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Friday, September 17, 2010

Is the Tea Party an alien waiting to burst inside the GOP?

[This post was originally published at OpEdNews.com.]

Tea Party candidates emerged victorious in many of their primary races. Come General Election, Republican ballots will reflect the Tea Party tilt. I'm not sure if they're any Democratic Tea Party candidates. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure if Tea Party candidates are Republican candidates, or that the Tea and Republican Parties can exist under the same roof.

The beauty of the Tea Party is that any and all can claim membership. Like a snake's skin, people can cast off essentially meaningless party affiliations and become TP'ers. Breaking the shackles of conformity to a two-party system is most definitely needed in an era of very limited choice yet the Tea Partiers seem intent on change the GOP from within, a radical transformative process that appears to be working as TPers win nominations.

Being new, the Tea Party is subject to interpretation by the descriptor. We can't say Tea Party candidates all behave the same, which raises the issue of how firmly Party members should conform.

TPers do seem to want to return to some utopian ideals not that different from religious colonies in America early in our history. To a purer and more fundamental existence, not an unappealing offering in times of great fear and uncertainty in a backdrop of great, rapid change.

Early Protestant missionairies built on the idea of a "citte upon a hill," a place where people could live free of government intolerance and practice religion in any form they see fit, away from all the tired old rivalries of Old Europe and the persistent oppression. America was founded on this premise, the premise of freedom.

For now the Tea Party offers an open tent--a populist style of tolerance typically ascribed to the Democratic Party. As the Party's non-existent platform takes shape, the tent will shrink as the party platform hardens.

Compromise is vital in politics. We all agree to disagree for the benefit of shared political goals. A willingness to bend is required for compromise. Like amateur politicians, TP candidates may be too committed to their ideals to be open to compromise. They may see where they stand on issues as immutable, closed to discussion. This is a mistake as the firmness of one's position needs to be tempered by the practical limitations imposed by politics. Getting it done isn't as simple as "git-r-done" although the latter does seem simpler and easier to achieve.

Real government requires compromise, attention to detail, and nuanced reflection. The whole point of the Tea Party is that they're un-sanitized. They're a messy, pickup-driving, trash-talking, sitcom-watching bunch with no goal higher than letting you be you within that big sticky mess, the cotton ball of candy they call a party but is really nothing more than a collective of tax-hating, Constitution- and Gun-loving reactionaries.

If government is no longer on the people's side, principles which the Tea Party purport to represent do represent a welcome change. For example, if our fiscal imbalances are leading to the destruction of our nation, then the TP principle to cut spending is undeniably vital. Yet how could that be accomplished?

On spending, at some point there needs to be a hard either/or choice between military priorities and domestic ones. Faced with a nasty recession, tax revenues will be quite limited. Of course we all hope TPers can impose some fiscal restraint, but I don't see how they can be re-elected as Tea Partiers--and the party retain any credibility--unless its candidates in office vote no to military spending, which must challenge the cherished faith in the US military held so religiously by most Right wingers.

Calling the kettle black

The Tea Party can't change the Establishment from within as it is likely to be corrupted by it.
All politicians have a tendency to end up being compromised in Washington. Washington, D.C. has a myriad of delights from which to draw any number of scandals. Insert new politician, drunk with power, Tea Partier or not, into that environment and you'll make the humble proud and the pure unpure. It's the New Rome and all delight in her pleasures.

By succeeding, the Tea Party un-succeeds. By triumphing over Establishment candidates, they become the Establishment. In time, absolute power corrupts absolutely, whatever the candidate claimed as a candidate. As a matter of fact, the more audacious and anti-establishmentarian the message, the MORE likely and total the compromise, as the Obama case showed.

On one hand, the TP victories have brought new candidates, outsiders. They intend to bring change and oppose the Establishment. In a campaign, messaging takes precedence, though, and if the American people want to believe in hope and change, they deserve to be lied to, so recently as Barack Obama's "Vote for me and get change." The real message might go: "Vote for me on the promise of hope!" Translation: if I do all the things I say I'll do, there will be change. But first you must vote for me.


In the media spotlight, the presentation of a balanced image is critical, polish is a plus, and professionalism key. Tea Partiers seem lacking experience in these areas. They do have the benefit of being outsiders in a period of great anti-incumbency sentiments.

