Exploiting fear for political success

1976: Jimmy Carter is elected President and Malcolm Wallop is elected Senator.

1980: Ronnie Reagan is elected President and mostly Democrats are elected to Congress.

Republicans hold the White House for 12 years, only to founder when George HW Bush, forever trashing the promise “Read My Lips,” agrees to raise taxes. And Ross Perot, inventor of the shibboleth “Giant Sucking Sound,” steals enough Bush votes to elect Bill Clinton, a centrist Blue Dog Democrat, as President in 1992. Meanwhile Democrats hold Congress.

The groundswell for Perot, like decades-earlier groundswells for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, was little different from the tea party voter pot-boiling-over electoral surge of 2010. It’s like the Arab Spring; long-suppressed resentment about perceived unfair treatment finds just enough common ground in the community to, well, boil over.

Tito held Yugoslavia together against multitudes of festering nationalist factions until he inconveniently died. Decades of horrifying ethnic cleansing, wars, massacres, unspeakable atrocities, followed the evaporation of his clamping grip on the nation. The clamping grip may have offended our notions of freedom, but they suppressed bloodshed.

Mubarak in Egypt, Hussein in Iraq, even Genghis Khan, successfully suppressed little and big urges of racial or national independence in order to maintain their empires.

At least, no matter how bad the gridlock is in DC, it’s not like those other countries.

Enter Barack Obama. It’s all about which voters turn out and which stay home. Except probably some voters who elected Obama for “Change You Can Believe In” and then freaked out in response to the ugly backlash to health care reform, voted again for “change,” choosing Joe Walsh and Michele Bachmann.

In 2008, Obama and his union supporters turned out the vote. Apparently those galvanized voters had stayed at home watching soap operas during the two preceding elections, when former baseball-manager George W. Bush, who could not steal a base but he stole one election from Al Gore, only to four years later smear John Kerry as a fake war hero (hey, tea party dudes, conservatives, MIA/POW flag wavers, wouldn’t you prefer a decorated Vietnam veteran to a draft-dodger? Apparently not.)

Tea party people are worried about jobs, Social Security, Medicare, their retirement accounts, and some other stuff. Some are racists. Mostly they are scared. They support tea party Republican pledges to not raise taxes when the taxes which might be raised will not affect them at all. Only the rich are taxed, today or if the Bush tax cuts are abolished.

Where are we going with this? People vote for change. They don’t vote for the same. Carter, Reagan, Clinton, W, Obama, were all elected by people who wanted change. And when the magician du jour did not produce the desired change, he got the cursed mid-term electoral landslide of the opposition to hobble their ability to do anything for the second half of the term.

The Sage Grouse has consistently hammered the “Tea Party.” However, there is no actual Tea Party. It is only a concept, but nonetheless deserving of some hammering. There are many scared people out there, watching the dollar plummet and jobs go to Asia, freaked out about Obama and Pelosi spending tax dollars to achieve prosperity, viewing the health care bill as a massive government power grab. And there is a bunch of ambitious neo-politicians who find it all too easy to punch those fear buttons (a 12 year old could pull this off, or any evangelist) and watch those internet fundraising dollars roll in.

Exploiting fear is a time-honored recipe for political success. The North Koreans do it daily. Hitler had it down. Arab leaders, recently, not so much.

Post-debt ceiling crisis averted, let’s recognize a few things. Obama was elected in the midst of economic meltdown to rescue the nation from GW Bush and Dick Cheney’s eight-year hegemony over the economy (afflicted by a mortgage crisis which is laid more at the doorstep of the Democrats than Bush and Cheney, although they were plenty complicit), because people were frightened and they liked Obama’s confident jaunty step up to the podium. That was 2008.

Two short years later: Obama could not suddenly make everything better, and in this era of streaming movies, Transformers, Iron Man movies, iPhones, apps, Google VV, tweets, in all a massive redefinition of instant gratification, a President who does not solve problems within one or two news cycles is perceived as inept.

So “Tea Party” activists, funded by rich tax-aversive Republicans, do a landslide in the mid-term elections and flood Congress with no-compromise ideologues who just can’t work within the normal Congressional culture. These legislators will not work deals to bring home the bacon. They may not be re-electable. They may not care. They have no cred with mainstream legislators. They may not care.

The idea that elected representatives would not surrender to the DC culture of “compromise to get my constituents’ bridge to nowhere” is new but introduces sand in the Vaseline.

Where do we go with this? Tea Party folk are partly racist, partly fronting for Karl Rove and rich people, and partly sincerely scared about their futures. Could be a powerful coalition, but one which is hard to work with. Independent voters overlap heavily with this group. Democrats don’t know what to do, and when confused people hit the “default” button, they might vote with the Tea Party.

I don’t know what to do. How do you stimulate job growth, make health care affordable, reassure foreign investors and not spend like drunken sailors?

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  1. “Tea Party folk are partly racist, partly fronting for Karl Rove and rich people, and partly sincerely scared about their futures.”

    Really? Really?! Come on man that is the best you can do?

    Tell me, why are we racist? Because we are opposed to a black president’s agenda? The same agenda that has led to the highest minority unemployment in modern history? Or because we favor taking outdated gun laws off the books, the majority of which were put in place in order to keep blacks from defending themselves against racist democrats? Or is it because we oppose so many of the social justice programs that have brutally torn apart most of our inner cities?

    I don’t even know what to say to the accusation of being a front to Karl Rove and rich people. I am a capitalist and I do hope to start a business someday and if it takes off be rewarded for my hard work and risk taking…. Maybe that entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to defend free enterprise and the capitalist system is what your referring to??? I don’t really know…

    As far as being scared about my future you are just straight up wrong on that, I am extremely optimistic that the Barrack Obama will fail to enact most of his liberal, statist agenda (thanks in part to the many other people just like me who contributed to the landslide you talked about last election) and that the backlash against reckless spending and the welfare state will be large enough to propel us to a balanced budget and prosperity.

    I usually don’t write long responses to articles, but I really enjoy the Sage Grouse articles, so I deemed him worthy of some constructive criticism. As a veteran of OIF and a college student (civil engineering and economic science at University of Wyoming) as well as an activist for various conservative causes, it gets very tiring to hear the same old song about how conservatives/the tea party are/is racist, or are a front for rich people (still not sure what that means) , or are a bunch of shot-gun toting, redneck hicks. Especially with no justification whatsoever. I expect better from you Sage Grouse.

    Best Wishes,


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