Friday, July 29, 2011

Frankenstein's Monster, or How the Tea Party Destroyed Washington.

The more I learn about the professional side of politics - the campaigning and running for office side, the keeping your job once elected side - the more I learn about all of that, the more I understand the strategies and tactics that are used on the media side of politics.  The side where congressmen and senators get on camera and politic and spin and distract.  The more I understand why the need for all the bullshittery, why the need to do one thing and say another.

One of the first things I learned in my campaign workshop was that the number one priority of a candidate, once elected, is to preserve their own job security.  Everything else is simply a means to that end.  The issues you choose to back, the statements you carefully word on camera, the positions you hold and the battles you fight, they are all a part of a strategy to make sure you win re-election, and either you make the right move or you don't.

This has been the state of politics in this country, well... probably forever, but specifically ever since the science of professional, modern campaigning was first drafted into a viable, winning strategy back in 1975.  It's all about convincing the majority of voters that you are the better choice for the job.  Then, once you're elected, it's all about continuing to convince them that you're the best person to keep the job because the other guys are way more dangerous to the country than you are.  You see this strategy play out in every political back and forth in the media.

The problem is, 36 years of dominating the political chess game has created a real level of arrogance in our political leadership.  The attitude that is given to the American people, when we try to speak up about what they're doing in Washington is, essentially, "Hey, shut up down there, the grown-ups are talking.  We'll let you know when it's your turn to speak!"  That "turn to speak", of course, being election time.  The periodic occasions when the average American gets to speak their mind and express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with what's going on in Washington with a "yea" or a "nay".

However, there's a reaction that is natural in every person when they are told to "shut up and let the grown-ups talk", and it typically breaks down in one of two ways:

1.  You become apathetic, which is the problem for the vast majority of voters.  We have been told to "Shut up and sit down" for so long that, more and more, the majority of American voters just don't care anymore.  We don't get actively involved in the political process - beyond just voting - because it's either "too confusing" for us or "everyone is just so angry and mean all the time" or whatever.  Point being, getting told to mind our place causes a lot of people to become turned off to the political process.  Most people can only handle being talked down to for so long before they just get tired of it and walk away.  Then there's the other reaction...

2.  You get pissed.  You say "Who do you think you are, telling me to sit down and shut up?  I have just as much right to speak my mind as you do!"  This is the attitude of a much smaller percentage of voters, because most people, by nature, seek to avoid conflict.  However, some people get really offended when you tell them to sit in the corner and wait until they're called on to speak.  These people get fired up, they gain an increased political interest, not as an attempt to understand it, but so they can better criticize those in power, give them a taste of their own medicine so to speak.  These are the people who will vehemently argue with you about their political ideology, and they might even be right about a few things, or at the very least present an argument you can agree with to an extent, but for the most part, they're just half-cocked and running on piss and vinegar instead of real, common sense ideas and a true understanding of the process or the issues.  This is because their interest isn't in understanding both sides of the argument, their interest is simply in making their argument louder and stronger than everyone else's and using the bully pulpit to push their agenda forward.

For much of the last 3 decades, those "pissed off" voters have been told, basically, to go fuck themselves.  Vote for a 3rd party candidate if you think you're so smart, see how far that gets you.  The angry voters who still had some loyalty to one of the two parties were courted just enough to secure their votes and then pushed back into the closet for 4 more years to sit and stew and bitch and moan and be out of sight, out of mind.  Then, in 2008, something changed...

When Obama was elected, the Republicans were outraged.  They had done everything they could think of to use the time-tested, tried and true campaign strategy guide to their advantage.  They had McCain, running in an open election, spouting the same shit that won Bush two terms.  They had their last-minute gimmick to win over the swing vote - Sarah Palin.  They went after Obama's experience, his affiliations, his politics... anything and everything they could do to keep him on the defensive so that he never had a chance to attack the weaknesses in the GOP platform and agenda.  Unfortunately, a tanking stock market did all the talking that needed to be said.  The recession was all the proof that was needed that Bush's 8-year artificial market inflation scheme was an epic failure.  Sarah Palin ended up not being the last-minute ace in the hole they hoped for, she just ended up being an ace-hole.  Instead of bolstering the ticket and igniting the base, she became a punchline, made the McCain campaign look desperate and willing to resort to gimmicks because they couldn't just win on the issues.  Instead of gaining just enough points to win in the last 3-4 weeks before election, they lost just enough points to lose it.

