Tea Partiers Have Taken Off Their Masks

The party is over. A celebration that began with the election in 2008 of a young dynamic president who promised change and a new dawn in American politics is now a pipe dream. We stand two and a half years later in the ruins of false hopes and broken dreams. A new era was to begin—post racial, bipartisan, and with the unity to right an economic ship that collided with the great recession that began under President Bush. A nation of people looking for stability and restoration, not the continuation of failed policies and Washington gridlock. The opportunity and the moment were there to be seized but our grip melted as despair replaced optimism.

This divide that continues to widen every day has been a calculated goal of the G.O.P since the first champagne corks were popped and people raised their expectations that this time, finally, things might be different. But the Republican Party, the right wing, and ultimately the “tea party” were not interested in the melody of cooperation and the greater good. Their agenda was set from day one, and with the pronouncement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that his number one priority was to make President Obama a one-term president the damper on this soiree began. Senator McConnell showed that the economy, jobs , health care or the environment were a distant second place to the number one goal of not just trying to defeat Obama in 2012, but to build a wall of negation to anything and everything the President proposed.

So as 2009 unfolded, and President Obama unveiled a health care proposal that would bring pragmatic solutions for the un-insured, and tackle, in part, the rising costs of medicine today, he was met with a barrage of misinformation and disingenuous behavior from the Republicans. From Sarah Palin talking death panels and killing grandma, to her (and others) calling Obama a socialist with the intent of destroying capitalism as we know it in this country, all of us witnessed a bitter and totally unnecessary battle that led only to confusion and animosity.

At the same time, we also saw the rise of a group of people who, prompted by prejudice and preconceived ideas, began (with right-wing support and funds) a movement on the premise that they (like the colonists under British rule over 200 years ago) wanted the government to lower or eliminate taxes—although their initial methods, which included carrying signs portraying Obama as Hitler or a monkey seemed odd for a protest focused on the federal tax system. And from birthers, to people who believed Obama was a Muslim, to the Republicans who made it very clear that they felt Obama was un-American, our nation was once again thrown into the pit of ignorance and xenophobia. The gains and strides we had made as a nation in race relations now seemed as out-of-focus as the mirrors in a fun house.

In 2010, a midterm election buoyed by an economy that was slow in turning around and a public that was fed a daily dose of falsehoods and innuendo from right-wing talk radio, Fox news, and the G.O.P., created an atmosphere that led to a retaking of the house by them with many of the new faces tea party candidates. The tea party winners had talked

during their campaign about jobs and fixing the economy, and, with their mask of patriotism, and Constitution in hand, had convinced restless and discontented voters of their sincerity. The desperation and exasperation the voters felt toward Washington gave the tea party the foothold it needed, and in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and governerships, a wave of new party-goers arrived.

Yet jobs and economy were not their first order of business. In fact, that issue for the most part has taken a back seat to anti-abortion legislation, prohibition of gay marriage, the definition of rape, collective bargaining rights by unions, and voter suppression of the young, the poor, and minorities. This party had truly become a masquerade party and now they have saved the best for last.

Since May of this year two words have been uttered more than at any time in our history: “debt ceiling.” The standard procedure (a Bush economic aide in 2002 had called it “housekeeping” by the Congress) of raising the debt ceiling, which has been done by many presidents Democrat and Republican (seven times under George W. Bush) was now being used as leverage by the Republican party to extract spending cuts on social programs. These programs including Social Security and Medicare were now the target of a tea party that advocated for economic austerity, yet really wanted to redefine how government in this country should work for all citizens.

And if they could not get their way, they were willing to paralyze Washington and impact the fragile U.S. economy. They were in favor of us defaulting for the first time in our history on the nation’s debt. And despite the dire consequences of a default to national and economic security, and to an enormous percentage if not a majority of this country’s citizens, consequences which almost every single expert warned about, the tea party does not believe there is a real cause for concern. In the end the only thing that really matters for them is their ideology, steeped in hatred.

So, yes, the party is over and the Republicans/tea partiers have taken off their masks, and, whether in the light of day or in the dimly lit rooms where they gather, their appearance is diaphanous and their rhetoric contributes to the sounds of the nihilistic madness that pervade us today.


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