John Laird: Tea Party: R.I.P., or just reloading for next showdown?

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Correctly assuming in the spring of 2009 that the name "Yelling Party" might stifle recruiting, reformists opted for the more patriotic brand "Tea Party." They breached the fortress of civility around the time of the April 15 federal income tax deadline.

Their seeds of belligerence sprouted as 2009 wore on. "Rogue" was cool, and Tea Partiers turned town hall meetings into shouting matches. In Clark County, the rage crescendoed at a large town hall meeting Aug. 18. Local Tea Partier David Hedrick rose to roar that Nancy Pelosi is a Nazi. Then he bellowed at our then-congressman Brian Baird: "Stay away from my kids!"

Hedrick's admirers hooted their hearty concurrence.

Three years passed, bringing the first presidential election since formation of the Tea Party. Actually, the Tea Party never officially formed. No party, per se. No convention. No nominee. And this unofficial status was becoming a huge problem.

Back in 2009, they decided to bed down with the Republicans. But after the 2012 election, both partners awakened, each to the other's repugnance. December finds them in separate corners. Republicans face only two indigestible choices: (1) Raise taxes on 2 percent of taxpayers and be accused of capitulating to President Obama (2) or, by doing nothing, raise taxes on all Americans and be blamed for that as well. There is no third choice.

Tea Partiers face their own two poison pills: (1) Do things the Republican way, which would signal a jettisoning of principles or (2) form a third party, which would further erode conservatism and empower demon Democrats. Here, too, there is no third choice.

A recent Washington Post survey assessed the direction of blame if the U.S. falls over the fiscal cliff: 53 percent would blame Republicans, 27 percent would blame President Obama. Until the cliff is reached, the GOP and the Tea Party apparently are trying to burn the bed they once shared. Last week, four Tea Party House members were taken to the Republican woodshed; they emerged without their key committee assignments. Also, Tea Party Pied Piper Jim DeMint said he will leave the Senate to direct the conservative Heritage Foundation. First-term bomb-throwers Allen West and Joe Walsh have been voted out of Congress.

The only trait the Tea Party and the GOP seem to share now is the habit of insulting demographic groups. Last Tuesday presented an ugly example. As if alienating women, blacks, Hispanics and gays weren't enough, 38 Republican senators chose to insult disabled Americans. They opposed the international Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. This 2006 U.N. treaty encourages the rest of the world to become more like America by embracing our 22-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act.

That act is one of America's finest achievements. All the world knows this. Even China, Iran and Syria have signed on to the U.N. treaty. But not the 38, many of them Tea Partiers. John McCain implored them to vote yes. GOP icon Bob Dole entered the chamber in a wheelchair pushed by wife Elizabeth to bolster the advocacy. Still, 38 said no. Alas, treaty ratification failed. Two-thirds Senate approval was needed.

Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" proclaimed: "It's official. Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs."

Softer now, but surviving

Locally, after his 15 minutes of fame, Hedrick has faded into the dustbin of irrelevance.

Nationally, the anger persists, though subdued, and the brash image prevails. Today's Tea Partiers still resemble the low-achievers back in high school who sat in the back row at the awards assembly, belching the alphabet and generally disrupting the ceremony. Finding no group that would embrace them, they decided to make school unpleasant for others, especially the athletes and the Honor Society kids.

Eventually, the back-row boys got older, took their anger to town halls … and rose to shout about their credentials as patriots.