The recent war over the federal budget and debt ceiling were simply the latest in a long line of skirmishes where Democrats - the self-described practitioners of "good faith" and seekers of compromise - found themselves in a pitched policy battle with recalcitrant Republicans. Right-wingers so high on radical, Randian, tea-party-brewed, Kool Aid, that anything short of dismantling the Federal Government and requiring universal tattooing of Milton Friedman where-the-sun-don't-shine was treason.
After its humble beginnings as an astroturf, Koch-Brothers-funded revival aimed at mobilizing ill-informed, reactionary, mostly older white Americans against health care reform and psychologically-constructed monsters under the bed, the tea party has become an malignant force that now holds the Republican Congressional Caucus - and with it the country - hostage.
While the Stockholm Syndrome may not have quite set in yet among all Republicans, the tri-corner-hat crowd seems to behave much like the giant Brain Bug in the movie Starship Troopers, jamming a claw into the heads of their fellow GOPers and slowly sucking out cerebral tissue until only the brainless body remains.
Most problematic, most of the tea partiers, private citizens and elected officials alike, seem to possess just slightly less understanding of the Federal budget or tax code of than say, Mater from Cars. Yet, these are the people in the driver's seat as the country heads for what might be Act II of the Great Recession, unless progressives, centrists, and others edified with high school civics adopt a new strategy to counter them.
And counter them we must, for they and their ilk are nothing new, but representative of a recurring and quite dangerous political strain that has always been with us. Their undermining of the traditions, culture, and give-and-take necessary for any democracy to function has had destructive results on free societies in the past, and taken down a Republic or three.
This is what President Obama seems constitutionally unable to grasp. That even if they are a sometimes useful foil, and (sadly) sometimes equally useful in getting him the policy results he wishes, by definition the Tea Party brigade sees any compromise as evil, because everyone to the left of Pat Buchanan is viewed as a mortal threat to their imagined perfect society, which looks a lot like Utah.
With fewer minorities. And a lot more Jesus.
None other than former Secretary of State and one-time Republican wunderkind Henry Kissinger understood this to be true. In his first book on the Napoleonic wars, Kissinger offered an almost perfect description - on the international stage - of what can happen when an entity with no interest in compromise and no problem destroying the current order gains control of major political party or country:
"It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is 'good faith' and 'willingness to come to an agreement'"; in a revolutionary situation "each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities. In such circumstances many will see the early demands of a revolutionary power as 'merely tactical' and will delude themselves that the revolutionary power would actually accept the status quo with a few modifications."
Kissinger concluded that, "Coalitions against revolutions have usually come about only at the end of a long series of betrayals ... for the powers which represent legitimacy ... cannot 'know' that their antagonist is not amenable to 'reason' until he has demonstrated [that he is not]."
From its inception, the tea party is the very definition of the type of revolutionary movement. Until Democrats, and their leader in the White House, realize they need to stop calling people like Paul Ryan "courageous" and "serious," and start fighting fire with fire, Michelle Bachmann and her creepy pinwheel eyes are going to continue to get their way at the expense of American values and the middle-class that once made this country great.
The late, great historian Richard Hofstadter added further insight into just the type of "movement" we're dealing with, in his 1964 award-winning tome, "The Paranoid Style of American Politics". In it, he outlines the psychological origins of the type of crazed, tea-bagger style of all-or-nothing dedication to an absolute end, when he wrote of their forebears:
"He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated - if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention."
In other words, any compromise, no matter how small, is seen as an act tantamount to treason, which is precisely why we need to stop engaging these tottering tea lovers, because they simply do not believe in the workings of democracy.
The Republican Party is no longer the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or even Reagan - the GOP in its current form is nothing more than the party of Ted Nugent - hopefully with somewhat better hair.
Speaking of Lincoln, he proffered to Congress in December of 1862 that, "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise - with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthral ourselves, and then we shall save our country."
What he said.
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This column was first published at Al Jazeera English