We are witnessing the death of the Tea Party.
Earlier today, Senate leaders reached a deal to reopen the government and save the U.S. from default. That deal will keep the federal government running until January 15, raise the debt ceiling through February, and sets December 13 as the date when both the Senate and House will get together for a budget conference. Speaker of the House John Boehner will likely bring it to the House floor.
Tea Partiers in Congress held the government hostage to try to get President Obama and the Democrats to pay them ransom and defund or delay Obamacare. Today’s deal gives them nothing except for a guarantee that the IRS will double check that people who apply for Obamacare subsidies don’t lie about their income.
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House Republicans actually stopped trying to use the debt-ceiling and shutdown as a way to sabotage the core of Obamacare last week. Today’s deal just shows the obvious: the Tea Party went all in with its latest manufactured crisis and lost, big time.
However, there was one big winner. Ted Cruz got 2 million people to sign his petition and he raised $1.9 million. He can now go back and ask those people for campaign donations in the future.
The Senate deal is not perfect – it still sets government spending at austerity sequester levels, for example – but it is without a doubt a step in the right direction . It is a victory for anyone who thinks that the main job of a political party – especially that of a minority party – is to govern, not to re-litigate an election it lost pretty handily.
Since Republicans took over the House of Representatives in January 2011, they have tried to win big concessions from the President and Democrats by threatening disaster every time the country has reached another fiscal deadline. Egged on by the far-right Tea Party, they have created crisis after crisis to try to push their special brand of extremism on the American people.
In the summer of 2011, this strategy worked. President Obama caved and gave John Boehner “98 percent of what he wanted” with the sequester’s brutal spending cuts. Tea Partiers thought they could win another big victory this time around, but the President and the Democrats held their line.
Today’s deal makes sure Congress will have to debate the debt-ceiling and budget again in a few months, but the Democrats’ hard line has sent a message to all the teabaggers who want to hold the government hostage: the time for games is up and the time to do your job and fund the government is now.
But the end of the shutdown and default scare isn’t just a victory for anyone who thinks that Congress should, you know, do its job. It’s a victory for the core values of American democracy that everyone from George Washington to FDR to, yes, even Barack Obama has fought for. It’s a victory for the idea that government is a public good and plays an important role in protecting and promoting democracy.
The Tea Party is opposed to this idea. The Tea Party and the billionaires who fund it think that government is evil and want to do everything they can to destroy it. If that means throwing the economy into chaos, then so be it.
Tea Party congressmen can take extreme positions like that because they come from gerrymandered districts and don’t have to answer to anybody who disagrees with them. But in reality, most of the American people don’t share their beliefs. That’s why they reelected Barack Obama and cast more votes for Democratic House candidates last November than they did for Republican candidates. That’s why the Senate is still held by the Democrats. The core values of the American people are the values of the Democratic Party.
Republicans know this. Their core values – deregulation, cutting social services, and drowning government in a bathtub – are really just the core values of the billionaire class. They’ve tried, at different points in our country’s history, to make up for this fact by joining up with groups that have a bit more populist street cred than super-rich oil tycoons. Richard Nixon, for example, allied himself with racists in the South; Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush allied themselves with Evangelicals.
Today’s Republicans used the Tea Party. And now it’s come back to bite them. While Tea Partiers like Louie Gohmert may be popular in their own districts, most Americans are disgusted by them. They don’t like the Tea Party’s extremism and they don’t want to sabotage the government. The majority of the country now thinks “Tea Party” when it hears the word “Republican.” This has led to historically low approval ratings for the GOP.
The billionaires who back the Tea Party should have seen this coming. Back in the 1950s, Fred Koch, the father of the Koch Brothers, tried to force far-right extremism on the American people by funding the John Birch Society. The Society led the charge against the Civil Rights Movement and, for a while at least, just like the Tea Party, was taken seriously. But it hurt itself and the conservative brand by continuing to fight Civil Rights after the American people came to gradually accept integration and human rights for all races.
This why the John Birch Society ran into a wall: the American people did not share its racist, anti-government values. The Tea Party has run into that wall. Its latest attempt to demand ransom from President Obama failed because, in the end, only a small handful of loonies want to sabotage Obamacare. Surveys show that even among people who oppose Obamacare, most of them oppose it because it doesn’t go far enough – they want single-payer or a public option .
The events of the past two weeks have shown the American people once and for all that the Tea Party could care less about them. They’ve figured out the con and the Republican Party is going to pay for it.
Tea Partiers may win a few more House seats. They certainly have the money to do so. But their moment in the sun is over; the end is near and everyone knows it.
Rest in peace, teabaggers. Good riddance.