These past few weeks, I’ve been reading with increasing astonishment at the actions of conservative Republicans to shut down the government in an attempt to blackmail President Obama and Congress to defund Obamacare. Ken Poland wrote a good blog for Everyday Citizen that reflects a lot of my own exasperation at what the Senator Ted Cruz and the 40 Tea Party Representatives had done to shut down our government and to threaten the raising of the debt ceiling limit. I recently did a cartoon for the Cartoon Movement about my own perceptions of the Tea Party movement and its effect on the Republican Party.
The Tea Party seems to be destroying the remnants of a progressive and a moderate Republican tradition that worked to abolish slavery, protect the civil rights of African Americans, break business trusts and regulate corporations, protect the environment, and make a more democratic government that a wider range of citizens can participate in. Several decades ago, the Republicans were better on civil rights than a Democratic Party that was dominated by southern Dixiecrats. This was why minorities used to vote overwhelming for the Republican Party and why Frederick Douglass, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Sr. were Republicans. Ever since Lyndon Johnson got civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s, many southern Dixiecrats shifted their loyalties to the Republican Party and the Republican Party has gotten more conservative and they have rid the GOP of liberal Republicans and increasingly marginalized moderate Republicans.
From reading many articles, it seems that the current fight over the government shutdown is not only a fight between the Democrats and the Republicans, but it is also a fight between the Tea Party Republicans and moderate and establishment conservative Republicans. Speaker of the House John Boehner and most of the Republican legislators did not want a government shutdown. They were pushed into this shutdown by Senator Ted Cruz and 40 of the most extreme conservative Republican members of the House. Ezra Klein wrote in the October 5, 2013 edition of the Washington Post:
In 1995 and 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proudly led Republicans into their shutdown fight with President Bill Clinton. In 2011, Speaker John Boehner was enthusiastic about using a possible shutdown and default as leverage for Republicans to make good on the promises they’d made in the last election.
But Boehner didn’t want this week’s shutdown. He didn’t want to sign onto Ted Cruz’s doomed effort to defund Obamacare. Boehner’s strategy was to pass a clean bill to fund the government at or near current sequestration levels – – a major victory for Republicans, by the way — and then secure additional spending cuts in negotiations over the debt ceiling.
…What’s strange and fascinating about the shutdown debacle, however, is that a majority of House Republicans were with Boehner: They didn’t want a shutdown. “Two-thirds want a clean CR,” Rep. Peter King told the National Review, using the acronym for a “continuing resolution” to fund the government. “Including some of the people who got elected as tea party candidates from the South. You talk to them, they think this is crazy.”
The White House thinks it’s crazy, too. “One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” President Obama said this week.
The question that’s puzzling Washington is how a minority of the majority is managing to dominate the House of Representatives.
Robert Costa, Washington bureau chief for the National Review, estimates that there are only “30 to 40 true hardliners” among House Republicans. He says more than 100 House Republicans are solidly behind Boehner. But Boehner’s troops are scared. “Could they stand firm when pressured by the 30 or 40 hardliners and the outside groups?” he asked.
Joshua Green wrote an article for the September 26, 2013 edition of the Bloomberg Businessweek that points to Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation as the source of the defunding campaign:
DeMint, 62, is a courtly, polished Southerner who used to own a marketing business. These days he’s selling the idea that it’s not too late to kill the health-care law. In each city, hundreds and sometimes thousands of true believers crammed into hotel ballrooms to hear him explain how, with enough pressure on legislators, Congress could be persuaded to withhold funding for the law and thereby halt it before public enrollment begins on Oct. 1. “The House holds the purse strings,” DeMint told his crowds. If Republicans keep them cinched, he promised, the law would fail.
…Many Republicans looked on in horror as the defund movement gained steam. If the government shuts down, polls suggest blame will fall most heavily on the GOP. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr calls DeMint’s plan “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Representative Tom Cole, a veteran Oklahoma Republican, has likened the shutdown threat to “putting the gun to your own head. You’re basically saying, do what I want or I’ll shoot.” DeMint doesn’t see why his ploy should hurt Republicans. “Democrats will be shutting down the government to protect Obamacare,” he insists. As DeMint sees it, if Republicans would just toughen up and start singing from the same hymnal, public opinion might swing to their side. And if they won’t, he plans to turn his legions of supporters inside and outside of government against them.
