If I were a Republican ... Oops, pardon me. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Let me rephrase that. If I were a principled conservative concerned about my party, I believe I would stop fighting it and just hand the steering wheel over to the Tea Party for the coming elections. Perhaps a stunning political defeat, like the Democrats suffered in 1972, will finally force the GOP to divest itself of the right-wing fringe element whose borderline insanity is destroying the final vestiges of a once formidable organization.
Only an electoral smack-upside-the-head can convince these zealots that their reactionary philosophy of gutting governmental social programs, taxes, public schools, and labor unions is unacceptable to a civil society. Their attempts to lower the deficit by slashing popular programs that benefit the elderly or less fortunate, while leaving the Bush tax cuts intact, is simply immoral. The oblivious Tea Party is unaware that Poppy Bush had to raise taxes in the wake of the deficits caused by Ronald Reagan's tax cuts and still cling to the discredited, supply-side, "trickle down" theory that was the bedrock of Reaganomics. When Newt Gingrich criticized the Paul Ryan budget plan that all Republican office-seekers must embrace to win the support of the party, he was pilloried by the radical right as too liberal. This is the man who led the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.
That old George Santayana quote about those ignorant of history being condemned to repeat it has grown tired, so let's try another: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." Groucho's cousin, Karl Marx, wrote that, and though I heard it long ago, I never really knew what it meant until I began watching it play out in front of my eyes. Now the meaning is unmistakable. The tragic backdrop for the unmaking and splintering of the Democratic Party in the 1960s was the Vietnam War. In refusing to support the liberal Hubert Humphrey's candidacy for president because of his association with LBJ's disaster, the left-wing Democrats handed the presidency to Richard Nixon. After four more years of unrelenting horror, the Democratic Party was dominated by a radical, anti-war left whose tactics were repugnant to a great part of the electorate. Their nominating convention was a circus, yet they still managed to put forth a credible anti-war candidate in Senator George McGovern and a moderate running-mate in Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton. I knew it was over the day I saw the newspaper headline, "Eagleton Admits to Past Shock Treatments." Electric shock therapy was the standard treatment for depression at the time, but still too shocking for voters to accept. Despite his broken promises, Nixon won 49 states.
The ongoing self-destruction of the GOP presents itself as farce this time, as the least qualified, most rabid anti-intellectuals of the Tea Party are calling the shots. Party members like Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, or Mitch Daniels already see the writing on the wall and are sitting this one out, encouraging carnival freaks like Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum and secessionist Texas Governor Rick Perry to consider a presidential run. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, though not yet an official candidate, told Iowa public radio that she has received the "calling" from God to run for the nation's highest office and promptly called for the teaching of Creationism in public school science classes. The clueless Mitt Romney has had to run against his own record as governor of Massachusetts in order to pander to the Republican pit bulls, and Tim Pawlenty is still groping for a message. The desperate, discredited neo-cons are courting Jeb Bush, while disillusioned party elders see a large prospect in high-flying New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. And then there's Sarah Palin.
Palin believes that running for president is like vying for Miss Wasilla and that a lack of substance can always be overcome by a "cute" personality. Her patriotic bus tour of American historic sites has become the most hilarious rolling disaster since the last Cheech and Chong road movie. Her knife-and-fork pizza summit with Donald Trump in New York City, where she strapped on a gigantic, silver Star of David, was only trumped by her visit to the Old North Church in Boston, where she explained the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
According to Palin, Revere "warned the British by ringing those bells and sending up those warning shots and bells that we were gonna' be secure and free." So much for that "one if by land, two if by sea" business. When Fox News pointed out that she blew the Paul Revere story, Palin blamed the media and said it was "a gotcha" question, then insisted that her interpretation was correct. "Part of [Revere's] ride was to warn the British that were already there that 'hey, you're not going to take American arms; you are not going to beat our own well-armed persons individual private militia that we have.'" And this genius is currently polling at the top of prospective Republican presidential wannabees. The Tea Party is correct in one of their notable rallying cries. We do think they're stupid.
By the time the Vietnam War tore the Democratic party apart, they had already lost a previously dependable voter base. They didn't call it the "Solid South" for nothing, but LBJ's fight for civil rights legislation caused him to remark that the South would be lost to the Democrats for a generation. The party's sin was not in alienating white Southern voters, but for ever granting political cover to openly racist and segregationist politicians in the first place. Ultimately, the extremists founded aggrieved third parties and ran their belligerent candidates from Strom Thurmond to George Wallace.
Republicans will learn the same hard lesson for harboring the Tea Party within their ranks. Should the Republicans nominate an unacceptable "moderate" like Mitt Romney, there is every chance that the Tea Party will morph into a radical third party as early as next year and run their own candidate. Whoever their frothing mouthpiece turns out to be, he or she will only help to re-elect Barack Obama while simultaneously destroying what remains of the current, anti-government Republican Party. I call that a win-win.