Human Nature and the Tea Party

After Eric Cantor’s dramatic loss in Virginia, many now feel that traditional Conservative principles may soon prevail within the Republican Party.

I doubt it.

It is very easy for talk show hosts and columnists to be “ideologically pure.” It doesn’t cost them anything, and it’s also good for ratings. Congress, however, is different. It is very difficult to get things done up there without collecting votes from others, including those who favor objectionable policies. That support comes at a steep price, as they will demand the same favor in return. Hence, by definition, almost all accomplishments by Congressional legislators entail “selling one’s soul” (to some degree) and being willing to vote against one’s conscience.

Another pervasive corrupting factor in U.S. government is the influence of contributions. Because the U.S. system requires politicians to run very expensive campaigns in order to get elected, all but the super wealthy must solicit political contributions, and that too is very pricey. Corporate and private donors contribute this money to politicians as a way of buying their votes on certain issues.

My suspicion is that when the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the Republican Party started in politics, their policies were mostly in line with today’s Tea Party. However, after joining the world of congressional realpolitik, they were soon casting votes for what they had always opposed, and that left them on a slippery slope of no return. I am not condoning this wishy-washy and self-serving behavior of today’s Republican establishment, but in truth, there are extremely few politicians who are able to retain absolute integrity and not be crushed by the realities of the job.

It seems that the last truly major figure who courageously did not bend with the political wind was Ronald Reagan. He adhered to his principles, even when as a result, his popularity and approval rating plummeted, particularly during his first term as president. Ultimately, the sincerity paid off. Mr. Reagan went on to become highly respected and immensely popular, and in retrospect, many now consider him a truly great American hero. Most people however, are not that moral and intrepid, and if they are working in Congress, they will “adjust.”

Can anything be done to further uplift and dignify Washington’s political process?

I would like to recount a conversation I had almost 50 years ago with someone who was then one of Traditional Judaism’s most eminent rabbis and scholars. The war was then raging in Vietnam, and at home, the antagonism toward the war was fierce. Student protesters took the position that the entire ruling establishment of the U.S. was corrupt and they wanted to see it totally overthrown -- they referred to almost anyone in authority, politicians, policemen, and business leaders, as “pigs.”

Being from the generation of the protesters, I had some sympathy for their cause and therefore asked the rabbi, “Don’t you agree, at least partially, with these denunciations of our rulers?” He answered that indeed the rulers are corrupt. But, he said, there was a reason for it. Power corrupts, and by definition, politics often calls upon people to make unethical choices.

He continued that instead of merely denouncing those in power, the students should also be discussing how to root greed and corruption out of the political system, and out of themselves personally as well. If, however, they do none of this but instead limit themselves to calling others names, if they themselves ever rose to power, they will end up every bit as corrupt.

To a great extent, history is repeating itself. The Tea Party stalwarts are furiously attacking the establishment rulers (albeit without calling them pigs). Yet they say nothing about repairing the built in flaws, both personal and organizational, that lead to these problems.

If an open and honest conversation takes place in this country about addressing the very serious problems that spawned the Tea Party, there could be a most welcome and constructive outcome.

Sadly, this dialogue is not taking place at present. The Tea Party people will therefore continue to naively assume that they are somehow more inherently ethical and will therefore be inured to the factors that left Washington with so much dysfunction. It isn’t true. If the Tea Party ascends to power, its leaders will end up acting no different from the current establishment Republicans that the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world are always denouncing.

I can see it already. 20 years from now right-wing firebrands will be attacking the Tea Party leaders on a daily basis for having become corrupt establishment-types who abandoned Conservative principles and are really little different from the Liberals.

Who exactly they will be excoriating? I am not a prophet, but it almost certainly won’t be Messrs. McConnell or Boehner; like Eric Cantor, they will likely be gone if the Tea Party prevails. But these attacks might end up being directed at Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.

After Eric Cantor’s dramatic loss in Virginia, many now feel that traditional Conservative principles may soon prevail within the Republican Party.

I doubt it.

It is very easy for talk show hosts and columnists to be “ideologically pure.” It doesn’t cost them anything, and it’s also good for ratings. Congress, however, is different. It is very difficult to get things done up there without collecting votes from others, including those who favor objectionable policies. That support comes at a steep price, as they will demand the same favor in return. Hence, by definition, almost all accomplishments by Congressional legislators entail “selling one’s soul” (to some degree) and being willing to vote against one’s conscience.

Another pervasive corrupting factor in U.S. government is the influence of contributions. Because the U.S. system requires politicians to run very expensive campaigns in order to get elected, all but the super wealthy must solicit political contributions, and that too is very pricey. Corporate and private donors contribute this money to politicians as a way of buying their votes on certain issues.

My suspicion is that when the Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the Republican Party started in politics, their policies were mostly in line with today’s Tea Party. However, after joining the world of congressional realpolitik, they were soon casting votes for what they had always opposed, and that left them on a slippery slope of no return. I am not condoning this wishy-washy and self-serving behavior of today’s Republican establishment, but in truth, there are extremely few politicians who are able to retain absolute integrity and not be crushed by the realities of the job.

It seems that the last truly major figure who courageously did not bend with the political wind was Ronald Reagan. He adhered to his principles, even when as a result, his popularity and approval rating plummeted, particularly during his first term as president. Ultimately, the sincerity paid off. Mr. Reagan went on to become highly respected and immensely popular, and in retrospect, many now consider him a truly great American hero. Most people however, are not that moral and intrepid, and if they are working in Congress, they will “adjust.”

Can anything be done to further uplift and dignify Washington’s political process?

I would like to recount a conversation I had almost 50 years ago with someone who was then one of Traditional Judaism’s most eminent rabbis and scholars. The war was then raging in Vietnam, and at home, the antagonism toward the war was fierce. Student protesters took the position that the entire ruling establishment of the U.S. was corrupt and they wanted to see it totally overthrown -- they referred to almost anyone in authority, politicians, policemen, and business leaders, as “pigs.”

Being from the generation of the protesters, I had some sympathy for their cause and therefore asked the rabbi, “Don’t you agree, at least partially, with these denunciations of our rulers?” He answered that indeed the rulers are corrupt. But, he said, there was a reason for it. Power corrupts, and by definition, politics often calls upon people to make unethical choices.

He continued that instead of merely denouncing those in power, the students should also be discussing how to root greed and corruption out of the political system, and out of themselves personally as well. If, however, they do none of this but instead limit themselves to calling others names, if they themselves ever rose to power, they will end up every bit as corrupt.

To a great extent, history is repeating itself. The Tea Party stalwarts are furiously attacking the establishment rulers (albeit without calling them pigs). Yet they say nothing about repairing the built in flaws, both personal and organizational, that lead to these problems.

If an open and honest conversation takes place in this country about addressing the very serious problems that spawned the Tea Party, there could be a most welcome and constructive outcome.

Sadly, this dialogue is not taking place at present. The Tea Party people will therefore continue to naively assume that they are somehow more inherently ethical and will therefore be inured to the factors that left Washington with so much dysfunction. It isn’t true. If the Tea Party ascends to power, its leaders will end up acting no different from the current establishment Republicans that the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world are always denouncing.

I can see it already. 20 years from now right-wing firebrands will be attacking the Tea Party leaders on a daily basis for having become corrupt establishment-types who abandoned Conservative principles and are really little different from the Liberals.

Who exactly they will be excoriating? I am not a prophet, but it almost certainly won’t be Messrs. McConnell or Boehner; like Eric Cantor, they will likely be gone if the Tea Party prevails. But these attacks might end up being directed at Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin.

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