The Tea Party is not crazy nor are those who oppose them (let’s call them “the establishment”) unprincipled “collaborators” with Democrats. But that’s how each side views the other. And the reason for that lies at the heart of the most consequential political struggle in more than a generation — a civil war in the Republican Party that threatens its very existence.
Why should this be so? An objective look at the positions both sides take on the issues would reveal very little difference between them. This is especially true when looking at the broad sweep of policy on taxes, regulations, individual liberty, and the size of government. On individual issues like immigration reform or foreign-policy matters, the differences are vast but not unbridgeable — at least not as vast as the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Both sides also share broadly similar values, religious beliefs, and a common way of viewing our history and culture.
The impetus that is driving this war that becomes more bitter and personal almost every day is to be found in the way each side views and interprets reality. Not the kind of substantive physical reality in which we all exist, where two people standing side by side look out a window and both agree they see a tree. Both agree the tree has green leaves shaped like a maple leaf. Both agree the sky is blue. There is no disputing substantive reality (although the intensity of the colors green and blue might be interpreted differently by our observers).
Rather, what divides the Tea Party and the establishment is what’s sometimes called Weltanschauung, or worldview. This is reality as it is interpreted communally when facts, ideas, people, and events are filtered through an ideological or philosophical prism. Epistemological questions about “what is true and what is false” can be answered differently depending on how one’s worldview has been shaped by experience and knowledge. In this sense, while there may be an objective “right or wrong” there may not be an agreed upon “true or false.” It is the metaphysically subjective interpretation of the objective reality of ideas and events that divides the Republican Party and threatens to blow it apart at the seams.
Both the Tea Party and the establishment believe Obamacare to be bad: coercive, ruinous to the economy, injurious to personal liberty, and inimical to our founding principles. No Republican voted for it. But in compromising to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, the establishment is viewed by the Tea Party as having betrayed “principle.”
Why? Erick Erickson explains:
Men like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and others have preached a great sermon against Obamacare, but now conservatives who supported them see that these men have refused to actually practice what they’ve been preaching. They’ve refused to stand and fight with the rest of us.
The fight was always about Obamacare. Today we know we must keep fighting and fight harder against even our own supposed side. But we always knew the fight would force the charlatans of the GOP out of the shadows into disinfecting sunlight. It has happened as I wrote it would almost a month ago.
In the Tea Party’s reality, Obamacare is so bad as to be catastrophic; indeed, a default might be preferable to the implementation of the ACA. And to “stand and fight” — even though there was no chance of success — was worth whatever cost to the party politically, or the cost to the economy in keeping the government shuttered. Anyone opposing this position is a “charlatan” — despite the fact that the charlatans all voted against Obamacare and would defund it in a second if it were at all possible. (Note: It’s nonsense to think that Erickson and the Tea Party didn’t know who every single one of the “charlatans” are. That kind of hyperbole is not meant to inform, but to rabble-rouse.)