Usually parties run on platforms. They advocate a set of values and ideas and mobilize a constituency around those values, ideas, beliefs and practices. As a result, they generally attempt to legislate based on a commonly defined set of shared interests, the interests of their supporters.
It doesn’t take a political scientist to understand this typical party-constituency dynamic.
The usual norms of political discourse would emphasize a party’s ability to ask pertinent questions and provide salient answers; to probe facts, poll members and seek solutions based largely on consensus or majority sentiment. However, today’s politics seem different.
Today’s politics seem based on contradiction, on a party-constituency dynamic that turns the norms of political discourse on its head.
If the November mid-term election teaches us anything, it should be that the normal party-constituency dynamic is in great danger, as the tea partiers and their right-wing Republican supporters demonstrated.
For the first time in my lifetime a party did NOT run on a platform. It did NOT advocate any coherent set of values and beliefs. It did NOT mobilize a constituency around values, ideas, beliefs and practices. And, most importantly, it will NOT legislate based on a commonly defined set of shared interests.
For the first time in my lifetime we have a party – the tea party – that disdains its constituency and will likely govern with a set of values, ideas, beliefs and practices that contradict the majority interests of its supporters. The norms of the party-constituency dynamic have shifted to such a degree that it may be decades before we can recover, before we can actual govern again from a point of reciprocity.
The tea party movement’s claim to answers – to solutions based on one simple ideological premise – is vain and paranoid, and illustrates what we can expect when the worst kind of pseudo-populist, anti-intellectual currents are given a platform that reaches millions of people.
The one simple ideological premise – the only tea party platform as far as I can tell – is a desire to shrink government to such a degree that it can no-longer function, can no-longer provide services, can no-longer act as a limited counter-balance to corporate control and domination.
“Let the free market reign supreme! Stop government regulations! Save BP from the government shake-down! Keep your government hands off my Medicaid! Get rid of the minimum wage! Abandon affirmative action! Privatize Social Security!” – All supported by the tea party movement, all answers so vain and paranoid, so individualistic and isolated, so confused and disconcerting that they are nearly incomprehensible.
Additionally, the tea party movement seems unwilling or unable to learn from others’ experiences. In fact, it discounts experiences not in-line with its prescriptive, often contradictory answers.
While prescriptive analysis based on hard facts, objectively verified and proven by experience, can act as a guide in troubling times, in times of hardship and economic duress, prescriptive analysis based on conjecture, rumor, fear, subjectivity, unverified by real-life experience, will pull us ever closer to a dangerous abyss, the tea party abyss.
Not because it has a platform or an intelligible worldview – because it doesn’t! Not because it advocates a core set of beliefs and mobilizes a constituency around those beliefs – because it has neither core beliefs nor a real constituency! Not because it will legislate for the common interest – because it won’t!
The tea party movement is dangerous because it is an irrational beast without a head; because it is an amorphous shape-shifter guided by flight and fancy, by self-serving expediency; because it is a fad based on anger, misdirection and lies; because it lacks decency and tolerance!
The tea party movement is dangerous because it has shifted the norms of the party-constituency dynamic; because it has convinced ordinary Americans to support policies that will cripple America!
Photo: Members of the Tea Party Patriots hold an election night party in Washington on Nov. 2. Ann Heisenfelt/AP