Whether or not V.P. Biden tagged the Tea Party "terrorists," other sentient beings have dramatized their politics of crude intimidation with howls about ransom demands, hostage-taking, blackmail and extortion. The stolid NY Times' Joe Nocera condemned this "jihad against America" intent on "blowing up the country." Right, an unholy war by a minority of fanatics who take no prisoners, nor apologize for innocent victims.
We've gone way beyond states' rights on hot-button cultural fixations, even nullifying objectionable "liberal" giveaways. Does not the manufactured debt fallout -- nullification of government integrity -- demand strong retaliation by the adults before this unholy war impales the ultimate casualty -- it's the future, stupid? What defines a third world debtor nation more emphatically than obsolete infrastructure, no new growth industries or updated labor force, paltry education and research commitments, no master environmental, regulatory and/or energy planning? What distinguishes the Tea Party insurrection (and backers) from suicide bombers or unhinged shooters of House members or abortion doctors, is scope, funding, and organization -- plus collusion with a radicalized GOP and the 87 rogues the rightwing shoehorned into Congress.
The first, worst casualty in this holy war -- all policy contradictions aside -- isn't just the truth but majority rule, the result of transforming government from gridlock to self-inflicted paralysis that kills the golden goose capable of solving big problems. More or less, America was plodding along towards only moderate inequality when 2000 kicked off body blows against majority rule. The rightwing Bush-Cheney gang viewed majority will as a problem open to manipulation, rarely the solution or heart of America. Cheney scorned the public.
Follow this calamitous storyline: 1) the Supreme Court wrongly trumps the 2000 Florida election when installing a minority president (in popular vote) who ends up widely hated. And why? Because 2) W. unilaterally, deceptively drags us into the Iraqi quagmire, then loses popular support when innumerable WH deceptions surface. Plus, 3) terrible wars plus terrible tax giveaways cost 3-4 trillion while shredding the budget-deficit. 4) On his own, Bush tortures innocents and abuses our civil rights -- deflecting Congressional approval and in short order inviting public outrage. 5) Finally, while the middle-class gets ambushed by the criminal minority causing the Great Recession, the Supreme Court awards corporate treasuries the money leverage only tin-pot dictators inflict. Though highly unpopular, Citizens United only reflected the sabotage to the democratic spirit when the top 1% seizes 40% of assets and 25% of income.
Majority Held in Contempt
This survey only captures the high points of democratic low points, as endless wars are rejected by increasing majorities starting in '06. Not that that stops any of them in five years, in fact more get added, few with open debate or declarations. And I jumped over the Clinton Impeachment, the most high-handed act of minority arrogance in decades. And now, every time President Obama caves instead of fighting for the majority's clear agenda (fair taxation, quick war exits, public option-price controls-true health care reform plus Wall Street indictments), majority rule withers. Today's Tea Party's hissy fit simply finalizes the rout of democracy as 20% drive the other 80% of us into double-dip recession, maybe worse. When has sustained minority rule -- whether by white, male, slavery-accepting landowners in 1800, robber barons of the Gilded Age, ideological Supreme Courts, or economically-illiterate know-nothings -- not produced unspeakable pain and suffering for the majority?
What makes the debt ceiling fiasco more onerous than Gingrich's 1990's political theatre -- or racist '60's civil rights Senate opposition (defeated), or reactionary assaults against FDR (turned back) -- was its utter, needless absurdity. What was gained and how much was lost? Eventually, non-stop crusades that undermine the legitimacy of every Democratic president since LBJ -- and now our credit ratings and chance to fight unemployment -- torpedo Lincoln's ideal of government for and by and of the people -- in short, our collective future. If Tea Party obstructionism is about 20% trumping what 60 or 80% want to do, the magnitude of permanent damage will be incalculable, making 9/11 a blip on the radar.
Majority Rule, the Soul of Democracy
Majority rule, and open voting (now under siege), are the only insurance against more top-down despotic control, whether military, financial, class, or oligarchic. The supremacy of majority rule precedes America and the Constitution, adjudicating what any one generation elevates to do-or-die status. Issues change, complexions change, personalities change, law and the Constitution change -- but what republic survives this mortal blow? Even when the majority is wrong or mislead, or callously slow about human rights -- today for gays -- some absolute instrument must end debate, make decisions, and start action. Rule by majority, exactly like Churchill's view of democracy, may well be the most dreadful form of government, except for all the others.
What Tea Party insurgencies evoke for me, if sustained and widespread, are divisions we haven't seen in 150 years ago when the South seceded. What else, other than sharing history and this key value, better ties together our six very disparate regions? Today, radical Tea Party ideology disputes our core assumption -- that the president and the majority (not white enough, nor religiously right) can and should rule wisely. That defines the ultimate Tea Party sabotage, way beyond the debt ceiling nonsense. Either we have majority rule or some self-appointed, minority by "faith alone" gang rules. That's why Teavangelists are so dangerous, so inflexible they declare any who disagree are condemned as treasonous, wicked, and/or foreign subversives.
Tea Party -- Modern Confederacy?
Guess the percentage of defiant, white, southern, Confederates in 1861 -- only 20% of all Americans. Not every one of the 5.5 million white southerners favored violent resistance, nor did all of the 22 million non-southerners adore Lincoln. What about the 3.5 million slaves? Whatever the complex causes of the Civil War, its start was anything but democratic or done by popular vote. No, an elite, plantation-slave owning gentry declared war via secessionist state houses. Lincoln wasn't about to end slavery, inflame the South, or use force to impose federal law -- unless coerced.
Now guess the percentage of Tea Partiers in 2011. As polls range from 13% to 25%, let's call it no more than 20%, too. 52 House members define the Tea Party caucus and another 35 join their fun. Now guess what percentage of the total 435 members that 87 represent. Bingo, 20%.
Not to overplay the comparison, but today's batch of older, white, racially-insensitive conservatives also assert less government is automatically good, federal taxation suspect, the U. S. president's a crass, oppressive dictator -- and decentralization would solve all problems. Curiously, today's insurgents want to "take back their country" (just like southern Rebels), forever waxing nostalgic about fantasy golden ages (under Reagan). Not so different from earlier delusions of the pre-abolition, ante-bellum golden age where happy slaves prospered because milk and honey flowed freely.
There is, so far, one great difference: millions were killed and maimed because the Confederacy took arms against legitimate government. The two-year old Tea Party can't yet match those casualties in its war against the majority -- and against reality. But it's still young. Check out the Michael Lind linkage of "The Tea Party, the debt ceiling, and white Southern extremism," arguing "the goal, methods and passions of the Tea Party in the House are all characteristic of the radical Southern right." Good rejoinder by Democratic strategist Ed Kilgore.