Tea partyists have brought the U.S. Congress to a halt and endanger the federal government. That, of course, is precisely what they want to do. With the Senate primary victory of Ted Cruz in Texas, tea partyists have another notch in their belt. Righter than Rick Perry right... way off the cliff, and dangerous.
After Barack Obama's election, the largely white, older, affluent "movement" was generated by right-wing, libertarian activists in a number of cities -- certain tea party heroes such as Keli Carender in Seattle became short-term icons. By early spring, 2009, the tea party movement was a national phenomenon. And, as we all know, in the November 2010 election, tea party candidates or endorsements led to a stunning capture of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives.
While an old-line conservative, John Boehner of Ohio became Speaker of the House, he was castrated by the influx of tea partyists who neutered his every effort to find common ground with the President or with a Democratic Senate leadership. Over sixty Republicans are in the tea party caucus run by Michele Bachmann (Minnesota), but yet more follow their marching orders.
Propelling the tea party in 2012 are money and fear.
The money comes from the billionaire Koch brothers whose PAC "Americans for Prosperity" (founded by David H. Koch) has bankrolled numerous tea party candidates who have defeated many moderate, experienced Republicans in primaries. In Indiana, a veteran of cross-aisle civility, Richard Lugar, also became a victim. Lugar had created vital legislation for global peace and stability -- working with Sam Nunn, Joe Biden and John Kerry.
Fear of change has been tea partyists' motivation and ally. America is no longer preeminent. America will soon be predominately non-white. American exceptionalism is now defined not by glorious visions, but by obesity and poor education. It is a frightening time for older, white, well-to-do Americans, particularly as retirement savings and home values have plummeted.
That has not meant that the tea partyists have anything like a clear agenda. They are against many things -- Muslims, gays, taxes, immigrants, and government writ large. And, they seem to want more of god in everything. Sarah Palin is a heroine, Ron Paul is a hero. Glenn Beck has been a media standard bearer. Imagine a tea partyist Mount Rushmore with those faces.
Yet, what do they want to accomplish aside from dismantling the federal government? A hollowed out federal government based on fundamentalist Christian dogma?
The original 1773 Boston Tea Party protested a colonial power's taxes. Full stop. These ersatz tea partyists of today reject the federal government's right to do anything good for anyone... to protect civil rights, to provide minimal health care for the poorest, or even to manage national monetary policy through the Fed. Their vision is a govern-less America -- a free-range, unmanaged, lawless state where every free person is armed, god-fearing, and tax-free. Oh, by the way, also only Christian and straight.
An imminent danger to the United States awaits. Mitt Romney will pander, as he has throughout his career, to those with the power to influence his future. As the seer of the right, and god-fearing, wife-loving Newt Gingrich has intoned, Romney will be with the tea partyists and already is there. Romney, I am sure, will take no principled, perilous decisions as has Barack Obama on many occasions. Rather, Romney will capitulate, and tell tea partyists whatever they want to hear. He will promise them dismantling much of the federal government, and anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-poor domestic policy. At the same time, he will assert that he will get tough with the world and take no prisoners.
The tea party movement has succeeded. There is no more consensus in Washington, DC or in most of the 50 states. The center has evaporated. Republicans who previously shook hands with Democratic colleagues to cobble together workable legislation have resigned, been defeated, or retreated into compliant behavior.
Such poison tea is wreaking havoc throughout the American political system, and no antidote is readily available.
Dr. Daniel N. Nelson is CEO of Global Concepts & Communications in Virginia. Previously, he served in the State and Defense departments and on Capitol Hill as an advisor to the House Majority Leader.