Before the government shutdown was a glimmer in Ted Cruz’s eye, a lot of ground work was done.
For years now the Tea Party has been targeting grown-up Republicans, the kind of people who wouldn’t want to play “chicken” with the full faith and credit of the United States. Open season was declared on them, and any Republican who had a shred of independence or lacked a sufficiently adolescent sensibility was drummed out with far greater efficiency than the leftist Progressives ever managed to apply to their flank.
Those few Republican grown-ups who were left were terrified, and so when the absolutely terrible idea to shut the government down in order to defund Obamacare came up, no one was left in the room to point out that it could never work. It was this process, of eliminating the grown-ups in the Republican party, that left us with a major party that can’t see straight.
A party that was absolutely convinced in 2012 that the country was so angry at Barack Obama that Mitt Romney could walk to the White House. A party which insisted that every third-party poll showing Obama ahead was biased, and therefore created its own, specially weighted, polls, which told them what they wanted to see. A party that said minorities would never turn out to vote in 2012 the way they did in 2008.
The Republican party gave up its grip on reality, but not for nothing: Republicans marching under the Tea Party banner are a disciplined minority, resistant to compromise, absolutely dedicated and convinced of their own virtue, able to win in our political system because they could simply stare their political enemies down.
That was the theory, at least. As we’ve just seen, it doesn’t work outside of a few districts.
That’s not an accident.
Our Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to resist exactly that kind of pressure. Compromise works so well in the American system because the Founding Fathers specifically distrusted righteous, uncompromising zealots, who would rather ruin the country than work with their neighbors.
They knew perfectly well the damage that a group of religiously fanatical zealots who refuse to see reality could do. The nations of Europe had been plunged into religious warfare — Christian vs. Christian — for hundreds of years. Self-proclaimed saints had trampled on the laws and rights of their countrymen in pursuit of vice, and found no virtue. Only torture and tyranny.
That’s why the American system of government was designed to reward people who could get along with their fellows and reach across the aisle to their enemies. It rewards compromise. It rewards grown-ups.
By setting themselves against that, the Tea Party has put themselves at odds with the spirit of democracy and the Founding Fathers they so revere. They would have been seen by the Constitutional Congress not as a manifestation of the Spirit of 1776 but as a mob set on mob rule. The Founding Fathers wanted grown-ups in charge so much, after all, that ordinary citizens didn’t originally have the vote in the sense we mean it now. The Electoral College was designed to keep the mass of the angry unwashed from putting some charlatan into office. Property requirements to vote were commonplace. If you couldn’t demonstrate that you were an educated, responsible person, you were supposed to keep away from politics.
For all the tri-corn hats they wear, the Tea Party has nothing in common with the American Revolution, which was a revolution led by grown-ups in order to establish clear, accountable laws. The Tea Party has far, far more in common with the French Revolution, with that special brand of madness that rewards zeal over the ability to see clearly in the governance of nations.
We’re unquestionably better off with a universal franchise — with minorities and women and people who rent their homes having the right to vote and elect our leaders directly (for the most part). We know things that our Founding Fathers didn’t. Progress has happened. But for all the good changes that have been made, the Constitution they set up still tends to rewards grown-ups. Statesmen.
When the Tea Party went after the grown-ups in the Republican party, it rendered the party unable to govern. The system worked.
Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and archives his work at Email him at