We Don’t Need a Liberal Tea Party
Let me just start out by saying this- If you live in America, you live in a great, great country. Your nation is wealthy. Your nation has a strong military. You have police, firefighters, and EMT’s to protect you. You have paved roads, running water, and inspected food. You have your choice of whether you have cable or DirectTV, you have professional sports leagues, concerts, plays, and museums. You can bad mouth your political leaders without being thrown in a dungeon somewhere, and you can peacefully assemble. You have a great country, a really great country that people from around the world want to come to. Don’t get me wrong, we disappoint the world, and ourselves sometimes. Iraq, Jim Crow, Vietnam, slavery, installing the Shah in Iran, not granting women the right to vote for over a century, and plenty of other times we have disappointed everyone. We also put the first man on the Moon, won the World Wars, developed the interstate highway system, built a public school system, and achieved some of the great heights in American history. Our Declaration of Independence has been quoted by popular uprisings around the world. We’re a great country, even if we’re as human as any other.
So, as you would imagine from that, I am utterly repulsed by the right-wing activism of the past eight years, particularly the Tea Party. Our nation did not become great through utter and complete political warfare, by demonizing compromise and working across our different political positions. Not all of our founding fathers agreed on the role of the Federal government in our nation, nor do we today. The idea that a political party would shut down the government to force an “all or nothing” position on a budget is so foreign to me that I cannot think of many scenarios where I would accept it. Sure, if the human rights of a group are being violated, I can understand extreme action. A disagreement on how active the government should be? I will pass. Most of the great legislative victories in our nation’s history took a “give and take” to get the votes, with dealmaking being celebrated, not hated. To the Tea people though, that is not acceptable.
Unfortunately, I have to say the Tea people have largely got what they wanted. From the 2010 Election forward, the point of their greatest victory, the President’s agenda has been largely stalled in Congress. His latest Supreme Court nominee is blocked. The government was shut down. Immigration reform and gun safety measures are blocked. In times past, some pair of great statesmen Senators would get together and horse-trade a deal together, and get some of the most pressing legislation through, at a minimum. A “gang of six” would break a filibuster on judges, or come to a compromise on immigration policy, or just get something done. That cannot happen, because no Republicans in Congress want to step out and cross the activists in their party. No judge on the high court, no immigration reform, not even a chance of a compromise on gun controls. None of this will be tolerated without cutting down the House Majority Leader’s dreams of being Speaker, or a primary challenge awaiting Senators with 90% party loyalty voting records, or a group of House members shutting down business. Ted Cruz came to Washington a nobody outside of Texas and almost won the Republican nomination on the back of his obstruction of the Senate, and was only defeated by an even more freakish demagogue in Donald Trump. Unfortunately, Republicans have found that the reward structure in American politics today favors this behavior.
Unfortunately, so have some on the left. There are those who will not settle for less than their version of liberalism, even rejecting the word in favor of being called a progressive (a distinction I do not grant as having any meaning). If you do not support their exact plan, you are not “truly” a progressive. Support a $10.10 minimum wage, or even a $12 one, instead of their desired $15? Not good enough. Support the improvement and expansion of the Affordable Care Act instead of “Medicare for All?” Not good enough. Support improvements on Dodd-Frank instead of their reinstitution of Glass-Steagall? You’re a tool of the banks. It is not enough to want equal pay for women in the work place, or gun control, or to protect marriage equality, if you are not where they are on the policy issues, you’re “establishment.” You’re “status quo.” You’re a corporatist, a tool of the rich, even a “conservative.” They, like the Tea people, are convinced that they are right, that the majority agree with their position, and that they should fight to no end if necessary to win their way. Some will flat out even tell you that they want to be the liberal version of the Tea Party.
If you behaved this way in the sand box as a child, you got removed by your mother. This is paralyzing our country. It is one thing to have principles and positions that you hold to be right, and quite another to then expect your opponent to give you everything you want while you give nothing in return. There is an element on the left that accuses the President of “selling out” for negotiating the ACA with members of his own party, as though he should have demanded they pass it by his decree. There are still others who think he should simply tell Speaker Ryan to “go to hell” during budget negotiations, as though the opinion of a separate and equal branch of government holds no weight. They seem to not get that the President is not a tyrant. Negotiation is inherent in our government.
This may not be popular to say, but American government is not a good place for people who believe in “ultimate victories,” where they get their way through the supremacy of their views, against the alternative. Lost in all of that “99 percent vs. the one percent” rhetoric was the idea that American politics have never broken down along 99 against one lines, and won’t as long as we have an open and pluralistic society. We consider a 60–40 split to be a blowout, and that still leaves two out of every five voters you see voting for the loser. This model, where the loudest, most obnoxious and demanding voices get their way, is not a sustainable politics. It certainly isn’t true of the conservative Tea Party. It also isn’t true on the left.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time to stand and fight, obviously. There are things we must defend, particularly when defending those who can’t defend themselves. Even so, we don’t need a liberal Tea Party. It hasn’t worked with a conservative version, and we really shouldn’t do it either. For the sake of our country, let’s at least realize that sometimes an agreement that makes the lives of people better, but gives the other side a victory too, is not a bad thing.