses to uphold discredited segregationist practices. While affirming his belief “in private ownership," he opined that “if private lunch counter owners want to prevent blacks from eating there, that's their right!"
Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Candidate for Biden’s Delaware senate seat, opposes abortion (even in the case of rape or incest) and embryonic stem cell research, taxes (since she believes that America has become a “socialist economy”), rejects Darwin’s evolution theory but advocates for the teaching of “creationism,” and is on record as supporting discrimination against gays and lesbians. She called Obama “anti-American” and swore to kill the recently enacted health care reform act by legislatively starving it of funds.
Joe Miller defeated the Alaskan Republican Senatorial incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, with a platform that among other things, called for the elimination of the US Department of Education, repeal of the health care reform act, and the “personalization” (code language for privatization) of Social Security. While he did not out-rightly call for US withdrawal from the UN, he advocated for the slashing of funding for the body and the entire American foreign aid program. The self-proclaimed pro-lifer also referred to the scientific evidence for global warming as “dubious at best.”
Much has been said and written about the conventional wisdom of mid-term elections and the curse of incumbency, especially in times of widespread economic anxiety as these. But it certainly remains to be seen if the electoral triumphs of this new ultra right-wing alliance during the primaries, with its peculiarly strident but worn cocktail of tax cuts, deregulation, de-funding or eradication of popular social programs, privatization, discrimination and recrimination can indeed result in the landslide that has been forsworn by many this November.