So, what to do now?  In spite of all their best efforts to convince the American people that the trickle-down ass raping they had been taking under the last 20 out of 30 years of Republican presidency was actually sweet, loving, consensual anal intercourse, the voters still decided to go with the guy who promised them "change".  However, as they were surveying the smoldering wreckage of their failed run at the white house, the Republicans noticed something they had been ignoring for years - those pissed off voters, looking for someone, anyone to blame for the mess they were in.  Only now, there were a LOT more of them, because things had got a LOT worse, and - even though it was mostly the Republicans own damn fault they were in that mess to begin with, the Republicans knew these pissed off voters weren't smart enough to realize that.  Thus, an idea was hatched, and with a little "behind the scenes" financial help from the Koch Brothers and a few conservative PAC's, the Tea Party was born.  The "grass roots" political party funded by billionaires and conservatives, determined to change the climate in a government that was previously run by... conservatives and billionaires...

It was too perfect.  First, get a politician out there with dumbed-down appeal to talk at their level - enter Sarah Palin as the Tea Party pinup girl.  Next, give them credibility through the mainstream media - enter Fox News, with Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck leading the call to arms, culminating in Beck's famous DC rally "A Gathering of Juggalos" or whatever he called it.  Finally, get the most marketable would-be candidates from this new party of far-right extremists, bring them in under the blanket of the Republican party, assimilate the Tea Party into their ranks and use their "grass roots" reactionary anger votes to gain big wins at the state level in the mid-terms.

It worked like a charm.  2 years after Obama was elected, the Republicans had successfully channeled the collective rage of the angry, ignored and undereducated masses into an unstoppable force of political activism.  They now had anti-union, far-right ideologues governing more states than ever, already getting right to work on their union-busting, voter-suppressing, morality-legislating agenda (Job creation?  What job creation?  We didn't run on promising to create jobs and end the recession, we ran on breaking up unions, making it harder to vote and taking away the rights of women and gays...  What?  We DID run on creating jobs and ending the recession?  That's the ONLY reason you guys voted for us?  Well... sit down and shut up, the grown-ups are talking!)

Most of all, though, the Republicans had control of congress!   YES!!!  Now they could make sure that Obama didn't win re-election by sabotaging any and everything he tried to get done from here on out!  You want to pass what?  NOPE!  You want help with what?  NOPE!  You want to discuss what?  NOPE!  You want compromise on what?  FUCK OFF BARRY, YOU'RE DONE SON!

Then, things started to go off the rails...

See, the problem with the Tea Partiers is that, for the most part, they don't really know much about the political process.  They have a very narrow cast view on the issues.  They care about the limited number of things that matter to them and that's it, they have an irrational dependency upon fundamentalism and evangelical faith over science and reason, they generally have the history education of a 5th grader and they think all the problems in government can be solved in simple, black & white terms.  They don't even realize how hypocritical their own ideology is - for example, they decry "big government" and "reckless spending", but they want to pass constitutional amendments to define marriage, to force a very specific budgeting process, to outlaw abortion, to weaken the strength of unions.  They want to create new, previously non-existent governmental departments to do things like give drug tests to welfare recipients, enforce arbitrary and prohibitive abortion regulation, and so on.  They want to increase the size of government and increase reckless spending, because it's for the stuff they think is ok, at the same time bitching about how all of our problems in this country are a result of bigger, spendier government.

But, worst of all, they don't even understand how fiscal budgeting works.

They have hijacked the debt ceiling debate and are forcing the Republican rank and file to stonewall raising the debt ceiling.  They are convinced that, somehow, raising the debt ceiling equates to giving Obama a "blank check" for more "reckless spending".  First of all, let me shove that "reckless spending" bullshit right back up the Tea Party and the Republican's asses in general...

What now, Tea Party?  What now, Republicans?  Where's all that "reckless spending" you keep talking about?  Under Obama, his new policy spending is less than 1/4th of what Bush's was.  Who's the "out of control spender" now?  
So, it's already been proven time and time again that Tea Party Republicans don't know what the fuck they are talking about when they just get on camera and run their mouths about Obama's "out of control" spending.  Republicans who insist on continuing to blame our entire financial mess on Obama when he took the wheel of a car that was already heading over the cliff is resounding less and less with the average voter, because for all their blaming and shit-talking and finger-pointing, the Republicans haven't done one damn thing to improve our quality of life either.  They haven't passed a single bill to create jobs.  They haven't passed a single piece of legislation to stimulate economic growth.  All they have done is sit back and say "NO" to everything Obama asks of them, because they want the economy to tank, they want things to get worse because they want us to blame Obama for it when it happens.  The Republicans are absolutely and unquestionably intentionally wrecking the economy and punishing the middle class so that we'll take it out on Obama in 2012.

