Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I change my mind. The Tea Party is right.

Last night was ugly, ya’ll.

Kentuckians are sending Rand Paul to be their voice in federal government. Rand Paul—an unlicensed “doctor” who thinks the “freedom” of people who would discriminate means more than the civil rights of people of color or people with disabilities.

Florida now has a disgraced healthcare official as its governor. That would be Rick Scott, who, according to Huffington Post, “became notorious for buying up hospitals and downsizing them for profit. As Forbes reported in 2000, his company ‘increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating. It also granted doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors ‘loans’ that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies. […] Scott was forced to resign in the wake of the initial fraud charges in 1997.’

Democrat Harry Reid barely held his seat against the race-baiting Sharron Angle, who believes Sharia Law has taken hold in Michigan.

Worse, Republicans gained enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives and there is no doubt in my mind that they will gridlock our government and stand in the way of progress, as is their wont.

This morning, as I mentally survey the wreckage after the GOP storm, I find myself less angry at Republicans than I am at my own party—the Democrats whose message bungling, lack of boldness and base blaming allowed this to happen.

The best explanation of the conservative surge that I’ve read is in a post by Verbalpaintball on Daily Kos:

You lost because:

-- You have been scared, indecisive little mice for the last four years.

-- You have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how to craft a marketing message that is simple and strong, explains accomplishments in REAL PERSON, REAL ENVIRONMENT sort of way, and pushes buttons.

-- You wasted time trying to compromise with republicans. They want nothing more than to see you destroyed.

-- You mistook indecisiveness and half-wins as some kind of accomplishment. It's not. The public wants strength and decisiveness in their party. How do you think Bush won a second term? It wasn't because he was right on anything.
Read all of this. It’s good.

The more I observe my party, the less faith I have in them. The problem seems to be that the GOP message machine is so good—in an evil genius sort of way--that even the Democratic leadership believes its propaganda. They fall for the myth of the center right nation, they capitulate to the charges of “socialism” and “big government,” they cozy up to big business, they squirm away from the word “liberal” and they denigrate their base, sneering at “the professional left.” Rather than offer a real, strong alternative to the other major party, they represent a sort of a “GOP Lite.”

Another way the Republicans win the propaganda war is by controlling the message-- which they do, every time, on every issue. That is why we spent 2009 talking about “death panels” rather than “Medicare for all.” The GOP plays the tune; Democrats dance.

And so, I have come to the conclusion that the Tea Partiers are right. Oh, not about the issues. Hell no. They are right about the need for strong alternatives to major parties, even if those alternatives simply exist to hold the larger parties accountable to their core values, forcing them away from the safe center line where career politicians like to hang out.

Progressives need a party that can smartly articulate our values, turn them into policy and sell both to an American public that responds better to easy talking points than wonky details. Simultaneously, we need to groom and run strong candidates locally and nationally. We need to, with or without the Democrats, because they can’t or won’t. I can’t be arsed to care which anymore.

We need to get our populist anger on. That used to be our thing, y’know? Now, the righteous anger of everyman (and woman) has been co-opted by a faux grassroots operation funded by billionaires. For two years, hard-right conservatives and Tea Partiers have controlled the message. Progressives will never change anything until we change that. 2012 will be a bloodbath is we don’t become proactive, rather than reactive.

Of course, the danger in the third party idea is that it can backfire and give you something worse than you hoped for. (Hello, 2000 election.) There are many places this year where intervention by Tea Party candidates helped ensure a Democratic win. And our friends across the pond are suffering now from third party fallout. It is the fear of losing that has made me a critic of the third party solution in the past. But this morning…I don’t know.

Maybe we are too focused on short term gains. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats may have lost this time in Britain, but his gains could lead to lasting success in the future if his party stays visible and continues to hammer their message in the face of the unholy ConDem alliance. The same could be true in this country. A lot of Tea Party candidates were defeated this time around. But what about next time? There will be a next time, you know. The Tea party isn’t going away any time soon. (Lord, help us!)

Where will progressives be then? Will we still be waiting on the Democratic Party? Should we? Or should we make like those folks with the crazy signs and funny hats and make our party and the country listen?

Photo Credit: hynkle on Flickr


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