No longer just under the eyes

September 19th 2011

 It was a sign of the times. Even as they ignored demonstrations in the Wall Street area of Manhattan, CNN breathlessly reported that in a totally meaningless straw poll in California, Ron Paul was the winner! Nearly 834 votes were cast (833, actually), and Paul got 44.9% of them, or 374 votes. Rick Perry was second with 29.3%, or 245 votes. Mittens was a distant third with 8.8%, or 73 votes. The poll didn’t break down the rest of the votes (141) but I would be very surprised if Jon Huntsman, the only other GOP candidate who isn’t a whirling loon, got ten votes. So, assuming that Mittens and Huntsman can qualify as sane, that means that out of 833 GOP delegates, 10% at most voted for candidates who are possibly sane.

Slow news day. No mechanical-orchestra type ‘debates’ from the GOP in flag-bedraped caverns that Jon Stewart memorably described as “looking like Betsy Ross’ vagina”. No Democratic politicians caught in minor sex scandals. And they didn’t care to discuss actual news stories, like the unfolding Greek debt crisis, or the UN vote on Palestine, or that Obama wants to tax capital gains like regular income.

It came on the same day that George Will complained that the GOP had been taken over by teabaggers, and compared it to the rise of the Goldwater faction in 1964. It’s hard to imagine that we would ever consider George Will to be a moderate, but that’s the point we’re at now. By GOP standards, he’s moderate. By teabagger standards he’s a socialist, because he thinks that evolution is a valid scientific framework for biology and other sciences, and he doesn’t regard all public projects as creeping communism.

The teabaggers are at the point where sanity is considered, at best, suspiciously liberal, and at worst, leftist-fascist (a term utterly unique to teabaggers). They not only oppose reality; they oppose sanity itself. It’s no longer enough to ignore inconvenient facts for that lot; now they have to take those very facts and insist that they mean the opposite of what they do.

For several weeks, I’ve had one loon following me around on Usenet insisting that the S&P downgrading of America’s credit was actually an ENDORSEMENT of GOP policies. Others have been loudly insisting that while it wasn’t the GOP’s fault, America benefited from it (the economy didn’t collapse! Oh joy!) and therefore the GOP will be happy to take credit for it.

Perry is still running around proclaiming his “Texas Miracle”, a dream state for workers in which doubling the unemployment rate while dropping average income by 5% is considered a GOOD thing. He’s proud of his achievement in education, in which Texas now ranks dead last and is even behind some third world countries.

Paul Ryan has a great new plan. Let the jobless work for free! His idea is that anyone on unemployment should be eligible for eight weeks “on-the-job-training.” No pay, mind you, except they get to keep their unemployment checks coming. Twenty-four hours a week, and the employer is under no obligation to continue the employment at the end of the eight weeks. They tried that in Georgia, a state that has never quite emerged from the 19th century. They discovered that the percentage of OTJ “volunteers” who actually got work after the eight weeks was 16.3% – which is exactly the same rate of employment as those who didn’t participate in the program. Just a lot of employers got free labor on the public dime, and at a maximum of $300 a week, the unemployed got cheated. Oh, and he wants a provision where anyone who turns down such a proposal gets dumped from unemployment rolls. This means they can set up fake offers from employers 300 miles away, offering 24 hours over five days a week for up to $300/week (commute costs aren’t covered, along with child care, etc) and anyone who refuses such a wonderful offer is off the rolls.

That will bring cheers from the teabaggers, who managed to televise themselves cheering the execution of an innocent man and loudly cheering the prospect of a young, uninsured man dying in great pain because he couldn’t afford $450 a month health insurance premiums.

That’s the thing about teabaggers that flat-out puzzles me. Certainly we’ve seen movements like this before, throughout American history. Andrew Jackson’s democrats. The Know-Nothings. The Free Silver Movement. The Populist Party. The Wobblies. The Dixiecrats. The Greenbacks. The Progressive Party. The Abolitionists (slavery, booze, you name it, there’s always someone who wants to absolish something). The Bund. It goes on and on. Literally thousands of parties, most ephemeral and tiny, and thousands more “movements”. Some were benign and harmless. Some were not.

