For some time now, I've tried to pin a predictable set of principles to the radical right Tea Party. It seems to be changing all the time. But in an interview this week, it finally all seemed to click.
I’ve often wondered what makes the Tea Party tick. Time and time again, I’ve tried to crystallize the group’s ideology, and over the last three years it has been exceedingly difficult to do because they have would I would call “ideology creep.”
It’s a play on the old “mission creep” military term that of course describes constantly morphing objectives once a conflict is underway. We have seen that one in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Now ideology creep has found its way into the Tea Party. What was once an Astroturf movement largely promoted by Fox News in response to the Affordable Care Act has sharply turned into a radicalization of the right.
To be sure, there are conservatives of conscience. They are increasingly hard to find in the cacophony of the radical right-wing blogosphere, but they are still around. I don’t agree with them, but they have legitimate ideas about how the country should be governed.
Those people should have a seat at the table. I believe they are honest brokers. We have seen them in government before. I believe Ronald Reagan was a conservative of conscience, and I also believe that a man like that could not find a voice in what the Tea Party driven radical right has become.
Place Reagan on the list with Eisenhower, Ford, and Dole. Put Jeb Bush there too. He had enough sense to know that in the current GOP climate he would not be able to get the nomination for President, so he chose not to run in this cycle.
He would have been drowned out. He would have become another victim of the radicalization of the party that was once dominated by William Buckley, symbolized by Ronald Reagan and currently championed by guys like George Will.
Those minds have lost traction. The party now finds its moral compass in the rants of Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. The new faces of the party are Michele Bachmann, Allen West, and Todd Akin.
Who are these people? What is their ideology?
What was once an anti-tax party largely driven by Tom Delay and Grover Norquist has now lost its way. In fact, the new faces of the Tea Party hysterical right have turned on Norquist.
Back in July, when Michele Bachmann floated her absurd claim about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating the US, she cited a film produced by a right-wing national security think tank. The film accused Norquist of helping the Muslim Brotherhood gain access in the Bush Administration.
Now that ideology creep has moved the Tea Party away from anti-tax to a pro-paranoia mindset, what drives them?
To a large degree, they are driven purely by a desire to defeat President Obama. It’s no secret, and most of its members would freely acknowledge it.
But it has to be more than that. There are Tea Party members in state legislatures around the country with very little pull in what happens in Washington.
Where is their ideological core?
While watching an interview with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on Friday night, it clicked.
Todd Akin is her radical Tea Party opponent in the race for one of Missouri’s Senate seats. His policy positions locked it in.
The Tea Party is simply the party of denial.
They deny that people are victims, they deny people have been aggrieved in their own country, they deny people have been neglected.
Denial: the strong have no problems and the weak aren’t their problem.
“There are no victims” could be their bumper sticker.
Think of Akin’s positions and comments for a minute.
The “legitimate rape” story seems to indicate a denial of the victimization and trauma that a woman undergoes in the horror of the most personal violation that can be endured.
Akin opposes fair pay for women as well, indicating that he doesn’t believe that someone can be aggrieved when they do not receive equal pay for equal work.
He also opposes a sex offender registry list, because clearly children can’t be victims when they live near convicted pedophiles who may have the desire to repeat offend.
Akin also supports building the Keystone pipeline, because the environment can’t be a victim.
Back in 2003, he also chose to vote against funding for programs that help homeless children. They’re not victims either, I guess. Homeless children! Really?
See the pattern?
Pick any Tea Party lawmaker and look at how they vote. Find the bills that protect an aggrieved party, help a victim of some kind, or try to right a wrong that has been a part of our American institutions.
No. No. No.
In December 1773, people in Boston boarded ships and threw British-taxed tea into the harbor. The incident was one of several events that ultimately led to the American Revolution.
It also became the inspiration for the name of the new, radical, no-victims Tea Party more than 200 years later.
In 1787, the founders that the Tea Party often cite gathered together to write the US Constitution. What began as a backlash against taxes in 1773 had ideology creep. It crept into a fully-formed vision of what our country should be.
By 1791, those founders sent the first ten amendments to the states for ratification. The Bill of Rights was important— it was an acknowledgement from the founders that there are people who might be aggrieved, neglected, or victimized.
In just the First Amendment, think of all the victims, the aggrieved and neglected that were addressed.
Then put it in the Tea Party’s “There are no victims” bumper sticker concept.
Freedom of religion: it should mean just that, but in Colorado, GOP State Senator Kevin Grantham thinks it might be a good idea to ban building mosques.
Freedom of assembly: it should mean you can ban together to demonstrate, yet the Tea Party doesn’t think that applies to Occupy Protestors.
Freedom of petition: people should be allowed to petition their government, and utilize their protected free speech to say what they think. Ask Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh how he feels about Sandra Fluke being able to testify before Congress and champion reproductive rights.
Since 1791, our founders and those who followed them recognized there were other groups that were aggrieved and victimized. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery and the Nineteenth gave women the right to vote.
The Twenty-Fourth Amendment gives people the right to vote regardless of their ability to pay a poll tax, which of course is another one that the Tea Party throws out the window as they move to impose their obscene Voter ID laws on people and then ask them to go pay for the ID.
Each of those amendments acknowledges that there was a group of Americans at the time of their ratification that had been aggrieved.
The founders and their successors knew that while all men were created equal, not all men and women are treated that way. They tried to fix it.
The Tea Party has that glaring disconnect. They will agree that all men are created equal, they just don’t think that men or women, minority or not, have the right to be treated that way.
The party of no taxes has morphed into the party of no grievances, no sense of community, and no optimism.
The Tea Party in a nutshell: not my problem.
The problem is that the Tea Party exists in America, where people do have problems, people are victims of wrongs that need to be righted, and many Americans do have a sense of community and a desire to help others that extends beyond lines of faith, ethnicity, gender, and party lines.
The Tea Party doesn’t get that. They think they share America’s values, but they couldn’t be further from them.
“No victims,” they cry. “Americans need to look out for themselves.”
Hungry? Get a job.
Homeless? Your fault.
Raped? Probably wasn’t legitimate.
Need medical care, education, or help to make ends meet? Trade a chicken for it.
The funny thing is that the men who followed the real Boston Tea Party would have never said any of that.
That’s why they wrote a Constitution that the Tea Party waves but never bother to read.
Most of us have read it.
We get it. The Tea Party doesn’t.
That’s why the Tea Party is losing.