Column: Tea party true believers thrive on rejection
Woo hoo, even.
It was a nick of time rescue, like when Polly Pureheart is whisked off the railroad tracks right before the train comes barreling through, or the correct wire is snipped and the bomb timer stops counting down with just seconds left.
Last week, hours before a historic default, Congress finally stopped playing chicken with the world’s largest economy and ended the government shutdown.
So … hurray, right?
Crisis averted, lessons learned, common sense restored. Everything’s good, is it not?
Well, no. Not even close.
Pardon the pooping of the party, but it’s hard to cheer the aversion of a crisis that:
• Was entirely manufactured.
• Will in all likelihood recur very soon.
This is what it has come to in tea party America: government of the crisis, by the crisis, for the crisis, government that lurches from emergency to emergency, accomplishing little, resolving less and generally behaving with all the thoughtful reflection of a toddler holding her breath until she gets her way.
Let no one claim this is no big deal because we’ve had shutdowns before. Let no one chirp that this is how things are supposed to work — checks and balances and all. Let none of us act as if it’s anything but bizarre to see a militant faction in one chamber of the legislature bring government to a halt because it doesn’t like a law.
Most of all, let us finally stop pretending this is only about that law, the Affordable Care Act, and the delusional claim that it will usher in socialism, communism and slavery, resurrect Vladimir Lenin and send Nazis marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.
No, this is about Obamascare, the terror of what some still regard as alien and their consequent refusal, even five years in, to accept the legitimacy of a president twice elected with nary a hanging chad in sight.
The only good news out of this 16-day debacle is that his refusal to kowtow to these bullyboy tactics suggests that the president does, indeed, have a spine, rumors to the contrary notwithstanding.
Repeat: that’s the only good news. Anyone expecting the even better news that this closes the book on the tea party, given its abject failure to achieve its stated goal of defunding the Affordable Care Act, will be bitterly disappointed. These are true believers. True believers thrive on rejection.
Note that, even as other Republicans were sounding appropriately chastened, tea party activists were assailing the party for “surrender” and were disavowing regret. As the shutdown was going down in flames, Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party stalwart, told CNN, “Unfortunately, once again, it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people.”
This, as polls show the American people’s esteem for the GOP and the tea party at record lows and 62 percent of respondents were telling Gallup they wanted their representatives to compromise so the government could reopen. Gallup also tells us Americans now identify government dysfunction as this country’s biggest problem.
The disconnect between what Cruz says the people are saying and what they are actually saying should surprise no one. The defining characteristic of the Tea People has always been their ability to convince themselves reality is whatever they need it to be.
Reality, after all, is not the point. Ideological purity is.
So we will likely return to this crossroads, or one very much like it. Any hope of avoiding that rests with the dwindling population of adults in the GOP and their ability to make their party realize what should have long ago been obvious.
They can have purity or they can have power. They cannot have both.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may email him at email@example.com. His column publishes most Wednesdays and Sundays.