I was wrong about the Tea Party.
I was wrong to think it was just a coincidence that it happened onto the scene not long after America had elected its first African-American president. I was wrong to believe that Tea Partiers would eventually come to the realization that their movement was based on a false premise—that their claim of being overtaxed belies the fact that today's average American has the lowest tax burden since the 1950s. I was wrong to believe that the people they elected to Congress would behave as adults and not stand in the corner, showing us how long they can hold their breath. And I was wrong to believe that the Tea Party would be gone by now, having run out of momentum and hot air, and having collapsed under the weight of its own pretentiousness.
What started out as a hybrid flash mob/wrongheaded tax protest has morphed into something quite different. It is said that when zealots form a firing squad, they assemble in a circle. Such seemed to be the impending fate of the Tea Party, which had burned brightly, but began to show signs of the crazies chasing each other into an ever-tightening death spiral. But then something funny happened—funny in a Chernobyl kind of way.
The anti-tax movement cast a wider net, and it began attracting kooks and then Kochs. Suddenly, it was awash in money, and the Koch brothers began financing workshops here, seminars there.
The Tea Party became a platform for all things right-wing. The government is too big. The president doesn't look like the rest of us. The poor and helpless are getting a free ride. We shouldn't spend billions of dollars chasing after Osama bin Laden. (No, wait! That was what Mitt Romney said in 2007.) Spending is out of control. We're being taxed to death. (Unless you want to live in a country with no government spending—including on things like police, firefighters, teachers and the military—we need to have taxes. And the ones we have are, for the most part, quite reasonable.)
There are some real concerns in there that deserve a public discussion, but the overriding vibe in all things Tea Party is this creepy, visceral hatred of Barack Obama. It's very disturbing.
Equally disturbing is the fact that this is a splinter group that is wielding a wildly inordinate amount of power. There's a great cartoon from the July 30, 2011, edition of The Economist: It shows a little Tea Party kid with blinders on about to ride his tricycle off a cliff. But he's pulling along, by a nose ring, an elephant representing the Republican Party, which, in turn, is dragging along Uncle Sam, who, in turn, is dragging along the world. The world is saying: "Something is definitely wrong here."
And it looks like wrong is about to get even more wrong. The stalling tactics of the relatively small minority of Tea Party members in the House of Representatives have left that legislative body in hard-core ideological lockdown. Now, they're trying to gain a foothold in the Senate. If they gain control of both chambers, the American economy will be in free-fall for a decade.
And that's not all they could mess up. For example, if the Tea Party ran:
• NASA ... the United States would have put a man on Jamaica. Oh, all that wasteful government spending, and for what? A science experiment? No, it would have been far better if each American could have kept in his/her pocket the few dollars per capita that it cost to reach the moon.
• The National Basketball Association ... the average game score would be something like 18-14. Teams could stack their defense on one side of the court, because under Tea Party rules, players would only be able to go to their right.
• The Civil War ... there wouldn't have been a Civil War. It was strictly a states'-rights issue, a simple matter of economics. The Southern states' economies were based on a different system, one that included that quirky notion that some people have the right to own other people. It's just that those awful liberals had to go and inject race into the whole thing.
• The CIA ... Jason Bourne would be Jason Died.
• The Rosetta Stone company ... they would teach people how to say "No!" in 134 different languages.
• The National Football League ... the games would only be six-on-six, because it's ridiculous to pay 11 people. The games would be lame, because under Tea Party control, all of the running backs and wide receivers (as well as everybody else on offense and defense) would be white. Each team would have one token black guy, but, like Allen West, he'd be strictly for comic relief.
• The EPA ... those initials would stand for Executioners, Please Apply. Who needs a government agency to protect our environment? Just think how much fun it would be if the Tea Party got rid of the EPA. We'd be able to go outside with a knife and carve a hunk of smog out of the atmosphere. Our drinking water would have fiber (and several kinds of protein) in it. And we'd all be able to learn about new and constantly mutating chemicals in an up-close-and-personal manner.
• The KKK ... no change.