Campaigning is a brand statement. Political races are run no differently from corporate sponsorships or marketing campaigns. In age of constant media bombardment, consistency in messaging is vital, as brand marketers know. A big chunk of the message attempts to get viewers (voters) to identify with the candidate.

Barack Obama's campaign of 2008 heralded grand new visions of change and hope as their cornerstones. What we get at the end of the long campaign road may not be what is promised. Then again the product--the candidate--is only bought every four years. Voters may be more apt to forgive flaws and cracks in their purchase--little inconsistencies they may be able to overlook when next it comes to time to buy.

Nowhere did we see this more clearly than the devolution of Barack Obama the Campaigner to Barack Obama the President. In the first, we have someone we want to believe in, a source of hope. In the President Obama, we have a cold tactician willing to compromise anything, with anyone. Barack the Campaigner was likable, a celebrity, someone you could see yourself drawn to. Barack the President is "the decider," a Byzantine clositered emperor who negotiates with men of power to get things done, Chicago-style. Untouchable, distant, impersonal. Sanitized.

Unlike a free market where consumers are free to buy any number of products, we in the American political process are limited to a choice of two. Or possibly three, if you include the Tea Party, which is supposedly a choice within one of the two. "Cream or sugar?" the marketers might ask. "Sugar," the purchaser might answer. "Nutra-low or regular?" the server might inquire and we'd answer.

In the same way, the Tea Party presents itself as just another flavor within the existing political grid. It's not changing the system by itself, simply trying to alter the political dynamic to reflect an under-served constituency.

The tactic of trying to dumb-down one's image and impressions to connect to Whites isn't the same as the general population. For one, the states with large Latino voters--key to winning for the GOP--might not like Tea Party support for Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law, which they saw as racist.

The only guarantee in a system like ours is that talk is cheap. I don't know if perception is reality, no matter how many times the impression of a candidate is made in our message-weary minds. And the two parties really aren't all that different. Sure one comes in and another out, but the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the French say.

Impacts going forward

Tea Party candidate numbers will be insufficient to accomplish change yet they could be a catalyzer--enough to redirect policy changes. Congress--the only avenue open to Tea Partiers at the present--requires building constituencies through compromise in order to pass meaningful legislation.

The Tea Party aims to do great things but won't constitute anywhere near a majority for several more election cycles. The intervening period offers plenty of opportunities to fall from their principles. Also, sustaining a political organization requires iron-like discipline, a gang of Karl Roves who relentlessly attack the talk shows, radio, the Web, on a nightly basis, then get up at first light to fax out talking points to party activists, media figures, and sympathizers. It's precisely because maintaining a consistent political message requires organization that organizational hierarchies, authority, and control overshadow whatever individual positions candidates hold.

And I guess the first goal of every Tea Partier elected will be, you guessed it, re-election. Once made insiders, how can they preserve their outsider status--linchpin of their popularity--two or six years from now (the time span until the next election for Federal office)?

While an overabundance of popularity may get candidates elected, it's infinitely harder to keep voter interest over periods which may span several years. It's easy to get and stay excited about a candidate when an election's just a few months away; far harder it is for the public to like them--or much less care--months into office, especially if things aren't going too well for them.

Primaries wins by TPers have limited choices to Tea Party versus Democrat in the General Election (GE). Demographics for the GE are really quite different from primaries in most states. Whereas single issue voters can shape primary wins, the GE is more about where candidates stand on a broad number of issues.

This presents a new dynamic to manage and a cadre of highly trained professionals to sell a different message. It won't be enough to overpower Establishment candidates within the GOP. Cowboy boots and country roots may not be enough to win. And on this issue race could greatly smear the Tea Party as its extremist elements advocate greater freedom for the States in their fight against illegal immigration.

The American population has been racially diversifying for years now, to the point Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian--largely a group that votes Democratic--now combine to more than 40% of our population. This demographic change sets a largely non-White audience against some messages which were designed to woo GOP voters.

Any candidate seeks to identify with the broadest possible audience. To avoid alienating as many people as possible, Establishment candidates need to be careful not to denigrate the TPers for whatever principles they have. Nor should their opposition--which appears at present to be solely Democrats.