On Sept. 20, House Speaker John Boehner, who badly wants to avert a shutdown, succumbed to the uprising in his caucus and held a vote on a funding bill that excludes Obamacare. All but one Republican supported it. (Through his staff, Boehner declined to be interviewed.) This could soon bring about the very crisis Boehner has tried to prevent, because the Democratic Senate will strip the defund provision and then—well, it’s not clear.
When most Americans look at Washington, they see a broken Congress, riven by partisanship and lurching from crisis to crisis. While the hostility between Republicans and Democrats is indeed severe, it isn’t the real reason the engine of government keeps seizing up. What’s causing the malfunction is a battle within the GOP over how to return the party to its former glory after two consecutive losses to Obama and setbacks in the House and Senate. It’s a fight that pits uncompromising, Heritage-style conservatives against more cautious Republican elders. What makes it so contentious is that both sides have radically different—and mutually exclusive—ideas about how to move forward.
I’ve been trying hard to understand the divisions in the Republican Party because it is having such an effect on the American political discourse. I have to admit that I’ve been baffled at times by the actions of the Tea Party. What is the source of the Tea Party’s anger against government? Why have moderate Republicans declined so much within the Republican Party? What differentiates the Tea Party brand of uncompromising conservatism from the more mainstream conservatism that believes in compromise and making government work?
John B. Judis wrote an article for the October 10, 2013 edition of the New Republic in which he wrote:
Since the late 1960s, America has seen the growth of what the late Donald Warren in a 1976 book The Radical Center called “middle American radicalism.” It’s anti-establishment, anti-Washington, anti-big business and anti-labor; it’s pro-free market. It’s also prone to scapegoating immigrants and minorities. It’s a species of right-wing populism. It ebbed during the Reagan years, but began to emerge again under the patrician George H.W. Bush and found expression in support for Ross Perot and for Pat Buchanan with his “peasants with pitchforks.” And it undergirded the Republican takeovers of Congress in 1994. It ebbed during George W. Bush’s war on terror, but has re-emerged with a vengeance in the wake of the Great Recession, Obama’s election and expansion of government, and continuing economic stagnation.
In his current column in The New York Times, Tom Edsall cites the extensive polling evidence for this rising anger. According to a Pew survey in late September, anger against the government “is most palpable among conservative Republicans” and overlaps with Republicans who “support the Tea Party.” But as with the Perot and Buchanan voters, these conservatives direct their anger equally at Republican and Democratic leaders. According to another Pew survey, 65 percent of the Republicans vote in primaries “disapprove of Republican leaders in Congress.” They see Republican leaders as being complicit in whatever they find wrong with Washington.
This anti-Washington sentiment, which is loosely identified with the “Tea Party,” has overshadowed and transformed grassroots Republicanism. Republican leaders like DeLay were able to keep the evangelicals and other social conservatives in line by battling gay marriage or late-term abortions. But as I recounted three years ago, many of these social issue activists have been absorbed into the Tea Party’s anti-government, anti-establishment ethos. In their current report on the GOP, based on focus groups, the Democracy Corps affirms this conclusion. Evangelicals, the report says, “think many Republicans have lost their way” and that the party leadership “has proved too willing to ‘cave’ to Obama agenda.” They identify with the Tea Party groups (even though they may disagree on social issues) because they see them “standing up and pushing back.”
On October 3, 2013, Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert released a study that they did on the three main factions of today’s Republican Party: the Tea Party, the Evangelical Christians, and the Moderate Republicans. They wrote about the fears that drive each group and how each faction relates to each other:
Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss. They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep “culture rot” that has invaded from the outside. The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns. They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.
Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview. Obama’s America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency. They are not focused on social issues at all. They like the Tea Party because it is getting “back to basics” and believe it has the potential to reshape the GOP.
