In 1988, George H. W. Bush called his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis a liberal. Dukakis turned to liquid like the Wicked Witch of the West. "I'm melting! Oh nooooo!" Since then, people on both sides have run from the "L word" like it was radioactive. The Bush campaign poisoned a term that had held a proud place in the American political scene since the 1930s.
Today, the Tea Party is coercing Republicans into doing the same number on moderates. The "I'm mad as hell! Don't confuse me with facts" mentality has infected the U.S. House of Representatives and is metastasizing into the Senate. Somehow, the art and concept of compromise, a core value in the history of this nation; central to the adoption and approval of both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, is now considered unpatriotic.
Veteran Republican legislators have been rejected by their own party for being willing to work across the aisle to get things done. They're deemed not conservative enough or insufficiently steeped in 'Constitutional values.' Longtime Congressman and former Delaware Governor Mike Castle, a moderate Republican from a moderate state, was defeated for an open Senate seat by a total loon, who managed to blow a sure GOP pick-up. Richard Lugar, who's served in the Senate for 36 years, lost the Indiana Republican Primary to a Tea Party darling who says from now on compromise means Democrats have to come over to the Republican side. Orrin Hatch of Utah had a Republican Primary opponent for the first time in decades. It seems this stalwart conservative is not conservative enough. Moderate Republican Olympia Snowe has decided she's enjoyed all she could stand of the new 'compromise is evil' Senate and is retiring. No moderates are allowed in the Republican Party!
My home state of Texas, with our buffoonish governor and a state legislature that resembles a class reunion at an institution for inbred families, is not exactly a laboratory for inclusive democracy. However, it frequently sets the standard for outrageous political behavior. For example, in a campaign to fill an open seat in the United States Senate, fueled by Washington dollars from the Club for Growth and rival anti-government groups, Republican candidates have been hurling the word moderate at each other like it was a new form of child molestation. Thirty second television spots were devoted to nothing but accusations that the opponent was a known, card-carrying moderate.
And because even very conservative Republicans are not conservative enough for many folks in the Lone Star State, 11 of 22 incumbent Texas GOP House Members were opposed by Tea Party-backed candidates in the Primary Election., although none were defeated.
In 2010, Tea Party favorites defeated a number of moderate Democrats in marginal districts around the country and intimidated others into early retirement. So there are fewer centrists remaining on either side. Surviving Republican officeholders are being pushed perilously close to the edge of the earth. Cooperation is unthinkable. Compromise is forbidden. Neither party has the votes to pass legislation through Congress, but both sides have enough votes to stop any legislation in its tracks.
The Legislative branch of our government is totally dysfunctional. Representatives and Senators used to point with pride to accomplishments. Today, they campaign on what they've stopped; on toeing their party line and opposing anything proposed by the other party, even when it's something they actually support; even when it's something that had always been nonpartisan; even when it's something that is critical for the country.
As a result, a large proportion of the American people effectively have no voice in the Congress of the United States. Not only do their views have no chance of prevailing, they're deemed unworthy of even being considered.
The ultimate irony of this "grassroots" political environment is that one of the Tea Party groups that promotes -- in fact, demands -- this take no prisoners approach to representative democracy claims its mission is to restore America's founding principles.