Sunday, December 30, 2012

Idiots' Delight: The Annual Edition

For the second annual Idiots' Delight segment, rather than divvying up several small awards in order of significance, I opted instead to go for a broader, more central theme that I feel does a far better job at underscoring what 2012 all boiled down to.

The problem as I see it is that simply highlighting certain actors in what amounts to a Greek tragedy of sorts, never gets to the heart of the matter. Like that famous police drama Dragnet, only the names change, though it this case NOT to protect to innocent.

So let's get to it and rip this mother of a scab completely off.

The Tea Party: There have been many political movements in the illustrious history of the United States; none have been as malignant and damaging to the nation as the Tea Party movement that spread like wildfire throughout the Republican Party in the summer of 2009. What started out initially as a grass-roots movement quickly became co-opted by powerful special interests that saw an opportunity to channel the volatility of that movement into a vehicle to reestablished the political dominance and influence it lost in the '08 elections.

The result was a monumental wave in the 2010 midterms that swept Republicans back into the majority in the House and delivered several key governorships.  But even back then the rhetoric and intransigence of this movement proved costly. The Senate, though there for the taking, remained in Democratic control. Many pundits blamed the Tea Party for backing candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, who, quite frankly, had no business being on the national stage.

All throughout 2011 that co-opted movement behaved like a bunch of Sweathogs in an episode of Welcome Back Kotter. Last year's debt ceiling debacle resulted in the down grading of America's credit rating. It was, by all accounts, one of the most humiliating chapters in American history. So thorough was the Tea Party's grip on the reigns of power, that the GOP looked more like a group of hostages than a major political party.

But as embarrassing as 2011 was, 2012 took the cake.  With a weak recovery and a vulnerable sitting president, victory seemed in sight.  But the Tea Party-dominated GOP could not have been more inept. Pandering to a base that was pitifully out of touch with the majority of Americans, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president, locked himself into a Pandora's box during his primary run and the majority of the general election. The low point of his campaign was the now infamous 47 percent video in which Romney ostensibly wrote off almost half the electorate, thus sealing his fate. Not even a credible debate performance in Denver against an obviously listless Barack Obama could change his fortunes.

But it wasn't just Romney. The rot had spread throughout the entire Party. Pick an issue and the GOP was on the wrong side of it. Taxes, immigration reform, gay and reproductive rights, global warming, foreign policy, you name it. Republicans were viewed as extremist in virtually every one of their stances. Like the 2010 midterms, weak candidates like Richard Mourdock in Indiana, George Allen in Virginia and Todd Akin in Missouri were thoroughly rejected by their respective state's voters and proved costly to Republican plans for, once more, retaking the Senate. Indeed, Democrats gained two seats.

The Not Ready for Prime Time theme wasn't limited just to the Senate.  The GOP lost eight seats in the House, including Allen West in Florida who brought a whole new definition to the term unhinged. Were it not for gerrymandering of congressional districts in Republican-controlled states, it is quite conceivable that the Democrats could've rested control away from the GOP.

And now, after a resounding defeat in the November elections, they remain defiant as ever.  With just over a day left till the fiscal cliff, House Republicans are blocking a Senate bill to extend middle-class tax cuts in order to protect tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners.  Speaker John Boehner is in a no-win situation. If he allows an up and down vote in the House, which would be the right thing to do, the bill will most likely pass - albeit with a majority of the votes coming from Democrats. If he holds firm and prevents the bill from making it to the floor, which is what his base wants him to do, then all the tax cuts expire on January 1.  Either way, he's screwed. The irony here is that the GOP is thumbing its nose at a deal which would give them $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years AND entitlement reform to defend an ideology that an overwhelming majority of voters don't support.

As if this fiasco wasn't bad enough, Republicans are threatening a repeat of 2011's debt-ceiling circus in February. Regardless of what happens with the Bush tax cuts, they are ready, willing and able to allow a default and bring the entire economy to its knees if their demands aren't met.  You couldn't make this shit up if you wanted to. Spoiled brats behave better than these delinquents.

The antics of the Tea Party have done more than just reduce a major political party to a laughing stock, they have severely damaged the overall political balance that a healthy democracy desperately needs to thrive. The United States, for most of its history, has been a two-party country. As things stand now, one party appears content to take its ball and go home.

Whether the Republican Party can extricate itself from this stranglehold the Tea Party has over it remains to be seen. If it can't, we may be in for one helluva long and gut-wrenching run. Not since our founding has a movement so threatened the very essence of the Republic itself.

Happy New Year!

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