Observing Tea Party candidates in action, from Kentucky's Dr. Rand Paul, whose libertarian philosophy is so inflexible as to be closer to anarchy than democracy, to Colorado Gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes, who called the Denver bike-sharing program a "socialist plot organized by the United Nations," is like watching a series of sideshow oddities while strolling down an old-time carnival midway. "Step right up and see the Mama Grizzly bare her manicured claws." Add Delaware's non-masturbating witch, Christine O'Donnell; Alaska's man with the handcuffs and a 10 o'clock shadow, Joe Miller, and a few more, and you could film a remake of Tod Browning's 1932 horror classic, "Freaks." The single difference is that in the original movie, the pinheads, Zip and Pip, were far more lovable than microcephalics like Carl Paladino or W.Va. senate candidate John Raese, who advocates abolishing the minimum wage while his wife lives in Palm Beach, Florida. Electoral victories by these corporate shills would be disastrous, yet some secret part of me harbors a perverse desire for a few of them to win, just for entertainment's sake and to watch them join in the tired denunciation of our illegal alien, Marxist, Muslim, president. I have a personal confession to make. When the redundant office of Shelby County Mayor was first created, I voted for Prince Mongo.
On the other side of the demilitarized zone known as the aisle, the spineless Democrats are acting like the Mugwumps. They were "progressive" Republicans who fled their party in revolt against the corruption surrounding their presidential nominee in 1884. They threw their support to Democratic reformer Grover Cleveland and swung the election in his favor. Today's Democrats are much like those extinct moderate Republicans who formed the Mugwumps, now a term for a party-swapper like Arlen Specter. Still, the group opposed cronyism during the Gilded Age despite criticism that they were "members of an insecure elite." Historian David Tucker wrote, "The Mugwumps embodied the liberalism of the 19th century," and their writings are "testament to a high-minded civic morality." The problem was their grievances lasted only as long as Cleveland's campaign when most were absorbed into the Democratic Party. That's why the term "mugwump" has also come to mean a fence-sitter, like the passive, timid Democrats who can't even manage a counter-attack in the face of the ugliest campaign in modern history. The responsibility has fallen upon everyday citizens, who dread a return to the Bush era, to save the Democrats from themselves.
Analysts have compared this year's election to Clinton's 1994 disastrous mid-terms and to the Reagan Revolution of 1980, but I have yet to hear anyone correlate the correct period, so once again, allow me. When the Democrats imploded after the 1968 bloody convention in Chicago, voters were horrified by what seemed to be a takeover of the party by leftist radicals. During the 1972 Convention, which nominated anti-war hope George McGovern, the televised images proved it. Party discipline had acquiesced to the demands of political activists for every imaginable cause. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem bitterly clashed over the feminist agenda and the first African-American woman, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, was nominated for president. Abortion rights and gay rights were not just discussed openly from the podium for the first time, there were floor fights over whether the issues should be included in the party platform. (They compromised with a "right to be different" clause). Party sessions began in the evening and lasted all night and when McGovern was finally nominated, his acceptance speech came so early in the morning, most viewers had gone to bed. What my young eyes witnessed was contentious progress for civil rights. What the American people saw was chaos mixed with a small group of fire-breathing, radical extremists carrying the party over a cliff. The revelations about Vice Presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton's electric shock therapy for a depressive illness merely sealed the deal and Nixon won re-election by a landslide.
What happened on the left in1972, is happening to the right in 2010. History is repeating, but in mirror image. The rhetoric is just as inflammatory and the loudest voices are those on the fringes, purging Republican establishment candidates and replacing them with the wildest bunch of rabid ideologues since the days of the Yippies, only with Sarah Palin playing the role of Abbie Hoffman. The Tea Party folks say they're mad? Well, now I'm mad too. I'm mad about candidates for office referring to the president as a "committed socialist" or a "secret Muslim." I'm angry that so many people's minds have been twisted by right-wing broadcast propaganda that they somehow believe Obama is actively working against the interests of this country. I'm sick of GOP lackeys blaming Obama for Bush's disaster while simultaneously refusing to work with him on anything and everything, because, in the words of Rush Limbaugh, they "want him to fail." And I'm particularly weary of the Tea Party "patriots" who have yelled and screamed and threatened and disrupted for two years without managing to form a coherent argument about just exactly what is their message, other than antipathy toward Obama. I believe sanity will win out on election day, but only if Democratic voters are motivated to protect what gains they have made. And if the threat of a Congress full of Tea Party mini-despots with subpoena power isn't enough motivation to go out and vote, nothing is.
Thanks to Bill Day. Click on cartoon to enlarge.