Those of us who count ourselves among the Boomer Generation probably recall that once upon a time in American politics there was a thing called a “moderate.” These were elected representatives, both Democratic and Republican, who gravitated toward the middle of the political spectrum, who could be counted upon to consider all sides of a situation and then serve as the “moderating” force that resulted in bills being debated, adjusted and ultimately passed. All this was done in the spirit intended by the founding fathers of elected officials representing the best interests of their constituents while coming together collectively for the good of all.
Today, this seems like ancient history, even myth—those long-ago days when the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate sat down together, with allies and aides, and hammered out legislation, with compromise often the necessary ingredient for progress. In those mythical times, it wasn’t about winning politically—or not losing—but about responding to the will of the electorate, and doing what was best for constituents and the country. Now, however, moderation has been replaced by polarization that has the system frozen.
And, guess what, it’s not going to get any better, at least not any time soon. Charles Blow in an op-ed piece in the New York Times starts out noting that a new Pew Research Center Poll indicates that two-thirds of Republicans acknowledge their party needs to change in order to do better in future presidential elections. That’s encouraging, right?
Unfortunately, the data goes on to show that a majority of the party feels its leaders need to move in a more conservative direction, with a smaller number advocating a more moderate shift. Then comes the Tea Party wing of the party, illustrating the true gulf between moderate and extreme. For this group, the party is not nearly conservative enough on most key issues, and they contend its representatives compromise too much and let Democrats win—a stance almost laughable when the GOP-fueled stalemate in Congress is considered.
What’s truly unfortunate, as Blow and others point out, is that the Tea Party wing of the party is the loudest and brashest and, whipped on by conservative talking heads, is having undue influence on the GOP and its positions. Any candidate, for example, who offers even a whiff of moderation or compromise, now is more afraid of a primary challenge from within his or her own party than a strong Democratic opponent.
Even Mitch McConnell is feeling the heat, and this is the bellicose senator who pledged to obstruct the Obama presidency at every turn, and has made good on that threat. According to the Times column, 15 Kentucky Tea Party groups “released a letter last week blasting two national Tea Party groups for endorsing Senator Mitch McConnell, complaining of McConnell’s ‘Progressive Liberal voting record’ and his ‘willingness to roll over and cede power to President Obama and the Liberals in Washington.’” As Blow aptly puts it: “In what twisted, right-is-left, up-is-down world do these people live?”
I live in North Carolina, a state once considered a progressive beacon in the South that now has taken a U-turn toward the Dark Ages in the hands of a bought-and-sold GOP legislature and governor apparently bound and determined to right what they perceive as every wrong. These “wrongs” have thus far been corrected by tax reform that mightily benefits corporations, suppressing voter rights, limiting abortion, cutting the education system and more—thus turning North Carolina into a running joke for the rest of the country. One of the worst accusations: North Carolina is taking its turn as Mississippi. One hope: That enough pissed-off voters come out in 2014 to change things.
In considering this dire situation with individuals from both parties, I feel compelled to remind them constantly of one key truth that’s often overlooked: Underlying the current push toward extreme conservatism, which is taking its toll on American politics, is too much hardcore Christian fundamentalism. These are people who believe in their particular faith and the infallibility of it, who judge based on their religious principles and, quite frankly, are certain they know what’s best for everyone, based on their religion. These are people who are intolerant of other beliefs—religious, social and political—and don’t believe in science. These are people who want to pat us all on the head and say, “Don’t worry, we know what’s best for you (because our God told us so).” To be honest, it doesn’t get much more frightening than that.
I have one friend who says he loves it when the GOP fights internally, believing it leads to arch-conservative candidates who don’t appeal to a broader electorate. Another one states it bluntly: “I say give the whole dang thing to the Republicans, let them burn the country to the ground and be done with it. I’m sick of the whole lot of them.” His frustration is evident—and be clear the “whole lot of them” encompasses all politicians, all parties. It’s a sentiment shared these days by many, which doesn’t bode well for the immediate future as too many of us reach an “I can’t do anything about it and just don’t care anymore” state of mind.
Even in the turbulent 1960s and early 70s remembered well by Boomers, there were always moderate voices, calming voices that somehow managed to be heard above the din. These were the voices that crafted compromises that enacted civil rights and stopped a war, and upheld the notion that America was a country with a great vision that could be achieved if we kept pushing forward. Unfortunately, I hear another friend saying now, “All signs to the contrary.”
Click here to read Charles Blow’s column from the New York Times.
If you think the Tea Party is trouble for Mitch McConnell, check out this video from the woman likely to be his opponent in 2014, who’s already calling him out.
And the latest observation from the frustrated friend who’s sick of the whole lot of them: “This is the world today. When a story about a guy who posts pictures of his junk on the Internet and the wanna-be porn star whom he texted is considered a legitimate news story, you know we’re swirling down the toilet. It’s become embarrassing to say you’re an American.”