Moderates are deeply concerned with the direction of the country and believe Obama has taken it down the wrong path economically. They are centrally focused on market-based economics, small government, and eliminating waste and inefficiency. They are largely open to progressive social policies, including on gay marriage and immigration. They disdain the Tea Party and have a hard time taking Fox News seriously.
It’s important to understand what motivates today’s Tea Party. I do so not to make fun of their beliefs, but to figure out what they fear and to see if there are any ways to address those fears in a more moderate way. In this I look at history. During the 1800s and early twentieth century, Evangelical Christians played an important role in many Progressive causes. Many Evangelical Christians championed the abolition of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement, supported the temperance movement, and supported the building of settlement houses to help the poor and the immigrant populations. After the Scopes trial and the perceived humiliation of William Jennings Bryan, though, the Evangelical Christian community shifted inward and evolved from a progressive force to a largely conservative force that we know today.
What is the mindset of the average Tea Party member? The October 3, 2013 study on the Tea Party, the Evangelical Christians, and the Moderate Republicans wrote about the Tea Party:
Tea Party enthusiasts form just over a fifth of the base Republican voters– and are cheered on for the moment by the Evangelicals who are depending on their conservative backbone. These are straight ticket, anti-government, pro-business voters who are more confident that they can get America back to basics if they fight back. They are libertarian and not very concerned with homosexual encroachment, but the hot topics for their friends and family are Obama, gun control, Obamacare, taxes, and government spending. They have hope because they are trying to get America back to the Constitution, to American entrepreneurship, freedom, and personal responsibility.
In both Tea Party groups, the phrase “back to basics” was repeated multiple times. What this means is they want to return to a time when they believe government was small, people lived largely free of the government, and Americans took responsibility for themselves.
This is not those times. Government is catering to those who have not earned their benefits or the freedoms of this country. They freely talk about food stamps, “welfare recipients,” and illegal immigrants. These groups are the most anti-immigrant, anti-food stamps, and anti-Obamacare and its potential beneficiaries of the Republican groups. They are also the most anti-Obama, anti-Obama agenda and anti-Obama politics— because these threaten the basics.
Like other Republicans, they hate big government and dependency that are central to the Obama Marixist project, but they are also acutely alarmed at government invasion of their privacy, rights, and freedoms. Freedom is on the line.
How does this differentiate from the Moderate Republican? The October 3, 2013 study on the Tea Party, the Evangelical Christians, and the Moderate Republicans wrote about Moderate Republicans:
Moderate Republicans make up a quarter of the Republican Party– and pale in size and influence to the Evangelicals and Tea Party supporters– and they know it. While they are firm Republicans, some have started splitting their tickets.
They are acutely conscious that their biggest difference is on social issues. While the Tea Party Republicans asked, “who cares?” and questioned government’s role in regulating personal choices, the moderates could not understand why gay couples did not have comparable rights. They were comfortable with a legal basis for gay marriage. Their modern views on gay marriage mark a sharp distinction from Evangelicals. In fact, many moderates don’t understand why it is a debate at all.
…While illegal immigration was a defining issue for Tea Party and Evangelical Republicans, the moderates do not focus on the illegals as undeserving and seem mostly pragmatic, particularly on the feasibility of mass deportation… Others even articulate that immigrants are good for the country and the economy. They speak of them having good work values, not as people looking to become dependent.
…The moderate Republicans were surely concerned about big government. Their first associations with government are negative— it is too big and does not operate well. They associate it with “waste,” “inefficient,” “regulations,” and “red tape.” They believe their taxes are too high and believe government spends too much money on bureaucrats’ salaries and high end offices.
But those views of big government combine with more positive associations— how rights have progressed and how the country has become more free. They honor freedom without the same sense of threat as Tea Party and Evangelical Republicans.
…But they stand out for being equally concerned with government dysfunction– and the Republican Party role in national polarization and gridlock. …In stark contrast to the conversations among Evangelical and Tea Party adherents, these folks are desperate for “middle ground.”