Some have said that the placement of Tea Party candidates within the GOP could help the sole plausible alternative in virtually every district: the Democrats. Yet it's hard to believe Democrats have much credibility left when it comes to the bringing change mythology, so I don't think TP success means the GOP suffers. It's also possible that the GOP can latch on to some constituencies their previous eight years in power alienated: the anti-Bush, the anti-interventionist crowd who hate the GOP establishment passionately.

Some GOPers defeated in the primary will run as independents. A three-way race could get quite interesting. A third party candidate won't likely be viable in a three-way Presidential race, especially if the support for the Tea Party candidate comes mostly from within the likely pool of GOP voters anyway. Still, the Tea Party's Open Tent might be a draw for people who don't typically vote. Barack Obama was able to bring many of these people into his camp in 2008, especially first-time voters.

How many more disaffected persons are lingering out in the fringes we can't know. I just can't expect their numbers to be so high as to radically change the election results, which means TPers will need independents to go Republican, which after Bush and the unpopular wars he started isn't likely to happen but could, as more Americans now consider themselves independent than either Democratic or Republican. A vote for the TP candidate could be considered a protest vote, which considering how poorly we're being led, may be inherently a good thing yet yield to disastrous results. Still I admit I'd get a good dose of schadenfreude seeing the Demos get beat up. It's just the notion of what could come after that scares me.

For real change, the Tea Party really needs to be independent of the two parties, I believe. To try and assume their party can exist within the GOP is stretching the fundamental purpose of creating a Tea Party, which must be to bring real change. Now infiltrating the GOP might be easier than going the independent route yet there is a threat that GOP moderates could turn away, scared by TP rhetoric and populism.

Maybe if the GOP splits up, the Democrats could, too. We could use a progressive party. The Establishment Democrats aren't getting it done and their leader, Barack the President, has abandoned a progressive agenda in favor of more war, corporate favoritism, and relentless spending.


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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pointing the finger first at ourselves

We're living in a world that we've created and we have no one but ourselves to blame. Our politics, economy and environment are all suffering from a lack of collective goodwill. Committed to ourselves instead of others, we've become a mob. The planet's suffering grows increasingly urgent and obvious with every passing day.

We all want the freedom that comes from democracy but no one wants to do the work. Jefferson said eternal vigilance was the price of liberty.

Our nation has always heralded individual rights and we all firmly believe what is right, in our Bill of Rights. Today, those who claim to support the rule of law are referred to as Constitutionalists, who are relegated to representation not in either major party but the Tea Party.

The Establishment should heed the will of the populace, which increasingly goes ignored. I guess if we were a pure democracy, our nation's policies and actions of our government would reflect the popular will. In framing the Constitution, the Founders feared government run solely by popular opinion, as this could easily fall prey to hysteria and hatred.

There are a few persistent violations of our Constitutional rights looming today. Our privacy is routinely violated. Corporations rule. The legal premise that all men are created equal should mean something. Corporations can't be people. Only people can be people.

We're being challenged in a number of ways, with our individual rights and freedoms under attack. We were told in the beginning of the age of Terror that our way of life made us a target, and to this day we're instructed to give up freedoms for security.

A nation of laws abides by the law but recent examples have shown that those with the money make the rules, a belief held by Macchiavelli, a great mind who lived in an age of greed and deceit not too different from today's.

We can blame culture for much of our self-inflicted misery. In our society, the prevailing attitude puts "me" above "we. Cocooned in an tapestry rich with marketing messages, individualism has devolved into unrepentant hyper-consumption.

The Boomer generation's lifestyle obsesses over luxury, and shopping, which brings only transient happiness. Spending makes one feel good but a lack of savings mean few will be prepared for retirement. We all know how easy it is to defer tomorrow's problems until tomorrow. I worry sometimes that the generations that follow the Boomers--a group to which I belong--has been tainted by so much crass consumerism. These days, movements towards self-reliance and re-localization are resurgent though.

Hard economic limits have emerged out of unchecked consumption, when the crash of 2008-9 dried out access to credit. Maybe the change, shock therapy though it may be, isn't such a bad thing after all. Simple as it may sound, we need to not spend to spend.

