9 October 2013: Fire-breathers are burning us down

Fire-breathers are burning us down

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. – Barry Goldwater

After proclaiming that at the 1964 Republican Convention, Barry Goldwater went on to get trounced in one of the most lopsided landslides in presidential history.

His most avid supporters at that time said, “But in your heart, you know he’s right,” to which detractors responded, “Yes, but in your head, you know he’s crazy.”  He was neither.

Goldwater went on to become one of the most distinguished senators of his generation and a well-respected statesman.  He was one of the Republican leaders who approached President Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate and said, “Mr. President, it’s time for you to resign.”

Over time Goldwater moderated, not in his advocacy for liberty or justice, but in his stridency for ideological purity.  While never wavering from principle, he not only noted obsession overtaking the GOP, but served up some of his best quips to condemn it.

When he said, “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight,” he cut right to the chase about a homophobic military culture determined to die with its boots on.  Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as does the Soviet Empire, lies in the dustbin of history.  RIP.

And when he commented that Jerry Falwell needed his ass kicked, he saw the writing on the wall for the GOP: the surging power of the fundamentalist right that conflates governance with dogma.  Beneath the skin of a Tea Partyer beats the heart of a theocrat.  Read The Crucible by Arthur Miller for deeper insight.

In last week’s edition, the Courant ran an insightful political cartoon in which the GOP elephant character, reacting to Pope Francis’s statement about the Catholic Church being obsessed with abortion and gays, says, “That’s easy for him to say…He’s not running for re-election in a Republican primary.”

And therein lies the rub, the problem for political sanity within the GOP: Principle has been conflated with ideological purity.

Tea Party militants are Ronald Reagan’s progeny, a generation of fanatical sons weaned on Reaganism, long on oratory but short on intellectual depth.  When Ayn Rand, whose writings are best consumed by high school seniors and college freshmen cutting their teeth on political philosophy, becomes one’s permanent intellectual godmother, one reveals his/her intellectual stunted growth.

As it is inevitable in revolutions, among the reasons why Edmund Burke condemned the French Revolution, Tea Party revolutionaries are beginning to eat their own.  The most gullible in Washington are Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who believe they can ride the cyclone of Tea Party stalwarts.  They won’t and they can’t, and in the end, they’ll be morsels in one of the hydra’s gullets: They’re not 99.9 percent pure.

In an ironic twist in political history, Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, sought out needed Democrats to get passage of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolishes slavery.  It took both political craftsmanship by Lincoln to get recalcitrant Democrats aboard and courage on their part to withstand the political pressures from within their party.

Like Goldwater, those Democrats rose above party purity demonstrating they were willing to risk political extinction.  In the French Revolution, the instrument was the guillotine; in the Russian, the firing squad.  In today’s Republican Party, it’s the primary.

Pope Francis has it easy: All he has to contend with is a 2,000-year-old institution, dominated by traditionalist bishops installed by the two previous popes.  His advantage, though, is that he does not need to win his purist pitch-forkers’ approval in an election.

The hostage-taking of the Affordable Care Act by Tea Party Republicans, who feed at the trough of Big Health Insurance largesse, is the latest round in the ongoing battle for America’s soul.  Next is the looming debt-limit issue, which if not raised will cause the U.S. to default on its credit.  And if that happens, they’ll scream, “We told you so” in a self-fulfilling prophecy moment.

The country is finally rebounding from the George Bush-induced Great Recession.  Without the party’s elders, who ought to know better, being willing to discipline their petulant young fire-breathers and rise above the fray to statesmanship, we’ll be in this quandary for the long haul.

When the hurly-burly has run its course, it will have had long-term, devastating consequences for the nation’s economy.  So it goes.

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