(photo depicts participants in Glenn Beck led march on Washington; November 23, 2009)
I hope that David Frum is right and that the Tea Party movement, which is growing in numbers and ferocity, will hit its limit, experience an Icarus moment, and plunge back into the fringe of American politics where pugnacious, jingoistic, narrow band nationalism has always lurked.
But there is no guarantee of this. A prominent mega-funder of the political left recently told me that he had miscalculated about a number of things in the last election.
One of these was that he thought that electorally smashing the increasingly manic right wing that had hijacked the Republican Party and dislodged the more moderate, straight-talking John McCain in favor of the McCain that empowered and unleashed Sarah Palin would produce a more reasonable GOP.
He told me that “their political loss didn’t teach the Republicans anything; they actually got much worse.”
And the evidence of what this Democratic Party mega-funder was saying was clear in the truly massive “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial and on the National Mall this past weekend staged by the political crusader and hugely popular talk show host Glenn Beck.
While I think Frum is probably right that this movement, much like the Obama “movement”, will eventually crest — it’s not clear that losing political battles chastens the right, at least not yet.
During the presidential primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Obama conjured up a big politically incorrect gaffe, which like many gaffes, had some truth embedded in it.
OBAMA: Here’s how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long. They feel so betrayed by government that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn’t buy it. And when it’s delivered by — it’s true that when it’s delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama, then that adds another layer of skepticism.
. . .But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
What Barack Obama described in the campaign is what we are seeing unfold in the country. Guns and religion — or, in other words, fear and intolerance.
There are surprises and exceptions to this.
Count me as stunned that former GOP chief Ken Mehlman’s recent self-outing to Marc Ambinder (though Mike Rogers really did out him before) that he is gay has produced statements from McCain campaign czar that supporting gay marriage is becoming a “conservative issue.” Stunning statement.
Mehlman is leading a gay marriage rights fundraiser featuring the landmark lawsuit orchestrated by former Bush administration Solicitor General Ted Olson and Democratic political powerhouse David Boies — and those supporting include Paul Singer, Mary Cheney, Mark Gerson, Steve Schmidt, John Podesta, Steve Elmendorf, William Weld, Christine Todd Whitman and more.
This is the one bit of news that makes me think that there is potentially a constructive undercurrent pulling away from the reality that Obama aptly described in 2008.
But like Chuck Hagel who tried to stand for a kinder, sensible, bigger tent conservatism, Mehlman and his fellow travelers in the GOP may find themselves soon joining Christine Todd Whitman, Lawrence Wilkerson, Susan Eisenhower, Lincoln Chafee, Colin Powell, Rita Hauser in the camp of the Republicans exiled or pushed to the fringe of the party they worked hard to build.
Let’s hope that the Mehlman trend and not the Glenn Beck frenzy define the future of the GOP.
— Steve Clemons