Last January, after the tragic attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that left her severely wounded and six people dead, President Barack Obama made an impassioned plea to the nation to tone down political and partisan rhetoric. So it's both surprising and disturbing that on the day that Representative Giffords made her triumphal return to the House floor last week, it was amid the cross-fire of verbal artillery launched by many of her compatriots at House members who possess opposing views.
When the deficit and debt limit debate first began, so did name-calling and wild accusations against the tea party. In the beginning, everyone from Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wassermann Schultz to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with many other politicos and pundits, sang in unending chorus: "The tea partiers are holding the country hostage!" Who knew then that the choir was just getting warmed up?
Consider this excerpt from "The tea party's terrorist tactics" by William Yeomans, published in Politico late last month: "It has become commonplace to call the tea party faction in the House 'hostage takers.' But they have now become full-blown terrorists. … Tea party members must reassess their distorted vision of patriotism and join true patriots in Congress in raising the debt ceiling promptly until 2013, without inflicting further economic harm on already struggling Americans."
Mr. Yeoman's view enjoys some good company. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times equated the tea party members of Congress with Hezbollah. Nicholas Kristof, also of the Times, suggests they pose as big a threat as al-Qaida.
According to another report in Politico, Vice President Joe Biden said of members of the tea party, "They have acted like terrorists," expressing his agreement with Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania at a Democratic Caucus meeting.
Vituperation has been ratcheted way up inside the Beltway because Washington's political aristocracy senses a palpable threat from the tea party movement.
Recently, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blurted, "What we're trying to do is save the world from the Republican budget. We're trying to save life on this planet as we know it today" (The Weekly Standard, July 28) — a wild-sounding but very true statement, if you're Nancy Pelosi. The former speaker fears for the very existence of the insular, privileged world of the ruling aristocracy, of which she once was queen.
Then there's Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri, who claimed that the debt ceiling deal was a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." He explained, "What you see is antithetical to everything the religions of the world teach: take care of the poor, take care of the aged." Really? The tea party is akin to the Antichrist?
Richard Cohen of the Washington Post invoked Hannah Arendt and her "… observation that totalitarian movements use democratic institutions to destroy democracy." The tea party is a totalitarian movement? Up until now it has often been decried as a leaderless, grass-roots movement of rubes. Which is it?
Dwayne Wickham, writing for USA Today, said: "This total lack of respect is downright contemptible — if not unpatriotic … Today, you might not see the overt actions of racist southern governors like Ross Barnett or George Wallace in the 1960s. But the presence of Jim Crow Jr. — a more subtle form of racism — is there." Racism — really?
Along the way, there have been plenty of other colorful snipes at tea partiers. Maureen Dowd described them as "towel-snapping Tea Party crazies … who hate government." Tea partiers hate government? Ouch!
And it's not just the left flank of Washington's aristocracy that expresses animosity toward the tea party. Many on the right do as well, because tea partiers are not easily controlled by the Republican Party establishment. Echoing a Wall Street Journal editorial, former presidential candidate John McCain, speaking from the Senate floor, derided tea partiers as "Hobbits."
To sum it up, drawing upon the combined wisdom of esteemed members of both houses of Congress, the vice president and the most elite pundits and members of the press: Tea partiers are totalitarian, anti-religion, racist, towel-snapping, terrorist Hobbits who would be at home in the company of Hezbollah and al-Qaida. Wow.
Members of Washington's political aristocracy are worried, and not because they feel threatened by a small, right-wing "lunatic fringe." On the contrary, Washington is worried precisely because the tea party is not a tiny movement of extremists and radicals. It is not even right wing, in the traditional sense. It is Main Street America — a huge coalition that rejects the very concept of an American political aristocracy. It stands in judgment against Washington's hubris, unaccountability and profligate ways.
A vast, seemingly unbridgeable chasm exists between the political aristocracy and Main Street America: According to a Rasmussen poll in March, 83 percent of mainstream voters are angry about the government's policies while, 76 percent of the political class are not. Main Street can't comprehend the utter lack of common sense exhibited by Washington. By the same token, the political class can't believe that ordinary Americans no longer blindly accept their every word.
A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in January showed that a whopping 71 percent of Americans said it's important that the new Republican-controlled 112th Congress take into account the objectives and positions of the tea party movement when it comes to dealing with the problems facing the nation. This was true of 88 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats. Astounding? Only to those who dwell inside the Beltway.
Over the last 21/2 years, the tea party has proved to be the most visible expression of the political will of Main Street America. Its appearance represents a growing, massive, permanent populist opposition of millions of Americans against the statism of Washington, D.C. It is a sign of a rising tide of ordinary Americans becoming thoroughly engaged in every aspect of government — an unnerving, existential threat to many in our nation's capital.
Doug Mainwaring, a resident of Potomac, is a cofounder of National Capital Tea Party Patriots. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun