The Republicans are making it really difficult for me to vote as an independent this year.
Did you think we'd make it all the way to this midterm election without any political commentary from this quarter? I thought so; after all, I've said a lot (too much) before. By this time in 2008, I'd probably written 10 different posts that were tagged with the label "politics." My remarks today will be specifically about the Tea Party movement. Start your engines.
I'd like to first point out that for whatever disagreements I might have with the political motivation behind the Tea Party, there are things I love about it. It is a true grass roots organization, a real "of the people" situation. It is a wonderful example of America's great, democratic experiment. Its popularity has forced the major political parties to ask itself some hard questions. My understanding is that those affiliated with the movement aren't interested so much in becoming a political party, as an ideology--as a group who will fundamentally change the way Americans think about government. This is very interesting. People associated with the movement aren't shy about their disagreements on a variety of issues, their main commonality being a firm belief in a more limited government. This disharmony is something not tolerated very well in the mainstream parties. I've lamented before that the current system makes it very difficult for someone to be, say, a pro-life Democrat or an environmentalist Republican. Such questions are almost irrelevant to a Tea Party candidate--they don't think the government has any business regulating our personal lives or the environment.
Have I been complimentary enough? Good. Now for my other opinions.
* I deeply resent the take-our-country-back rhetoric I hear. Take it back from WHOM? People with different opinions? Minorities (who are noticeably absent in the TP)? Particularly Blacks who turned out in record numbers at the last election? The majority who voted for President Obama and other Democrats? This type of language is volatile. When coupled with the fact that another major area of agreement among Tea Party types is the right to bear arms, I just find that a little bit scary. Even if there is a landslide Republican victory in November, all of those people from which the country was taken back will also need to be governed. Their rights protected. Their voices heard. Even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree. That is the whole point of United States.
* Our country has to be governed as it is. Lamenting about how much they wish it was like 1790 is completely useless. I once worked at a school where the principal said, "We have to work with the kids we have, not the ones we wish we had." He did not mean that we shouldn't have a vision and goals for our kids . . . what he meant was that it was a waste of time and energy to grump around the faculty room complaining that our kids came to school so under-prepared. We just needed to roll up our sleeves and do all we could to get them ready for the next part of life and school. My metaphor is that a politician cannot be elected on a platform of returning the government to the pre-Depression status quo. Is it possible for politicians to reign in spending? I certainly hope so. But ultimately, most people would see it an enormous step backward to abolish the EPA (along with our clean water and air), the FDA (along with our safe food supply), Medicare (along with the ability to retire after a long working life), the National Park Service (and all of those maintained trails built by the CCC during the Depression), etc. etc.
*The Tea Party argues that people have become too dependent on government and that government is trying too hard to "big brother" us. That this government intervention is the thing that led our country to financial meltdown. (Though most economists and analysts claim that it was a LACK of regulation on the banking industry that was at the root of the problem. The Tea Party folks say that people need to act more moral. Well, they do, but when billions of dollars and millions of shareholders are thrown into the mix, ethics take a back seat to profits. You can take that to the bank.) And yet, the intense anger exhibited by so many of the people you see at the rallies is just another form of blame toward the government.
*The party wasn't really started (if such a nebulous group can be said to have a beginning) by somebody intending to run for office. Candidates have emerged over the last several months, many of whom have won primaries, even. This party was really started by pundits: people who make their money from expressing controversial opinions. The more controversial the opinions, the more viewers/readers/listeners they garner. And the more money they make. The profit machine at the top of this party will cease to function if the leaders move toward more moderate, conciliatory opinions. In short, these candidates, if elected, CAN NOT compromise when they go to Washington or they can't afford to run in another election. Politics, by definition, is the art of compromise. What possible good can these folks do with no other platform than to STOP the government? Maybe that is the point--they don't have a chance of completely reversing anything, and won't agree to any kind of watered down legislation, so I think we can expect to see two years of completely impotent government. And that always leads to re-election. (Snark.)
* Glenn Beck's recent rally carried a heavy emphasis on religion, encouraging Americans to turn back to God. That statement should be up above under things I like. Americans, in general, could do with a healthy commitment to Judeo-Christian values. In word AND deed. However, his going back to the Puritans (to be consistent with the Founding Fathers theme, I suppose) as models of religious citizenry disturbed me more than a little. Did anyone read The Scarlet Letter? The Crucible? As necessary as the Puritans were to the founding of our country--the fleeing for religious freedom and that tradition making its way into the Constitution--these were not a very nice group of people. They burned "witches." They put people in the stocks. They banished people who couldn't keep to their very rigid view of the commandments. Their religious leaders were also the magistrates. Their law was based primarily on their narrow interpretation of the Bible. Women were deeply repressed in that society; those who tried to speak out were often seen as fallen or practitioners of witchcraft. Is all of this sounding a bit Taliban? Yeah, that is what I thought. Is this actually the rallying cry of one of the leaders of this movement?