Yet the financial pain will continue, particularly for the middle classes decimated by falling real estate values, outsourcing, and high unemployment. Dependent on consumption-oriented financing, our economy now flails, drained of its chief source of sustenance, more debt. Our spendthrift, high-borrowing ways are repeated by our government. Like a borrower, our government spends money we don't have.

The burden of repayment--plus interest--falls to future taxpayers. Also, our government's excessive borrowing has led investor funds away from other worthy investments. In economic terms, this is called crowding out, a process whereby investors avoid riskier forms of debt (corporate, municipal) and instead go into bonds issued by our government.

For our government and private individuals, overspending--and its twin, over-borrowing--have forged an unsustainable path. We know things will get worse but how much worse will things have to get before they change? Until we stop the misbehaviors that have led us into the predicament we all share, the problems will only worsen, though their impacts might be delayed.

Another trend we've seen is that of neglect. Too much in our nation has been deferred. We've neglected our responsibility to leave future Americans a country in as good a shape as the nation we inherited.

Any society or person who puts off what can be done in the present is prone to ignore the effects of its procrastination. In our always-on, 24/7/365 world we do have good reasons for neglecting the future in favor of the immediacy of the present. There's so much to do, so much we think we need but really only want.

Environmental health and economic growth

The environment has been neglected, and we've seen this in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the ravaged mountains of Appalachia which have succumbed to mountaintop removal. We've been told by our representatives that regulation is bad, even if the companies they really represent systematically plunder the earth and deplete resources at unsustainable rates.

For a long time, economic growth has been posed as an either/or to economic growth. Judging by the massive BP oil spill, most of the damage is economic in nature. The millions of people whose businesses have suffered are the victims, right alongside the Gulf region and its wildlife. So the price of environmental neglect and pollution is economic more than anything, which makes assumptions about economic growth vs. the environment obsolete.

To keep economic growth, a new paradigm is emerging: sustainable growth. The extractive industries like mining and drilling need to practice sustainability or be force to practice it. Otherwise companies like BP will take unacceptable risks and damage the rights of others to utilize the seas, which are a shared resource, not the exclusive property of any one corporation.

A reckoning might not be that far off. Global warming could shorten vastly the time between what we do to the Earth and the consequences. With the combustion engine spewing out so much CO2, it's only a matter of time before the impact of too much CO2--heating--is felt in the environment.

Another one goes in the Gulf

Recent events are an indication that more environmental destruction is on the way. I just saw today that another well had blown up in the Gulf of Mexico. Reports are sketchy at the present, but I believe we'll see a pattern of regulatory violations--coupled with inadequate enforcement by Fedgov--that preceded that event.

We've all heard that Gulf oil drilling goes deeper and deeper, and all the risks associated with that, but the Norwegians don't seem to lose their deep water wells like we do, at a rate of 2/year or more.

How much of the ecological damage could have been prevented by adequate enforcement? I'm not going to guess. I will tell you that I don't dwell on "could" scenarios. It's pointless speculation. I'd rather dwell in certainties and try to limit timeframes. It is certain global warming is occurring. We see the effects what I call Global Climate Radicalization frequently.

We can hardly decide on what to call it--it being this odd potpourri of droughts, floods, storms, and forest fires. The "climate change" label is more accurate than calling it "warming" as we can anticipate heat but not the effects of heat. You just get a sense that something bad is out there. {For readers of my review of the movie The Road, we get a sense of some troubles out the window, where The Man (played by Mortensen) is illuminated by fires burning outside and shuts the window.

To give a good example, the link between mismanagement of forests and flooding is strongly established. Cut down the trees upstream and, surprise, you get more flooding downstream. Until a big rain comes--an event more likely with climate change--people can ignore the loss of vegetation. It's only when flooding worsens to apocalyptic levels that people can guess the a major compounding contributor: deforestation.

Apparently the horrible situation in Pakistan was made possible not by too much rain (as likely as that is in the New Normal) but by clandestine cutting of forests. If the environmental axiom that fewer tree=more flooding holds, then the failure to protect Pakistan's forests is a big deal. Now, and only now, with so many homeless, can the people and government address the need to protect their forests. This new direction will clearly face reactionary forces which exploit the corruptibility of officials in the Third World.

