When the economy stinks, and CEOs are getting millions in bonuses for firing enough of you, and you can't toss GE's Jeffrey Immelt out on his ear, but you can vote, it can seem mighty appealing to "throw the bums out" to vent your rage. The bums poised to be thrown in, though, make reality TV contestants look like Rhodes scholars, and become the very thing that the Founding Fathers of this country feared the most.
Tea Party Taxes the Political System
The Tea Party umbrella is bigger than the Travelers' Insurance company's. Its leadership covers a wide spectrum of the disaffected, from the more extremist Republican fiscal conservatives and rebranded GOP Libertarians who want to dismantle the government; to the varied temperatures of racist who fear "their" America slipping away; to the delusionals who confuse their flag-wrapped zealotry with true patriotism, to the religious whack-jobs on messianic missions to reshape the United States of America in their very single-minded world-view.
While they are small in numbers relative to the whole population, with the help of wealthy patrons like the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch, who gives both financial aid and a political public address system to blare their message, they have whipped up public frustration with "the system" to give elements of the disgruntled silent majority the same kind of voyeuristic vent that they get from watching Simon Cowell rip into aspiring singers.
Those at the forefront of these movements are either the ignorant and zealous people that the Founding Fathers specifically engineered the Constitution to keep at bay, or their handlers who are using them as a means to advance other, often darker, agendas.
The irony is that the same people who gave this country its cosmic screwing in 2008 are the ones financially backing the Tea-Bagger agenda.
Tea Party Candidates Confound Constitutional Founding Fathers
A primary purpose of the Senate as a separate institution was to insulate the legislative process from potential hot-heads and extremists who could find their way into the House of Representatives. Remember that originally Senators were conceived of as the voice of their states. They were appointed by their states, not elected, to represent the interests of those states in the federal government.
In the Federalist Papers No. 62, Jay and/or Madison describe the senate as that balance:
I. The qualifications proposed for senators, as distinguished from those of representatives, consist in a more advanced age and a longer period of citizenship. A senator must be thirty years of age at least; as a representative must be twenty-five. And the former must have been a citizen nine years; as seven years are required for the latter. The propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the senatorial trust, which, requiring greater extent of information and stability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages;...
The "stability of character" parameter puts Tea Party hopefuls like Nevada's Sharron Angle at the forefront of a simple question: Are such extremists fit to serve in either body of the United States Congress?
The Framers were worried about allegiances to other countries when they wrote Federalist 62, as it is unlikely that even the glimmer of an America reduced to Jerry Springer "reality" would occur to them. The idea, though, of having a filter to bring balance and reason to the legislative process was a well discussed part of the framing of the Constitution. It has allowed this republic to endure, even through its most reactionary and divisive days.
The TV Factor
Our political process has become a hostage of the most powerful communications force in the world today: Television. It is the public face of a corporate America that is continuing to manipulate the popular will into doing its bidding.
Media manipulation is not unique to our culture. The newspapers did it back in the day, and television picked up that rather profitable advertising ball. What is different is that since the days of Reagan, himself a powerful speaker but not the brightest of bulbs, we have migrated from a politics that cherished substance to cults of the politically cosmetic.
Form on TV trumps substance. That form continues to shrink as well, reduced to little more than the 60 second spin or the 800 word op-ed that feeds our increasingly short and limited attention spans, and usually does little more than affirm the opinions that we are fed by our favorite partisan newscast, be it FOX or MSNBC, Drudge or the Daily KOS.
So the backroom deal has been replaced with the propaganda push. Witness the hysteria fanned by well-paid corporate mouthpieces like Sarah "Shovel Ready" Palin and Fox News on the Health Care Reform Act. What was, in truth, largely the same relatively successful plan that had worked in Massachusetts as "Romneycare" after its Republican governor who spearheaded the change was then rebranded as demon "Obamacare," and folded into a recipe cooked up by the special interests to get all of us Joe Averages to be good, frightened little consumers who know their place, and allow the insurers and hospital corporations to keep picking our pockets at will.
There are smart, and very able men and women of great intellect and good conscience on both sides of the aisle. Increasingly their voices are being drowned out, though, unless they adopt more extremist stances. Lisa Murkowski, Mike Castle and dozens of others labeled as RINO (Republican in Name Only) have been purged by a party growing ever more extreme and out of control.
John McCain EX, the 2010 model of the Arizona Senator, only survived his primary by abandoning his principals in the pursuit of maintenance of his personal power as a U.S. Senator. I guess Jim DeMint won't be sending him that "People of Principle" Christmas card this year.
When Karl Rove, the scion of the Darth Vader of Republican politics, Lee Atwater, is trying to put his evil "grass-roots" genie back into the bottle by calling out Tea Party extremists, you know that our two-party system stands on the precipice of a melt-down of a scope which makes 2008's Wall Street crisis seem like a drop in the bucket.
The Real Battle
In 2010 we are seeing not a battle of ideologies, but really a contest between fear and reason. The raw, unregulated greed of Wall Street and corporate America has created permanent changes not only in American wallets but in our collective psyche, and has cost that monumental power base dearly over the last couple of years in political power and prestige, if not dollars. America's captains, forced to repay loans, step down out of their ivory towers, and have their personal greed thrown in front of the public eye, do not humiliate well, or brook having their control of this country challenged.
To maintain their control on this country, the corporatocracy is feeding these "populist" movements healthy doses of fear and patriotism from well-funded opportunists like Sarah Palin. Palin sells ignorance-as-patrotism by calling out "elites" (e.g. anyone, pretty much everyone smart enough to see her as the Empress with No Clothes), and cashes in on her 15 months of fame by fanning the flames of fear-fed faux-patriotism with an audience who are genuinely scared for a whole lot of different reasons and looking for someone to blame.
Why is corporate America promoting all of this radical populism? Throwing the bums in, the extremists like Rand Paul and Christine O'Donnell, puts a monkey wrench in the machine of government. If you're facing severe reforms of regulations that will make you accountable, and you can't count on moderate politicians to "do the right thing" by the dollars that you have given to them, the one thing that you can be sure of is that starry-eyed zealots can bog down the political process and keep what is still a very cushy status quo for the GEs and the Bank of Americas and the Exxon Mobils.
This country has been fixed to its political axis by the gravity of the common sense of the largely independent mainstream electorate. They generally do not come out for mid-terms, and they don't get too involved in the partisan fray of the mid-term primaries because, usually, they are smaller overall corrections in the balance of power in American politics.
If, however, the large center of the electorate doesn't turn out to keep the system in balance, we may find ourselves with a Republican Party that is out of control, hard for even Mr. McConnell and Mr. Boehner to direct, and a political gridlock that will only extend our current miseries, while keeping our corporate keepers fat, profitable, and happy.
My shiny two.