PERRY/Tea Party's animal house
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 1:00 PM
Tea Party politics has taken on an air of Animal House. No, I don't mean Animal Farm, the George Orwell allegory against communism. In that novel, animals take over the farm and run it as a collective into corruption and destruction. The Tea Party version would have been shorter, with the animals burning down their own barn.
I mean the 1978 John Belushi vehicle Animal House, from which national Tea Party groups seem to invoke those memorable words by Dean Vernon Wormer, "The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me."
Let's be clear. The Tea Party was never about being an arm of the Republican Party. The Tea Party was about opposing taxes and reducing spending. Various organizations, nationally and locally, in the Tea Party movement took ownership of other conservative issues including fighting Obamacare. In passing conservative policy or opposing liberal policy, Tea Party supporters were natural allies of - or already identified themselves as - Republicans.
Republican elected officials embraced these groups as the base of their party. Winston Churchill once wrote, "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount." The men Churchill described weld great power, but are also captive of that power and somewhat dependent on the whims of the beast. If they dismount their steed, they die. Now, some Republicans find themselves in the position of riding a Tea Party tiger.
Republicans mounted the tiger and in 2010, the Tea Party was instrumental in giving Republicans control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But then the Tea Party was also instrumental in preventing Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012. In those two elections, the Tea Party tiger rode into Republican primaries and devoured candidates electable in moderate states in favor of more conservative, but unelectable, standard bearers.
I agree with the William F. Buckley rule of conservative activism: support the most conservative candidate who can get elected. Sometimes, in some states, that means a moderate or even (gasp) a liberal Republican. I'd rather have a Republican majority that must compromise to satisfy its liberal members, than a Democratic majority whose liberal policies cannot be stopped.
So currently, Democrats control the White House and the Senate. The Tea Party wants to stop Obamacare. Republicans want to stop Obamacare. So naturally, the Tea Party is attacking Republicans.
For America is running online video ads of chickens with a voice over criticizing Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker. Ads from the Senate Conservative Fund on radio are attacking Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran. Both Wicker and Cochran oppose Obamacare.
The theory of these groups goes like this: the House and Senate should amend the continuing budget resolution next month prohibiting the IRS and the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing Obamacare. Then if President Barack Obama vetoes it, the government would shut down for lack of funding. Eventually, Obama will cave, sign the measure, and Obamacare won't be funded and will not operate.
There are a few problems with the theory. First, Democrats control the Senate (thank you Tea Party) which prevents the spending prohibition from passing. Second, Obama believes a government shutdown hurts Republicans; he won't cave. Third, in the meantime, Obamacare will kick in because it is mandatory funding and wouldn't be stopped by a government shutdown.
In an interview with The Atlantic, the campaign manager of For America explained, when asked what he says to people who say this won't work, their plan:
"Well, what will work? What will work? So much discussion of this has centered around the process. I haven't been in Washington that long, but one thing I've noticed is that people love to talk about process, they love to talk about tactics, and they tend to lose sight of the larger policy ramifications."
Well, Wicker and Cochran agree on the "larger policy ramifications." They voted against Obamacare and still oppose it. But stopping Obamacare requires a process and tactics. If For America is ignoring that, then it is little wonder the plan will fail.
Author Jon Hein coined "jumping the shark" as the moment in a television series when gimmicks and silliness replace creativity in writing and the venture begins quality decline. The term comes from the fifth season premier of Happy Days when Henry Winkler's character, "Fonzie" ski-jumps over a shark wearing swimming trunks and his signature leather jacket on a trip to California.
We use the term now to identify the point when any idea declines into a ridiculous parody of itself.
Not satisfied with defeating viable candidates - or even sitting Republican Senators - in swing-states, Tea Party groups are now attacking their Senate allies for not supporting a "plan" that won't work.
In this national Tea Party animal house, the tiger has jumped the shark with their chicken ads.
Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at email@example.com or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.