How soon before they forget? Or, to be blunt, how bad does it have to get before people start taking environmental protection seriously? Well, if the politicians aren't accountable, they might choose to ignore illegal deforestation, which makes future flooding not only worse but entirely preventable.

Another area where decay is evident is our infrastructure. I've seen no mention of bridge repair despite the horrific collapse of a major bridge in Minneapolis three years ago. The problem might not be that things are going wrong, but rather no one seems to be taking responsibility with preventing tragedies. All our politicians want to pose as if they're helping once the disaster strikes, but where is the leadership (and media spotlight) when it comes to the little but vital improvements that need to be continually made?

Our image-conscious politicians don't see much gain in infrastructure. The American people seem unwilling to make repair of our nation's crumbling infrastructure a top priority. Yes, you could blame people in "high places" for not "being the ones who start...to mold a new reality...closer to the heart," to borrow the song by Rush. But ultimately we must take individual responsibility regardless of what we've become as a people. Failing to maintain an infrastructure is a collective failure but it's people, not their leaders, who will bear the consequences.

We all know it's true: pollute one area too much and the land show it, toxins kill off crops, the vitality of the land diminishes and remediation becomes necessary, like all those SuperFund sites littering the U.S.. The timeframe between cause and effect appears to be shortening, courtesy of climate change. Years of pollution and inadequate management of resources makes the time of reckoning that much sooner. It's like the Lakota Sioux medicine man, Floyds Looks For Buffalo, who speak of a revenge by Mother Nature who's been so abused by man (Part 4 on youtube here.)

Like Floyd, I believe I have a responsibility to tell people of a coming event. I guess you could call it the medicine man in me. I think many people like me have been labelled tree-huggers, or conspiracy theorists, in an effort to diminish not our credibility but the validity of the truths we present. It's simply easier for a society that wants convenience to ignore the inconvenient, to marginalize those who would dare tell it it's wrong, or facing doom.

I can tell you for sure that we're facing economic consequences for over-consumption, this is true. I can also tell you that things will get worse, far worse, if we don't change. I guess the effectiveness of my message depends on how badly as a people want to hear what it is I'm saying.

Back by popular demand: the post-apocalypse

Looking at the movies I reviewed last month, it doesn't really matter whether people were warned of a coming apocalypse. No mention is made in the movies Book of Eli and The Road of what caused things to go bad. Once the bombs fall and food runs out, I guess who or what started it really doesn't matter much.

The popularity of movies in this genre today suggests people intuitively assume we're due to receive some really nasty rebuke from God. People may just assume this. Heck, it's nothing new, people have been drawn to tales of earthly destruction since the first storyteller spoke in front of the fire, telling tales of unimaginable horror and mayhem, capturing spellbound his audience and cementing the place of the apocalyptic story in human history forever.

If it's true that we are all linked to one another, it would therefore hold that we share our misery and our pleasure. As much as we'd like to build castles for ourselves, man is a social animal. We really can't excel without other people, and as big of a pain as others may often be, I guess we all need to get along. Mother Nature plays a vital role in linking us not only to each other but to the space we all share. In limiting us to one physical place, we are forced to examine the metaphysical and spiritual dimensions of our existence.

No such evaluation of where we stand as a society can ignore the importance of preserving our common humanity. I guess these apocalyptic movies serve an important purpose to transcend whatever horrors we face, and show how we can emerge from the apocalypse changed but perhaps wiser for it.

In The Book of Eli, they destroy the Bible, blaming it as a source of problems. I don't know if this act of destruction creates a new order, although the villain thinks rediscovering the Bible will. And Eli eventually reaches a place where a restoration of pre-apocalyptic technology and civilization appear inevitable.

In The Road, a new life awaits at the end of the road. We can see what's happened to the earth, cannibalism, etc., and it may frighten us but simultaneously the idea of a new start gives us hope. And hope is the light that can steer us out of the darkness. Unfortunately mankind just seems destined to screw things up, causing the apocalypse. We seem almost destined to self-destruct. But slowly, these stories tell us, we can laugh again, and live once more in a world that gives us a second chance despite our failings.


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