After Rand Paul won the Republican primary in Kentucky last night, he declared, "We have come to take our government back!"
Good for him. I want my government back, too.
The problem is, we completely disagree on <span style="font-style:italic;">why</span> we want our government back, and on what we would like to <span style="font-style:italic;">achieve</span> with our newly reclaimed government.
But, imagine this: What if the Tea Party movement, and the anti-incumbency wave it seems to have begun, has some unintended consequences? What if we do, in fact, end up with a new crop of lawmakers who more genuinely reflect the collective will of the electorate - only it's not the collective will the Tea Party has in mind?
There is one essential principle on which Tea Party members and those of living in the reality-based world can agree: Our government does not operate in a way that reflects the will of the electorate. Our political leaders - Democrats and Republicans alike (with some worthy exceptions) - are too beholden to corporate interests, powerful lobbyists, the interests of the very wealthy, and to whatever it takes to ensure their own political survival.
They literally have forgotten - or don't care - who voted them into office, and who they are in Washington to represent. They have forgotten that they work for <span style="font-style:italic;">us</span>, the voters; that they represent <span style="font-style:italic;">us</span>, the citizens. Not just a lucky few who happen to be powerful and well-connected.
This is nothing new, of course. Here is one commentator's take on it.
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature.
The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
Albert Einstein wrote that - in 1949!
Of course, Rand Paul would take issue with Einstein's desire to "protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population." Protecting the underprivileged is not a Tea Party value.
But Einstein's statement expresses a broad and persistent feeling that is grounded in truth: <span style="font-style:italic;">all</span> of us ordinary citizens are, in fact, "underprivileged" in the sense that our lives and our values are not being considered when it comes time to write important legislation in Washington.
The problem, of course, is that the values I feel are not being adequately represented in Washington are vastly different from the values of Rand Paul and the Tea Party.
So, how could the Tea Party inadvertently end up being a force for good (at least as I and other progressives define it.)?
The Tea Party is a fringe group. Its values and political goals are not shared by the great majority of what some pundits call the "common-sense middle." One look at the Maine Republican Party platform, which was written and adopted by Tea Party activists, will tell you that.
Do most Americans want to abolish the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve? Do most Americans want to "oppose any and all treaties with the U.N."? Or "arrest and detain, for a specified period of time, anyone here illegally and then deport, period"? Or "repeal and prohibit any participation in efforts to create a one world government"?
I don't think so. The platform is paranoid and reactionary, bordering on lunacy. From what I can gather, most Americans are not paranoid, reactionary lunatics.
If the Democrats play this right - which is always open to question - they should be able to expose the Tea Party for the extreme fringe group that it is. More importantly, they should be able to demonstrate that the Republican Party is the Tea Party's willing enabler, and consequently even more out of touch with mainstream America than it was in 2008.
If the Democrats can do this successfully, it is conceivable that many independents will say to the Tea Party/Republican Party, "Uh, no thanks." It is also possible, now that the nation has seen the influence the Tea Party can have, that Democrats will be more motivated to get out and vote, as they did in 2008.
President Obama was elected because millions of Americans wanted to take <span style="font-style:italic;">their</span> government back- from George W. Bush and his gang of liars and thieves. "Change you can believe in" was simply a more elegant way of putting it.
Now, the people from whom it was taken in 2008 (i.e. the most extreme wing of the Republican Party, in the new guise of the Tea Party) want it back again.
But, as Albert Einstein <span style="font-style:italic;">also</span> said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
President Obama won the presidency because he represented a new way of thinking. Despite a lot of setbacks and too many compromises, he still does.
If he and the Democratic Party can communicate this effectively between now and November, we may be spared the sorry spectacle of a nation once again in the hands of a small, but vocal minority bent on taking their government... backwards.
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