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by
Ray Hartwell

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March 1, 2012 - 12:00 am
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Writing on December 20, former Clinton Labor Secretary and current Berkeley Professor Robert Reich (who also serves, I am pleased to report, as the board chairman of Common Cause) sought to provide a lucid diagnosis of what he termed the “republican crack-up.” His article’s title caught my eye because our country faces some serious issues. We need serious leadership, which is in short enough supply without the Republicans unraveling.

So I read on, surmising that as a former cabinet member Reich would not sound this alarm without good cause. And sure enough, right in the first paragraph he said it’s “bad for America” that the GOP is threatened. Certainly I agree. After all, the core ideology of the Democrats, once known as liberalism, cracked up decades ago, and we have to get our grown-ups somewhere! (By the way, The Liberal Crack-Up is the title of an excellent book by R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., which was published in 1984 and remains an entertaining reference for a continuing catastrophe.)

Mr. Reich lets us know up front that the crack-up isn’t just about Romney’s conservative credentials or the travails of the Republican congressional leadership. No, it’s more than that — an “underlying conflict” whose “very old” roots reach “deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party.”

From these old roots, Reich explains, an ominous threat has grown. That, naturally, is … the Tea Party! And this is not your multi-great grandfather’s Boston Tea Party. Rather, Professor Reich lectures, “today’s Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority — predominantly Southern, and mainly rural — that has repeatedly attacked American democracy to get its way.” For proof of this rather sweeping indictment, Reich proffers only the bald assertion that it is “no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy.”

Much in the manner of a Janet Napolitano press conference, Reich proceeds to inform us that fencing in the former Confederacy will not suffice to stifle this unsavory movement. Alas, the Tea Party also infects “border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties.” Its tentacles reach even to places such as California, although apparently only in tainted areas “whose political culture was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the Great Depression.”

Perhaps with the “Know Your Enemy” slide on the screen, Reich capsules the characteristics of “Tea Party Land” so that responsible citizens can be on the lookout. Pencils ready, class? The three markers are: “white” (ho hum), “Southern” (and that term becomes synonymous with “Tea Party” as it embraces the many flyover country folks deemed “Southerners” by Mr. Reich’s helpful and more expansive definition), and “rural.”

Now, lest we doubt that Southerners (or Tea Party sympathizers) are a threat to civilization as Mr. Reich envisions it, he zeros in with the big guns: polling data. Be on notice, people. These Tea Party troglodytes are more skeptical than most about global warming, less likely than Mr. Reich’s friends to think the Department of Education is doing a swell job, and more concerned than many about deficit spending in the age of Obama. And, in case you naively conclude that those findings merely describe people with common sense, Reich of course plays the obligatory “race card.” This he does by linking what he terms the “radical right wing” of the Republican Party (note for the vocabulary section on the final exam, this is another synonym for “Southerner” or “Tea Party”) to the “ ‘Willie Horton’ conservatives of the 1980s.”

Swift on the heels of smearing Southerners as racist bumpkins too stupid to appreciate the finer points of federal programs and the threat to life on the planet posed by climate change, Mr. Reich laments that the “gentlemanly conservatism” of his sort of Republican has been superseded by “bomb throwing antics.” Mr. Reich apparently does not consider it germane that the “teabagger” and “racist” epithets relentlessly hurled at “Tea Party” members, Southerners, and pretty much anybody espousing conservative political views these days have all originated on the left — which is, after all, the traditional home of bomb throwers.

Still, professor that he is, Reich purported to connect the dots, pointing out that “America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way — seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010.”

Of course, everyone knows that the Southerners who seceded in 1861, and who engaged in “massive resistance” to the civil rights laws a century later, were all Democrats (and pretty much all gone to their rewards at this point, by the way). Mr. Reich’s attempt to link those historical (and obviously harmful) actions by Democrats to current Republican arguments against profligate federal spending is utterly without basis in either logic or fact. Not one to let this stand in the way of a talking point, however, Mr. Reich warns that this “stop at nothing radicalism” is “dangerous for America,” because we “need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing.”

Wait a minute, I thought. Was it not “stop at nothing radicalism” when the Obama administration rammed the health care takeover through Congress, all 3000 pages of it crafted in closed-door negotiations rife with payoffs and log rolling? And does it foster cooperation between the two parties when the president ignores his constitutional obligation to seek the advice and consent of the Senate, circumventing Congress to make illegal appointments of left-wing ideologues and political cronies to positions of power? What about the billions in government loans and stimulus payments to campaign donors and unions, a virtual festival of looting of the federal Treasury by the president and his allies? Would it not be more accurate to say that it is the Obama administration, not the Tea Party, that “has repeatedly attacked American democracy to get its way”?

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