As a Democrat, I should be rejoicing at the conclusion of the budget drama in Washington. The Republicans have just suffered a humiliating defeat and looked like complete idiots getting there. A lot of damage has been done to the GOP's brand and the party's disastrous foray into standoff politics will almost certainly haunt it in the 2014 midterm elections.
But as an American, I take no joy in watching our government come to such a shameful point, and it will happen again unless conservatives wake up to the dangerous reality of their own party.
The blame for the government shutdown might ultimately rest with all Republicans but it is the Tea Party leaders who first hatched the idea of holding the nation hostage over Obamacare and who seriously entertained the possibility of refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling. Unfortunately, the Tea Party exerts an enormous amount of influence within today's GOP.
The United States of America was conceived in the idea of checks and balances, including that between liberal and conservative philosophy. In a vibrant democracy, we have healthy debate between the two sides which ultimately leads to sensible, and centrist, policies that serve the best interests of the nation. It is when extremist elements enter the mix that this debate goes from being healthy to toxic and from being productive to disruptive. That is what happened during this budget showdown, in which Tea Partiers hijacked the Republican party and took us to the brink for no other reason than fanaticism and fueled by wacky fantasies of revolution.
What conservatives need to recognize is just how badly the Tea Party has hurt, and continues to hurt, the conservative cause. The more that conservatives encourage the Tea Party, either through money or votes, the bolder and more extreme the Tea Party becomes, and the more they alienate everyone but the most ultra-conservative Americans. That is not governing and it certainly does nothing to sell liberals or independents on conservative values. If anything, it pushes even moderate conservatives away from the movement because of its leadership.
I may not agree with conservative ideas but I treasure the fact that our government is the result of a variety of perspectives and that no one ideology always wins. It is what separates us from dictatorships and ensures the protection of our rights. That is why I am so concerned about the corruption of the Republican party by fringe elements and the encouragement that conservatives are giving to those elements. It will be the death of the GOP but it will also be the death of our democracy since the Tea Party's madness will either throw us into anarchy or at best destroy our ability to have a civilized and productive national debate over important issues.
While we have sidestepped disaster this time, it is only a temporary reprieve. If the Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on a federal budget by Jan. 15, the government could shut down again, and if they cannot reach agreement by Feb. 7, the U.S. may breach the federal debt ceiling, which will have unthinkable consequences for both liberal and conservative Americans. No one will win in that scenario except maybe for the zealots in the Tea Party -- who are actually rooting for Armageddon.
It is time, therefore, for conservatives to reject the Tea Party, to throw dangerous politicians like Cruz out of office the first chance they get, and to move the GOP back towards conservative (but not crazy) principles. That will be to everyone's benefit and preserve the integrity of our great nation.