BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
“We are all Tea Party here,” declared Sarah Palin appearing with John McCain at a recent rally supporting his re-election as senator from Arizona. The crowd screamed its approval of that statement, and John McCain beamed somewhat sheepishly. One wonders what was going through McCain’s mind at that time.
Was he thinking: “How did it ever come to this?” Was he mortified with embarrassment? Did he think: “A couple of years ago I picked this woman out of obscurity, and she was an embarrassment to me during the election. Now, look what I am into. She’s picking me up and dusting me off.” Or was it, “I’m an 80-year-old war veteran and once a respected leader. I’ve endured terrible things. Now, why me, why this, Lord?”
Most of us had a lot of respect for John McCain during his earlier years as a maverick, going against his party and working across the aisle with the opposition on any number of issues important to the country. His succumbing to pressure from the right and picking Sarah Palin bothered most moderates. That topped off his shift to hard right rhetoric during his run for his party’s nomination. Then he continued to run an entirely negative campaign for the presidency, still using the style of the hard right.
Now poor John McCain is locked in a life or death struggle for his own Senate seat with a loony from the fringe right, a political snake oil salesman if there ever was one. This guy lost his seat in Congress after his involvement in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandals shortly back. Now the guy is coming at McCain for the party’s nomination, running from the lunatic fringe.
Rather than revert to what many of us think his real nature might be, John has chosen to go further and further to the right. His public appearances and his speeches in the Senate have been full of right wing hostility and anger. At home he is apparently trying to get as far over to the right as this kook who is opposing him. This is what brought him to a crazed bunch of tea party fans of Sarah Palin, while accepting the gratuitous endorsement of this know-nothing political celebrity from the fringe.
Palin has a few new cutesy twists to the old talking points, and a generous lacing of biting sarcasm disguised as humor – not funny outside the tea party ranks. The followers have the familiar signs calling Mr. Obama a commie, a Nazi, a Hitler makeover, socialist, Muslim, and foreigner, and the Devil – among other things. Their dialogue with reporters goes: “We want our country back; the government won’t listen to us; nobody wants that health care bill; health care [or you name it] is causing big deficits and bankruptcy; government is taking over health care; a bureaucrat will make your health decisions; don’t tread on me; and no taxation without representation.
The lack of validity to most or all of their signs and utterances doesn’t seem to bother the Tea Party crowd, nor their icon, Ms. Palin. Some should know better, of course, but those have shared the responsibility of selling an unthinking part of the public on the big lies.
One would think that all this hostility could not be generated from the health care issue alone, especially if this loony bunch actually believes all those lies and slogans. Unfortunately, this raucousness has been inflamed and goaded not only by the right wing talk radio and Fox News stars, but it has had its cheerleaders from among Republican Party stalwarts. “Hell, no, you can’t!” shouted House republican leader John Boehner after he lost the vote. That angry, hateful, threatening display by the party leader gave a clear “go-ahead” to the thugs in his party’s right.
Is it important to understand that research shows 75% of the Tea Party fringe identify as Republicans, while only 15% have Democratic backgrounds? Of course, nobody would expect anything different.
History has shown that extremists on either side do not win elections. For example, Republican Goldwater and Democrat McGovern lost in landslides. If the Republican Party keeps to the hard right, as they have been doing, then history casts them as a loser in any national general election.
On the other hand, if the Republicans disavow the tea party fringe, and that group organizes to run its own candidates, then other historical trends come into play. Does anyone remember 1992 when Ross Perot entered with a good following, and Bill Clinton beat the elder Bush with not quite half the votes cast? Ralph Nader has caused similar problems for Democrats, resulting in George W.’s election.
As of now the Republican Party regulars seem to be allowing the Tea Party fringe, with the help of ultra-conservative broadcasters, to take over and dominate their party. Should they continue to do so, and eventually achieve the image of the hostile, pseudo-patriot Tea Party people, it is questionable that anything good can come for them or for anyone else.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer