Copyright © by Len Holman, 4/23/11
A third political party is a little like having a third hand. It is, sometimes, useful to have, and it can be very effective for certain tasks—say, if you’re juggling three balls and have a sudden need to pick your nose. But, in the long run, you can’t really live with it. Third parties don’t have a “successful” history in the U.S. if success is measured by “big names” being elected to the White House or the congress. Except for the GOP (remember Lincoln?), which came to life in 1854, tried for the President’s home with John C. Fremont, failed, but six years later had its man in the White House, the real success of third-party efforts has been two intertwined effects: having its ideas stolen by the other two parties, which used and implemented them, and thereby pushing the standard, status quo political dialogue off dead center. We’ve had socialists, free-soilers, libertarians, greens, progressives, and various flavors of every possible permutation of belief in America.
Today, we have something called the Tea Party, which is not a party in any traditional sense, but a raggedy grouping of people intent on having their say—even when they really don’t seem to know what they are talking about Some of them really don’t know what they’re talking about, some do know what they’re saying but either don’t say it clearly or unambiguously, or what they actually say is puerile, irrelevant, and/or obviously reflect delusions of knowledge. Perhaps some of these people don’t see it as an insult to the voting public that they feel they don’t have to KNOW anything, that they can recite whatever “facts” or statistics which fits with their worldview, and no one will really check. Or care. And many of the members of this group have gray in their hair and should know better, but still they go on.
Two immediate examples: In January, Rep. Paul Broun called Obama a socialist, saying it wasn’t name-calling, “just pointing out a fact. The President, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama believe the federal government should do everything for everybody. They believe in a socialistic Washington-controlled government that tells everybody what kind of health care we can have, what kind of light bulbs we can have.” This is one of those people with gray in his hair who would be the first one to howl for the feds to come to his state to help with wildfires, or scream bloody murder when his grandkids get sick from tainted milk because the feds don’t have enough food inspectors. The second example comes from Orange County, California. A sweet-looking grandmotherly woman, Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party activist and member of the central committee of the Republican Party of Orange County, sent out an email showing a doctored photo of three monkeys, the smallest of which has the President’s face, with the caption “Now you know why no birth certificate.” She said it was “a joke” and “found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding the origin of his birth.” She went on to explain that the President’s race (she called him “half-black”) never entered her mind, and she whined that she got plenty of emails about Bush 43 she didn’t like, but “there was no ‘cry’ in the media about them.” She didn’t apologize, only saying that what she did was “inappropriate,” though it was unclear what, exactly, was inappropriate—whether it was the picture, the emailing, or the getting caught. Here is a woman who doesn’t seem to have much shame, let alone sense. She claimed she was a Christian lady who tries to lead a Christ-like life. WWJS (What Would Jesus Say)?
Socially, the Tea Party is still in the 18th century (if you are Black, a woman, a Native-American, a LGBT person, someone who doesn’t own property, or a child living in coal-mine country, then you might be a little less willing to see them take over the country). Politically and economically, they are helping to change the dialogue in this country, and there is no doubt that at least some of their ideas about spending and budget decisions will be absorbed by the electorate and both Democrats and mainstream Republicans—if they can keep their Pre-Enlightenment ideas to themselves. It will be up to those with sense, world and life experience, and political savvy to separate the wheat from the chaff, and take what is good and trash the rest—sending the Tea Party into the phantom zone of “where are they now?” blogs.
But what if you grow to like that third hand? What if you get used to having those extra ten fingers and doing things you couldn’t before? What then? Maybe you’ll marry some fine person who admires your increased dexterity and maybe genetics will eventually begin producing three-handed kids across the country, and maybe, in some distant future, the two-handed among us will become rare and ostracized. This has never happened with a third party in this country, except for the Republican Party, which stuck around by incorporating ideas from lots of sources, by producing a Lincoln, and by navigating (after many miscues and an enormous amount of blood) a civil war. Our political genetics are pretty restrictive, but that meme, the odd gene, that stray idea, gets absorbed into the body politic and we move on. Will this happen with the Tea Party? As Ho Chi Minh is reported to have responded when asked what he thought about the French revolution: “Too soon to tell,” but so far, no Lincoln has emerged from the howling ranks of the Tea Party faithful.
The House Speaker, John Boehner, has his hands full—and he only has two of them—with many of his fractious colleagues, whose life and world experiences have the depth of a dime, and who plan on making enormous budget cuts in order, they insist, to make the U.S. as solvent as a drug cartel. No matter what happens, the energy, some of the ideas, and policy positions of the Tea Party will survive in some form in our politics. The traditional GOP pols will have to give a bit to stay in power and the Tea folk will have to back off a bit to sound more reasonable to voters in their next election cycle. The third hand will disappear if the Tea Party can’t pass its genetic material on to the next generation of jugglers and nose-pickers. So let that third hand do whatever it likes. If the body tires of trying to find an extra pocket to put it in, it will wither and disappear. Only the memory will remain.
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