As a liberal Democrat, I have a lot more in common with Moderate Republicans than with the Tea Party. There are differences, to be sure, but at least Moderates are willing to find some middle ground where both sides can work together to accomplish something. This points out one of my biggest gripes against the Tea Party: their fanaticism about marginalizing anyone who disagrees with them, and their creating a political climate that makes collaborations between Republicans and Democrats impossible. Recently Chris Matthews released a book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked about the friendship between liberal Tip O’ Neill and conservative Ronald Reagan and how people from opposite ends of the political spectrum were able to get things accomplished. There used to be a time when liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans were able to collaborate on issues of common ground. Another famous example is the collaboration of liberal Democrat Ted Kennedy and conservative Republican Orrin Hatch on important health care legislation during the 1990s and 2000s. The Tea Party has created a political climate that makes such collaborations no longer possible.
The state of the Republican Party is dangerous for both the Republican Party and the national political discourse in general. I think the Tea Party should have a voice in government. But I do not think they should marginalize anyone who disagrees with them or to impose a minority opinion on the rest of the nation. I have confidence thought that eventually the political tides will turn as the general electorate tires of this extremism.
On the October 10, 2013 edition of the New Republic John Judis wrote:
One could argue, of course, that the Republican Party will readapt to its rightwing base and eventually create a new majority of “true fiscal conservatives” who will disdain compromise. But there is reason to believe that Chocola and the Club for Growth will never achieve their objective. Rightwing populism, like its predecessor, Christian conservatism, is intense in its commitment, but ultimately limited in its appeal. Tea Party Republicans and the outsider groups probably had their greatest impact when they were still emerging phenomena in the 2010 elections. But when the Republican Party becomes identified with the radical right, it will begin to lose ground even in districts that Republicans and polling experts now regard as safe. That happened earlier with the Christian Coalition, which enjoyed immense influence within the Republican Party until the Republican Party began to be identified with it.
I believe the Tea Party has overplayed their hand and a political backlash will occur. Jill Lawrence wrote for the October 4, 2013 Yahoo News
The Republican House has gone from stalling immigration reform and cutting food stamps to precipitating a government shutdown by demanding the repeal of the health law that is the cornerstone of President Obama’s legacy. The shutdown is threatening nutrition programs, cancer treatment, salaries, jobs, and much more.
It’s one bad hand among several the GOP has dealt itself.
“We’re not finished committing suicide here,” said Republican strategist John Weaver, a veteran of the McCain and Huntsman campaigns. “We also have the opportunity to kill immigration reform, and the odds are that we will do that, just to make sure we’re the angry-white-man party.” He says the party may need a George McGovern-sized defeat with a candidate like Ted Cruz before it chooses another path.
Here is a cartoon I did last year on Republicans and the fiscal cliff.
Here are some articles that I found on the Republicans and the shutdown:
The Shutdown is a Republican Civil War by Ezra Klein for the October 4, 2013 Washington Post
Inside the GOP: Report on Focus Groups With Evangelica, Tea Party and Moderate Republicans by Stan Greenberg, James Carville and Erica Seifert
What Happened to Compassionate Conservatives by Jill Lawrence for the October 4, 2013 Yahoo News
A GOP Moderate in the Middle… of a Jam by Ashley Parker for the October 7, 2013 New York Times
Jim De Mint, Congressional Republicans Shadow Speaker by Joshua Green for the September 26, 2013 edition of the Bloomberg Businessweek
It’s Only Going to Get Worse in Congress by Michael Scherer and Alex Altman for the October 14, 2013 Time Magazine
Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business by Joshua Green for the October 3, 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek
Business Groups See Loss of Sway Over the House GOP by Eric Lipton, Nicholas Confessore, and Nelson Schwarz for the October 9, 2013 New York Times
The Last Days of the GOP: We Could Be Witnessing the Death Throes of the Republican Party by John Judis for the October 10, 2013 New Republic
Government Shutdown: Why Boehner Doesn’t Overrule Tea Party Faction by Gail Russell Chaddock for the October 4, 2013 Christian Science Monitor
The GOP’s White Southern Republican Problem by Ari Berman for the October 4, 2013 The Nation
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