But, even the liberal pundits who knew this would be the Republican game plan from day one knew that Boehner's congress was going to have to deal with an elephant in the room during Obama's presidency.  They knew the debt ceiling would need to be raised in order to cover the costs of two unfunded wars, 2 unfunded bailouts, an unfunded prescription medicine plan and a steep drop in tax revenue from the Bush tax cuts.  They knew all of these things would create a need to raise the debt ceiling and they knew that the Republicans had courted the favor of, legitimized and given a political voice to an entire segment of angry, undereducated voters who wouldn't understand any of that.  The only question was, how would they play it?  How would they get done what needed to be done without setting off the ticking time bomb that was the Tea Party Republican element of congress?

They had cultivated a "No at all costs" approach to negotiations, but now they needed a "yes".  The Republican congress needed to pass a debt ceiling increase, because the economical consequences of not doing so are severe and no one who understood the first thing about economics and global markets wanted to take the risk of defaulting on our debts as the most powerful nation and economy in the world.

Unfortunately, the Republicans were still riding a wave of arrogance over their mid-term victory.  They thought they had Obama and the Democrats by the balls.  They thought they could just stonewall all the way to 2012 and the people would reward them with a Republican presidential victory.  They were full-on sitting around and smelling their own farts and loving the April-freshness of it all.  So, they decided they could tie the future budget debate into the present debt ceiling debate, bully the Democrats into caving, emerge triumphant and take a big healthy shit all over the donkey's head in 2012.

Well, it didn't work out that way.  Something happened that the Republicans hadn't anticipated.  Apparently, not everyone with half a brain was an angry, reactionary, Tea Party drone.  Some people decided to do a little homework and learn what, exactly, the debt ceiling actually was.  Some people decided to figure out what the debt ceiling had to do with future budget debates.  Some people decided to see how many times the debt ceiling had been raised under Republican presidents like Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.  Then, once they learned all this, they decided to share it with other people.  All the while, the Republicans just kept on bullshitting everyone, saying the debt ceiling was something it wasn't, continuing to politicize something that had never been politicized before and people were starting to catch on to the ruse more and more.

Somewhere around the beginning of the month, the attitudes among average voters began to shift.  People started to become put off by the stubborn refusal of the Republicans to ever say anything but "NO" to everything Obama proposed.  They started becoming irritated at entering a 4th straight year of record unemployment, wage stagnation, price increases and the looming threat of interest rate hikes on top of that.  They started to see how the Republicans were willing to defend to the bitter end things like corporate jet subsidies, tax cuts for the richest people and corporations, keeping tax loopholes open that rewarded companies who shipped American jobs overseas and so on.  They saw how the Republicans were willing to sacrifice social security and medicare for the benefit of private jets and oil barons.  The more the Republicans called it "Class warfare" the more the average voters saw that it was just a bunch of bull shit.  It's only class warfare when the class that's being attacked fights back.  When the richest Americans in the country are killing jobs, taking big tax breaks and bailout money and shipping jobs overseas to make more profits and earn larger bonuses, that's just capitalism at work, but when the working class complains about being fed a shit sandwich and a severance check, all of a sudden it's "Class warfare".

The climate was changing.  The people were demanding compromise.  The people were telling Washington to start acting like adults and work out a deal to prevent even further economic hardship on an already fiscally weary middle class.  The people were sick of the shit and wanted action.

But, the Tea Party is running the show now.  The lunatics are in control of the asylum.  The people who don't know the first thing about fiscal budgets, global economics or 8th grade civics are now dictating the Republican policy on the debt ceiling.  They're not only stonewalling the Democrats, now they're also stonewalling the Republicans who actually do know better and telling them "either get in line or sit down and shut up, the grown-ups are talking!"

The Republicans created a monster.  The convinced a bunch of half-cocked reactionaries that they were a legitimate political power and now they've lost control of their own party.

I can already see the inevitable conclusion of this drama - the Tea Party, disgusted with the weak, compromising attitude of the mainstream Republicans, will make Michele Bachmann their candidate for president.  The mainstream Republicans, aware that Bachmann doesn't stand a chance in hell of beating Obama, will be forced to nominate someone like Rick Perry (GW Bush for dummies) to be the candidate for the "rational" Republicans.  This will split the party and almost surely guarantee 4 more years of Obama.  Of course, the mainstream Republicans could end up being completely broken by their new Tea Party overlords and their billionaire backers and just sit down and shut up while the Teabaggers run the GOP right off the cliff, waving their flags and wearing their powdered wigs the whole time, and then spend the next 4 years pointing fingers like they have for the last 4 years.

One thing is pretty clear to me at this point though, I will be very surprised if the Tea Party makes it through the next election cycle with a shred of political credibility.  The loudest voices aren't always the rightest ones.  The angriest voters aren't usually the smartest and the biggest bullies in the room are almost never the best deal makers.  Frankenstein is alive, but that son of a bitch doesn't know the first damn thing about fiscal budgets.  Hurry up and get him on an iceberg before he kills us all!

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