But they always claim to represent the people. Sometimes – often – the claim is false; that’s especially true now in this age of astroturf movements, when “populist movements” are created and surreptitiously run by vested interests. But the pretense is always there. “We represent the PIPPLES!” It defines the movements as populist.

A lot of populist movements had scapegoats, a group the members blamed for whatever social ills they hoped to address. Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, immigrants, intellectuals, the wealthy, foreign countries, the list was varied and colorful.

At first, it seemed to be that way with the teabaggers. That they were a faux populist movement was never in doubt. Even the spark that created them was ludicrous: a day trader whining bitterly on TV that low-income mortgage holders had caused the financial meltdown of 2008 and it was just so unfair that the unproductive poor should victimize the productive class that way.

It’s not the first time a privileged class has been able to successfully deflect blame from itself by scapegoating its own victims, and it won’t be the last. It should put to rest any nonsense that Americans are somehow immune to such ham-handed methods of propaganda. They aren’t.

Teabaggers claimed to represent what the constitution wanted, and what the constitution apparently wanted was low taxes, strong immigration controls, and weak government.

Which would be unremarkable, except they went further and further into la-la land in an effort to attract some of the louder and more committed types of followers.

Anti-immigration stances turned into blind hatred of Mexicans, and from there, suspicion of anyone who looked Latino. Weak government got taken over by the insane Grover Norquist doctrine that government should be small enough to “drown in the bathtub,” never mind that without a viable government, you don’t have a viable country. Low taxes somehow morphed into utter hatred of not only people on welfare, but working people in general. People living in dual-wides cheered loudly at efforts to destroy unions, and movements to eliminate such basics of American life as the minimum wage, child labor laws, pension guarantees, and health and safety rules. People who will never, ever be affected by the inheritance tax on four million dollar estates cheered wildly at efforts to eliminate even that toothless form of revenue, even as they howled about the deficit. They demanded lower taxes for millionaires and corporations, but were silent as the GOP offered legislation to raise payroll taxes.

At which point anyone who was paying attention began questioning the very sanity of the teabaggers. It’s one thing to hate scapegoats and cheer misrepresented stances that go against your own best interest. But these people were managing to scapegoat and screw over THEMSELVES. Who, in their right mind, would demand an end to services that contribute greatly to the quality of their lives and insist that the money be donated to the wealthy? The wealthy who had already impoverished much of the country by taking more and ever more of the national wealth, giving nothing back in return.

Then came the CNN Republican debates. They were sponsored by the Tea Party, which has finally dropped any remaining pretense that it was bipartisan. (One of its stranger moments came when, even as it claimed to represent both Republicans and Democrats, it sued Democrats who ran describing themselves as “Tea Partiers.”) That’s where the audience selected by the Tea Party (everything is very regimented and controlled in this “populist” movement) responded to questions, such as the one about the ethics of executing a possibly innocent man, with loud cheers. Perry, who fielded the question, (and who has gone to considerable effort to short-circuit an investigation into the execution of an innocent man that he authorized) got the cheers for effectively saying Texas had the right to execute anyone who looked scary to Texas. Then in the next debate, Ron Paul got cheers for saying anyone who wasn’t insured, no matter why, should be left to die. More loud cheers, including from people who probably didn’t have insurance themselves.

The situation is clear: these people aren’t just misguided or confused. The Tea Party is a cult. They don’t operate from political or social conviction; they operate from a religious frenzy, and if their shamans tell them to drink the koolaid, then that’s what they will do.

Populist movements are part of any healthy democracy. Some, as mentioned, are beneficial. Some are harmful. They come and go.

But cults are always dangerous, and always do great harm as they approach the centers of power. And this particular cult controls the GOP, and through them the House of Representatives. They are why the GOP is following insane policies that can only hurt the country, and the people in it.

If these debates (with the strangely staggered flooring behind each podium to make each candidate the same apparent height), in which they all babbled the same talking points and the same lunacy, did one thing, they showed, once and for all, that the GOP has stopped being a functioning political party and has become a cult.

And make no mistake: if they prevail next year, they will destroy America.

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