Monday, July 19, 2010

A RINO at a Tea Party

Like a bull in a china shop, a RINO at a Tea Party has the potential to be a messy situation.

That's why Rep. Rob Wittman's decision to bring in Sen. Scott Brown (R-Ma.) to headline a fundraiser July 30 is interesting.

Brown was briefly the darling of the Tea Party when, with considerable out-of -state financial assistance from Tea Party activists, he beat the odds to win the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of former Sen. Edward Kennedy. The had been in Kennedy hands for more than 50 years and a Republican victory in one of the nation's bluest states was seen as a personal rebuke to President Barack Obama.

Brown was important to the Tea Party because he was seen as the Republicans' 41st vote to filibuster health care reform. However, Democrats skillfully found a way around the supposed 60 votes required to get anything done in the Senate -- which, strict constructionists that they are, the Tea Party activists might note was never part of the founders' intentions -- and passed the bill anyway.

After that, Brown quickly began losing his Tea Party fans as he started voting like the moderate, Northeast Republican he always had been. That, of course, was the only kind of Republican who was going to win in "The People's Republic of Massachusetts." Which means he occasionally votes with the Democrats, just like Republican senators Snow and Dukakis from Maine. Which leads the Tea Party crowd to fill his Facebook page with accusations of "betrayal" and that he's a "liar" and, even worse, a "RINO." The most recent instance was when he voted to allow financial reform legislation to move forward, so hopefully the greed heads who wrecked the economy two years ago will have a slightly harder task the next time.

Wittman voted against that bill.
In fact, Wittman and Brown have differed on a number of votes. Because, while Brown is something of disappointment to the Tea Party folks, Wittman is, or should be, their model legislator.

He voted against the Bush administration's TARP legislation, which was, depending on your point of view, a shameful "bailout" of Wall Street and the big banks, or necessary to keep us from spiraling into a second Great Depression. In my opinion, it was both.

He voted against the Obama stimulus package. Like most Republicans, and all Tea Party activists, he was concerned that it increased the deficit. Because as soon as a Republican president is out of office, Republicans care about the deficit. Dick Cheney famously said the lesson of Ronald Reagan's term in office was that "deficits don't matter." Actually they do. But other things matter, too. Like getting the economy moving. There's a time to worry about how high your water bill is, but not when the house is on fire. The real problem with Obama's stimulus package was that it wasn't big enough.

Wittman also voted against health care reform, extended unemployment benefits and the financial reform.

You'd think that would put him in good standing with the Tea Party, a populist movement in favor of rich people paying lower taxes, poor people having less access to health insurance and credit and Wall Street not being hampered by pesky federal regulations. Oh, and "taking our country back," presumably from the folks who were lawfully elected to run it.

But you'd be only partially correct. While many local Tea Party activists said they supported Wittman, and his huge margin of victory would tend to bear that out, he was opposed for the Republican nomination by Tea Party activist Catherine Crabill.

Fortunately, she only got about 10% of the vote. I say fortunately because the kind of people who would vote for Crabill, who had a disturbing tendency to weave firearms into her statements on political issues, are the reason the Tea Party gives some people the creeps. While most Tea Party activists are just conservative swho are so ideologically confused they can't tell the difference between Keynesian economics and socialism or run-of-the-mill Republicans who George W. Bush embarassed out of the party, a small percentage are dangerous nuts.

They are people who talk about a second American Revolution and mean it. Their political rhetoric is full of talk of "treason" and "executing" said traitors, be they Obama or members of Congress. They are angry, old, heavily armed white people who can't come to terms with an African-American in the White House.  In calmer times they'd be confined to militia groups that would be eyed warily by the FBI. Now, they are being welcomed into the Tea Party and its parent organization, the Republican Party.

That's the kind of  support that both RINO's and mainstream conservative Republicans like Wittman could do without.

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