05/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Tie-Dyed Tea Party

The health care bill passed. The right wing muttered threats, then showed us what they're made of. It wasn't pretty. But not to worry.

Whipped up by the denizens of Glenbeckistan, hysterical Tea Partiers loitering by the Capitol called Civil Rights hero John Lewis a nigger, and spat on another African-American Congressman. After the bill passed, bricks were sent through Democratic Party windows around the country, a barbecue gas line was cut at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello's (D-Va.) brother, and Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri woke up to find a coffin on his lawn.

And as John Avlon wrote in The Daily Beast, "All this follows the online exhortations of militia leader Mike Vanderboegh of Pinson, Alabama -- who wrote on his blog "Sipsy Street Irregulars" this past Friday: "if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary."

Afterward, in response to an appeal from Democratic leaders to tone down the rhetoric and denounce the threats, Rep. Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) accused Democrats of fanning the flames, and claimed that his own campaign office had been shot at (it turned out to have been a random bullet that had been fired into the air, breaking a window in a building in which Rep. Kantor has some ancillary office space.).

A few weeks earlier, David Brooks had argued in his New York Times column that the Tea Party is like the New Left of the 1960s -- idealistic and apolitical. This led Jonah Goldberg, writing in The Weekly Standard, to reject any connection between the New Left and the Tea Party --possibly in hopes of Tea Party support for Republicans this November.

But Brooks happens to be right about the majority of Tea Party members -- like the New Left in the '60s, they are largely outside electoral politics (though certainly conservative), call down a pox upon both Democrats and Republicans, see the system itself as corrupt and divorced from the concerns of average Americas, and hope -- wistfully, perhaps -- for an America in line with the ideals of the founders. This is really not such a bad thing.

However, aside from the fact that the ideas that gave birth to the Tea Party are not despicable, the Tea Party was largely organized by vastly wealthy, Far-Right ideologues like Richard Scaife (a major financier of Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and the man behind the drive to impeach Bill Clinton) and the Koch family (the money behind Americans for Prosperity, whose patriarch, Fred Koch, helped found the John Birch Society).

These are people who have demonstrated many times that as far as they're concerned, the ends justify the means; even though in politics, there are no ends -- only means. And their followers in the media and government -- that's you, Rush, and you, Rep. Cantor -- are similarly afflicted. They apparently don't care what they say or do, as long as it gets them past the next news cycle, and, with their rhetoric, have loosed a demon upon the land that they cannot control. Thus the bricks, the threats, and the sense of worse to come.

Of course, little worse will come. People who should know better may be telling their followers that the nebulous language of the Constitution's Tenth Amendment justifies nullification, and even secession; but aside from the fact that Article Six trumps the Tenth Amendment, the idea of an armed revolution from the right is as ludicrous as the prospect, 40 years ago, of one from the left.

The right may well be armed; but if it tries anything, it'll run square up against the 82nd Airborne, which, once in motion, is disinclined to humor misguided idealists. Something similar, after all, was the fate of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. So, as a practical matter, the country has little to fear from these brick-throwers.

As for the Republican Congressional cohort, and their fellow travelers in the media: they've been doing us a favor. Come November, people won't forget what they've done and said -- not to mention what is yet to arise from their reckless rhetoric. And in any event, the blogosphere won't let them forget.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party will keep driving the GOP farther to the right, and the GOP will comply, hoping, like Goldberg, to co-opt them, or at least, not lose them. That will do very little to create the sort of mid-term landslide the right is expecting, and may well provoke the opposite.

If this happens, the recent outbursts will be seen, not as warning tremors, but the impotent rage of a rump GOP, rejected by the common sense of the American People -- the same impulse that elected so many Democrats in 2008.

That defeat will in turn either deliver the final coup de grace to said rump, or waken it from the delusions that have led it into the ideological wilderness. If we're lucky, that will return to the American people some semblance of a system staffed by serious people, interested in solving serious problems in a serious way.

That would be a good thing. So let's thank the denizens of Glenbeckistan for showing us what they're made of. They won't be able to escape the public record, or the judgment of history.