THE BLOG
10/03/2013 10:57 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2013

Twilight of the Hardliners

You knew it had to happen, or at least, you hoped it would. For the good of the world, the hardliners can't win. They just can't. And the good news is, things aren't looking good for them right now. The tide may just be turning.

The biggest sign, obviously, is in the United States, where the Tea Party movement that launched in 2010 in response to President Obama's election is entering its supernova phase, in which it collapses rapidly only to explode. While the shockwaves from this event have the dangerous potential of wiping out the U.S. and world economy, the good news at least is that the fiery ball will then rapidly fade from view unlikely to recur anytime this century.

Even some of the Tea Party's own members are -- perhaps unwittingly -- invoking the analogy: Congressman Devin Nunes yesterday tweeted "Now that we've ... lit ourselves on fire, we've gotta stay together."

That the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes the Tea Party's tactics and many agree that the most likely endgame is a wholesale rejection of the Republican Party's recent lurch to the extreme right is a welcome sign that the hardline conservative fever in this country may be about to break.

But it's happening elsewhere as well. In Italy, two decades of circus-like conservatism from Bunga Bunga aficionado Silvio Berlusconi may come to a close this Friday. The Senate there is set to toss him out of office for being a convicted tax cheat. Like the Tea Party, Berlusconi threatened to bring down the whole government unless the Democratic leadership acceded to his demands. He faced a rude awakening this week when the more reasonable members of his own party turned their backs on him and threw their weight behind a moderate coalition and its Democratic leader. Sound familiar?

Then there's Iran, where for years hardliners have denounced America as "The Great Satan" and held firm to a nuclear-weapon-building dream even if it crashed the economy. But now that the sanctions they invited have started to do that, the fever may be breaking there too. The public gave a broad mandate to President Rouhani to end Iran's international isolation, which he's begun to do. And yesterday, the Iranian parliament gave his moderate tone an overwhelming vote of confidence, with 230 out of 290 backing his diplomatic outreach.

Finally, there's our new, gay-friendly Pope. In one of the most die-hard bastions of conservatism, the Vatican, Pope Francis is rewriting the playbook by breaking the longest fever of them all - a reactionary agenda that dates back centuries. And he's not just expressing toleration for people of all sexual orientations; in recent days he's reasserted the Chuch's role as a promoter of the needs of the vulnerable over narrow ideological crusades and even took on the corruption of our global financial order.

It can be tough in these times to think we're making progress as a society. I mean, there are actually people running television advertisements right now trying to convince young people NOT to buy health insurance! Is there anything more perverse? In a poll out this week, 38% of Americans think it would NOT be a "bad thing" if our country defaulted on its debt. These are not inspiring signs.

And yet, when you step back and take a more holistic view, the signs of improvement across the globe are undeniable. The number of hungry people in the world has dropped by about a third in the last two decades to reach what is likely the lowest percentage of hungry people ever. Notwithstanding the fits and starts of the Arab Spring, the number of democracies around the world remains on the rise. We cut the number of children out of school around the world by roughly 40% in the last ten years and the gender gap of those in school continues to close. And in countries from Turkey to Brazil, people seeking greater freedom and better democracy have found their voice.

In the end, all these things are bad news for extremist hardliners. The more people have access to resources, education, information and democracy, the more progress we will see. The Pope's revelation may very well have been that his predecessor's hardline policies were driving people away. Berlusconi's allies and the Ayatollah may have seen something similar. And sooner or later, so will John Boehner.

So things certainly look bleak in Washington as an extreme right-wing rump caucus has closed down our government all because a law was passed in the exact way prescribed by the Constitution, but all is not lost. As House Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam put it recently, the current dysfunction is a bit like the gang war in The Godfather, which Clemenza explains "needs to happen every few years or so ... to get rid of the bad blood." Hopefully that's not actually true, but it may be that the bad blood we're getting rid of are extremist factions around the world. In the meantime, we can all take heart in what one EPA employee was heard to remark when leaving the federal building for his furlough: "40 million people are getting health insurance today. If it means I have to go home without pay, I'm very happy to do so."

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