Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Church of The Grand Old Tea Party

This year, the 4th of July, our “Independence Day,”  felt a little different.  It felt less celebratory.  There are certainly many contributing reasons for this.  But one of them is certainly an awareness of how entrenched our divisions are.  Despite occasional pronouncements to the contrary by leading national political figures, their pious affirmations of the essential unity of all Americans, political opponents in the current era treat each other as threats and enemies much more than contending interlocutors within a civil society.  And so, I found myself sidling up to a friend at a holiday gathering and asking something like: So, how are you doing now that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stabbed Freedom in the genitals, hiked up his august judicial robes and shat directly into the hearts of our founders, and jabbed his middle finger into the eye of Divine Providence itself?  And as he laughed, it was clear to both of us that my satiric hyperbole was likely less extreme in expression than the sincere expostulations and scribblings of many of our fellow citizens.  

How do we engage with Americans who see us as enemies of Freedom itself, as a conspiracy to undo what they understand to be the work of our founders?  How do we pursue better policies and civic harmony, and do we reform our political processes when we are viewed as demonic opponents of their Church of ‘Freedom’?  Just as innumerable people throughout history have branded others as radical evil in the name of Christ and Christian love without consideration of the foundational teachings they supposedly champion, we now face a party dominated by a constituency that brands us as radical evil in the name of America and American freedom without any real consideration of their history and functions.  In both cases, communities have lost sight of the fact that their institutions and ideologies are the means and not the ends, conflating them in terrifying self-justification.  One says: “If you disagree with me, you oppose Christ, Love, humanity and its salvation.”  The other says: “If you disagree with me, you oppose America, Freedom, humanity and its salvation.”

Nothing could bring this home more than the response to the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act.  Their candidate, Mitt Romney, responded immediately with his commitment to repeal the legislation as his highest priority, while citing central features of the legislation that he supports.  Apparently, the principal disagreements between Republicans and Democrats do not actually involve its benefits, but its funding mechanism and institutional apparatus.  In spite of the “let ’em die” calls, no one actually thinks our country requires a particular number of people to be without health care.  But instead of proposing alternatives to restructure funding and the institutional apparatus for the newly insured, Republicans are committing legislative time and political capital to pursuing an unlikely repeal and likely disingenuous replacement of the legislation.  Of course, they are sort of stuck as the current legislation already employs their funding mechanism and organizational apparatus, which they developed as a private sector alternative to the left’s preferred public system.  In seeking to adopt their system as a pragmatic if imperfect policy compromise, we have taken away their substantive opposition.  They cannot declare victory without giving the evil others a victory.  They cannot work to improve their policy further with subsequent legislation, for that policy is now enshrined in a piece of legislation that is as fetishistic an anathema to their core identity as the image of Satan has been to Christians, as vernacular Bibles originally were to the Catholic episcopacy, as the concept of “pre-destination” was to the Jacobean Church of England or the wearing of a shirt called a surplice by an Anglican cleric was to Calvinist dissenters.

Just as the Catholic Church has had its Savanarolas, so the American right has its Allen Wests and its Michelle Bachmanns.  Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t just disappoint his coreligionists, he violated current conservative doctrine and betrayed Freedom, for indeed the two have become inseparable in the minds of right wing activists.  One cannot value freedom and support the Affordable Care Act any more than one could understand “love” and follow Christ without obeying the chosen church or sect, its doctrine and its leaders.

At some point, the political winds may cool.  Many who currently rail against the Federal Government as no less tyrannical than the British government against which our founders rebelled would refuse to engage in “second amendment solutions,” at least I both hope and believe that.  The challenge for us in this era is to win political and policy battles without capitulating by mirroring back the zealotry, inflexibility, demonization, and violent rhetoric of those who have branded us their enemies.  In the long run, flexible institutions that respect diversity prove more durable than fanatical cults, which almost always ossify, become brittle, and break in the swirling winds of history.


  1. Strummerson

    have to do with how we function in the face of this and whether we can afford to wait out the stagnation this inflicts on our political system.  

    It’s actually quite easy to imagine the ACA as the pragmatic and bi-partisan compromise that Obama wanted it to be in another political environment.  It would always have required the Republicans to put policy before politics to a certain degree.  A bi-partisan policy would provide a rationale for reelecting Obama.  And this, as has been discussed many times, is the weakness of staking one’s persona on bi-partisanship.  The other side can defeat you simply by saying ‘no’, and then blame you for failing to bring them to the table.  In order for it to work, even a more pragmatic and constructive Republican party would need to be able to imagine a way that the shared credit could benefit them more than the other side, to imagine how they could craft a rationale for putting a Republican leader in charge of the executive branch.

    But, of course, what the left has failed to establish in the minds of the electorate is how lives, and how many lives are at stake in health care reform.  And how lack of health  care reform has been afflicting our economy.  Only those points will undermine the Republican commitment to obstruction on this issue.  Either they would have to bend or the voters would abandon them as they seemed to be in 2008, when they looked like they were becoming a regional party headed for long-term minority.

  2. Strummerson

    This is significant as studies show that perceptions of the economy prior to presidential election harden around now.  And moderate to significant improvements in September and October supposedly produce diminishing returns.

    I think Obama needs to throw the dice here and begin suggesting that the lack of investment in jobs has something to do with partisanship.  Jobs were growing and have leveled off.  Where are the job creators?  Tax rates are at historic lows and they know quite well that decreasing them will balloon the nation’s deficit.  Yet they squirrel away their money in the Caymans, in Switzerland, in offshore investments (no mention of Romney by name) when we need them to take a little risk by investing in American workers.  If they are doing this to defeat me, I would suggest their country’s economic health outweighs partisan considerations.  We ask young people to serve in our armed forces, with great risk to life and limb, regardless of foreign policy outlook.  We laud them for doing so.  We call them our best and finest and most patriotic.  Yet they return from their service and the so-called ‘job creators’ are protecting their wealth in tax havens.  Calling someone else a patriot for securing our nation doesn’t make you one.  Shouldering a much smaller risk to invest in that nation it what is required, regardless of elections, regardless of forecasts, regardless or partisan loyalties and ideological commitments.  The ideology that matters now is the one we share in our commitment to America, to the American dream, to a system that can and should be the fairest and mot prosperous in the world, both at this historical moment and in the broad sweep of human history.  Government has done what it needs to and what it can to stabilize our economy and ensure that demand is there.  It’s time for the private sector to step up and seize the opportunities that exist right now for businesses to profit and for our recovery to switch into gear.  I call upon those who want to be true job creators, not to sacrifice as we ask our young people in the military to do, but to invest in America.  We cannot do it without you.  It’s time now to step up.  We have skilled workers.  We have smart consumers.  We have technical and conceptual innovators.  The America that you claim to love calls you to do the very thing on which you pride yourselves, to be that which you claim to be, to do for both yourselves and your country what you can be if you truly believe in America and its promise.

  3. creamer

      I use to think that we merely had to wait for previous generations to die off, people to become better educated and the rising tide of economic opportunity to slowly overcome the hate and prejudice of the past. The right consciously or unconsciously legislates against the latter two, and the first is hard to encourage.

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