* Of course, Glenn Beck's ideas seem downright temperate when you compare them to Newt Gingrich's latest theory: Obama is an African Muslim who sought to become president in order to take down the entire American system. Really.
* If any person reading here, who is in favor of the Tea Party movement, can give me a reasonable, comprehensive list as to how the government has somehow curtailed your freedoms, please let me know. This is also common rhetoric from the party, that we are somehow not free. If you are unemployed, I'm especially sorry about that. However, I'm not certain that in most cases the government can be directly responsible for it, unless you had a government job that was cut. If that is the case, though, the Tea Party's goal would be to cut a majority of government jobs.
I'd like to point out that I haven't criticized any one person directly, just their ideas. I'm working very hard to keep within my no-name-calling parameters I wrote about last year when talking about civility in public discourse.
My last discussion point will seriously try my resolve.
My choices for Congress this year are very extreme. The Democrat I haven't been crazy about is trying to brag right now in his ads about breaking with the party when it came to health care and the bailout. Trying to appeal to independents, I suppose. However, what he doesn't say is that he broke with his party because he favored a more nationalized form of health care, and he didn't think the bailouts* were large enough. The man he is running against calls himself the "independent" choice. To me, independent candidates are stylized by their varied and balanced stances between the two parties, candidates who vote on issues instead of down party lines, and those who seek compromise.
Truthfully, however, Independent really just means that they don't affiliate with any particular party, so you can get any number of opinions from such a candidate. When I received the literature on this candidate, I was intrigued. He has a PhD in biochemistry. He styles himself as an "educator" in his material. He has worked outside the political establishment. I have often thought we needed more scientists, teachers, and "regular" folks to run for office. So far, so good.
Then I read further.
The candidate believes that America has been on a slow decline since the 1950's. (Let's not forget that since the 50's, Americans have been able to receive insurance and therefore medical care through the collective bargaining of unions and companies; there was a civil rights movement which expanded rights for women piggybacked; the voting age was lowered and America led a world wide technological revolution.) He maintains that we are now in the midst of an immoral, socialist regime under which we have few freedoms. He is a leader among the anti-global warming crowd, comprising less than 5% of the scientific establishment in this country. He criticizes most forms of alternative energy. His petition was an attempt to prevent Congress from passing laws regulating energy production. He is deeply opposed to any government intervention or regulation in anything to do with farming or forestry. He wants to send ALL illegal immigrants back to their country of origin without regard to how long they have been here or how they have contributed. He maintains that people will act with integrity and charity if the government would just get out of their lives. He calls for a repeal of socialized medicine. He calls this "Obamacare." It is interesting really, considering that we don't actually have socialized medicine in this country. Even under the new law.
But the jewel in his crown is his attitude toward public education. He says that the public schools have more than enough money, but a deeper dig indicates that he has a home schooling curriculum he sells because he really believes that public schools should be "abolished," that they are taxpayer-funded socialism, and school is government-sponsored child abuse. (I am not sure if I can recommend the home schooling course; his web page has a shocking number of grammatical and/or spelling mistakes. Including the word independ"a"nt.)
On the upside, there are things I like about him too. He is pro-nuclear energy, though he blames the government almost entirely for Americans choosing to not tap this resource. (Any official who tries to support this is immediately voted out of office, and even pro-nuclear Americans would probably say "not-in-my-backyard." We need more education, not less regulation of a potentially dangerous resource.) He raised a large family to be science-minded: his kids are all in science-related schooling/careers. He seems to be a man of integrity and intelligence. His official line on public education has a couple of helpful things--more local control and fewer administrators with less pay.
The thing is, I have no doubt that this candidate might be very appealing to some people. That is great. Go out and vote! But my husband is a public employee who works to conserve water and maintain its integrity. I am also a public employee. Most of our retirement money right now is in the state retirement system. I'm an educator and environmentalist. How can I support a candidate who honestly thinks my goal for becoming a teacher was to indoctrinate children with subversive political philosophy? Doesn't this border on a conspiracy-theory approach to reality?
On the other hand, my (barely) preferred candidate has a counter on his website called "The National Debt Clock," that runs continuously counting up and up and up. The speed at which is counts is seizure-inducing, and the 13 trillion and a whole lotta change nearly gave me a heart attack. And yet, he continues to vote WAY left of center.
Is this what our attack-style politics have created? The pundits have engineered an America where only the most extreme opinions get any traction. Where the angriest among us will make the decisions? Where the most extreme will argue themselves to a standstill? Maybe it is from the pundits we should take America back!
* A note on TARP: my paper reported last week that a vast number of economists are in agreement about its effectiveness in halting the recession, and that it won't cost as much money as anticipated. Jobs are always the last thing to recover, and the recession cannot actually reverse until those numbers are down. It should be noted that it took nearly 20 years, a major world war, rationing, and astronomically high taxes to reverse the Great Depression: the economic disaster this housing bubble most closely recognizes. I'm sorry; these facts don't read like government failure to me.