By Richard Reeves
Perhaps those tea party guys are smarter than they look. After all, these men and women in Congress came to Washington determined to cripple big government—or even destroy it. They, 30 or 40 bent Republicans, were mad as hell at where the country is going and how it is governed. Now, with a minimum of sabotage, millions and millions of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, share their hatred of Washington.
It is discouraging for someone who writes about politics to see and hear the outrage and even hate that is voiced when anyone brings up the subject of the government shutdown, or Congress, or the White House or anybody or anything in the nation’s capital. Isn’t that what the tea party provocateurs want? They hate government, and they want you to hate it, too.
Anti-government populism has always been a thread in the fabric of American life. Until the tea party nihilists, the latest manifestation had been President Reagan’s inaugural address, when he repeated his old line, "Government is not the solution; it’s the problem."
Despite his rhetoric, Reagan never governed as if he believed that crap. He was a compromiser when he had to be, he understood what "loyal opposition" meant and, like most politicians, he was not really against the government or big government. He just wanted big government that did what he wanted it to do.
It’s different now, even as the tea partiers often claim him as hero or inspiration. The new boys really do hate government, the people who are in it, and the people who depend on it.
As chaos reigned in Washington for the past two weeks, and the new boys, led by radio conservatives and folks like Sen. Ted Cruz, reveled in it, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, "Mr. Washington Quote," said this:
"The denigration of public employees—typified by Rep. Darrell Issa’s vitriol directed at the IRS and Rep. Randy Neugebauer’s verbal assault on a park ranger for her work (without pay) at the World War II Memorial, which was shut down because of Neugebauer and his colleagues—represents a phenomenon that is not new but is really awful: the radicalization of so many lawmakers who don’t want limited but good government, but instead want to blow the whole thing up. They may know not what they do, but sadly, they have the weapons to do it."
Sarah Palin re-emerged from the money she has been making by telling extremist conservatives what they want to hear, as the tea party folk threw in the towel—or actually, threw in the bucket and the stool, hoping to hit anyone in sight.
"Friends, do not be discouraged by the shenanigans of D.C.‘s permanent political class today. Be energized. We’re going to shake things up in 2014," Palin wrote on her Facebook page Thursday. "Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky—which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi—from sea to shining sea we will not give up. We’ve only just begun to fight."
I believe her. The states she mentioned all have Republican senators considered "RINOS"—Republicans In Name Only—by Palin and her ilk. She is the great symbol of youth and passion to the old men and women who believe they are losing their country to younger and darker Americans. We’ve heard some of that over the years as foreigners arrived to work for and share American progress: Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews from Eastern Europe, workers from China and Japan.
But now, a black president? What is this world coming to? What is he doing there in "our" White House?
I would say the president is frustrated and angry about this "disloyal opposition," which is in opposition to both Democrats and Republicans. It’s obviously a bigger problem for the Republican Party, which is becoming an object of contempt to many on the far right.
"The Tea Party," wrote Francis Wilkinson of Bloomberg View, "is akin to a rowdy evangelical storefront beckoning down the road from the staid Episcopal cathedral." And these folks are willing to burn down the cathedral.
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