Aesop told the tale of a kind-hearted farmer who was working his fields when he found a frozen snake. Sensing the viper was about to die, the farmer tore open his jacket and pressed the snake against his warm skin. Unfortunately when the viper revived, he gave his rescuer a fatal bite. “I saved you,” moaned the farmer. The viper hissed, “But you knew I was a snake when you embraced me.” This fable characterizes the relationship between the Republican Party and its Tea-Party wing.
A contemporary interpretation for Aesop’s fable would be, “compassion is wasted on the immoral.” From its onset, the Tea Party has been a political snake with one poisonous objective: advancement of the Tea-Party agenda regardless of the consequences to the Republican Party or the United States.
The Tea Party emerged after the 2008 presidential election, a toxic combination of the 2008 Ron Paul presidential campaign, hard-core conservatives dissatisfied with the Republican Party establishment, and political organizers funded by rich donors such as the Koch brothers.
In 2010 the Tea Party published its “Contract From America:”
1. Identify constitutionality of every new law;
2. Reject emissions trading (“cap and trade”);
3. Demand a balanced federal budget;
4. Simplify the tax system;
5. Audit federal government agencies for constitutionality;
6. Limit annual growth in federal spending;
7. Repeal the health care legislation passed on March 23, 2010 (“Obamacare”);
8. Pass an ‘All-of-the-Above’ Energy Policy;
9. Reduce Earmarks;
10. Reduce Taxes.
This served as the framework for the policy agenda of the House Republicans, led by Tea-Party member Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader.
For many years, Republican politicians had to take the Grover Norquist tax pledge in order to garner conservative support. In recent years, the “Contract From America” has served a comparable function. In particular, Republican candidates have had to pledge to repeal Obamacare, reduce taxes and federal spending, and demand a balanced budget.
In August of 2011, the Republican-controlled house forced a crisis over the Federal debt ceiling. As a result of a complicated compromise, Federal spending was drastically reduced through the sequester process.
At the end of 2012, there was another crisis – the so-called “fiscal cliff” – regarding the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the onset of a series of spending cuts. On Jan. 1, 2013, the House of Representatives passed compromise legislation to avert the crisis. However, a majority of House Republicans and all Tea-Party members voted against the bill.
The latest crisis threatens to shutdown the government on Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins. On Sept. 9, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, negotiations will begin on a new Federal budget and raising the debt limit. What happens next will depend upon the strength of the Tea Party. If they have their way, the Federal government will close its doors.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz joined by 14 other Tea-Party Senators advocate shutting down the government. In addition, CNN reported, “a bloc of about 71 House Republicans say they will refuse to vote for a measure that funds the government if it continues to fund the Affordable Care Act.”
This is one of a number of issues where the Tea-Party partisans threaten the GOP leadership because they don’t feel the Republican old guard are pushing the Tea-Party positions on Obamacare, immigration, and the Contract From America, in general. While these positions are popular with the Tea-Party base, they aren’t swaying other voters. For example, a recent Hart Research poll found that only 36% of respondents wanted to repeal Obamacare.
This Tea-Party extremism has run into opposition from orthodox Republicans such as Arizona Senator John McCain,”Those of us who have been around for a while know what happens when there’s the threat of a shutdown of the government: It’s the Congress that gets blamed.” Republican strategist Karl Rove agreed, “[the shutdown] is the one strategy … that might be able to guarantee that the Democrats pick up seats in the Congress in 2014.”
In 2010, after the Tea Party slid onto the political stage, Republicans embraced the snake. Then the gerrymandering that accompanied the rise of the Tea Party, promoted the radicalization of the GOP. How, in many areas of the country, the Republican who wins the primary is the overwhelming favorite to win the general election. The GOP voters who turn out for the primary are usually the most conservative, often Tea-Party members. To win their support candidates ratchet up the stakes by taking increasingly radical positions and the Tea-Party has disproportionate influence. As a consequence, Republicans are engaged in a political civil war.
The GOP is suffering the consequences that Aesop wrote about 2,500 years ago. Republicans who embraced a poisonous snake now seem to be shocked that it’s biting them.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and retired Silicon Valley executive. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2013
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