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December 3, 2012 / Sandy Asher


Ebook jacket art for AMERICA – THE OWNER’S MANUAL

Please note:  Here are a couple of short essays adapted from guest posts in Shea Magazine,  “Playing with Fire:  Paranoid Politics American Style” is the final “official” post in the America – The Owner’s Manual series.  A collection of those posts (minus the August election prediction, “It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid” and the two essays below, but plus additional sources and resources for each essay) is now available as an ebook for only 99c:

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If you’ve enjoyed these posts, I would very much appreciate your “like,” “share,” and/or review of the book on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, and/or the above sites.

Many thanks to all of my followers, here in America and abroad.  You’ve made this a gratifying and enjoyable experience.



On November 2, 2010, in the aftermath of the 2010 mid-term elections, an essay in the Christian Science Monitor similar to others that appeared in the media concluded that “the emergence of the Tea Party movement is arguably the most dynamic element of the 2010 mid-term elections.” After all, Tea Party backed candidates like Rand Paul and Jake DeMint won Senate seats, Nikki Haley became governor of South Carolina, and twenty-eight house members benefited from its stamp of approval.

The problem with the Christian Science Monitor analysis was that it inflated the power of the Tea Party because it failed to place its triumph in historical perspective. It ignored the fact that Tea Party appeal, even at its zenith, stopped outside the borders of the most densely-populated states and metropolitan areas.

Nor did it observe parallels with the Gingrich Revolution that took place early in President Clinton’s first term.  The House Speaker’s “Contract with America” pledged objectives strikingly similar to those offered by Obama’s Tea Party critics: a balanced budget amendment, cuts in capital gains and personal income taxes, and limitations on corporate liability. In his bellicose partisan rhetoric, the Georgian attacked liberals as “pathetic,” “corrupt,” “left wing elitists.” In the 1994 mid-term elections, Republicans gained fifty-two seats in the House and eight in the Senate.

Subsequently, the news media announced the end of the New Deal and the completion of the Reagan Revolution. Yet two years later Clinton easily won re-election, and Gingrich was forced to give up his position as Speaker of the House. Clearly the Gingrich Revolution and its politics of outrage lacked staying power.  It was better at engendering anger than it was at sustaining positive enthusiasm.

The Tea Party (more accurately, local Parties) was largely a white grassroots movement begun by those unhappy with the direction the country was going and lacking confidence in either of the two mainstream parties to change it. Supposedly, it drew inspiration from the events of December 16, 1763, when several dozen laborers, artisans, and apprentices went to Boston harbor and dumped overboard more than three hundred chests of tea stored on British ships. Their action that day was a continuation of colonial challenges against the mother country’s right to impose taxes without representation. However, the Tea Party directed its protests against the right of its own government to raise taxes to reduce the size of the nation’s deficit.

The dire economic landscape following the 2008 crash spurred fears of an even more dismal future, thereby widening (for the moment) the appeal of the Tea Party message beyond its typical narrow outreach.  It used its electoral clout and threats of political retaliation to transform the Republican Party into the “party of no,” one that automatically led to rejection of Democrat ideas for righting the economy.  It eschewed compromise as, for example, when it forced Speaker John Boehner to pull back on a $4 billion deficit reduction plan the two sides had agreed on.

In the 2012 elections, it bullied the GOP into not opposing far-out choices whose election prospects were dubious, such as those of Senate candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana), who by “misspeaking about rape” lost all but certain seats in these conservative states.

To win its endorsement, during the Republican presidential debates Mitt Romney veered sharply to the right and dug a hole he could not get out of; for example, advocating self-deportation as the best way for handling the problem of illegal immigrants. His selection of Paul Ryan, a darling of the Tea Party, as his running mate, was a bid to shore up his credentials with the group.

Throughout American history, third party movements have had short shelf lives, among them the anti-Catholic, anti- immigrant Know-Nothings of the 1850s and the Populists of the 1890s who called for reforms such as the direct election of Senators to make government more democratic.  Eventually third party agendas have been modified and absorbed by the mainstream parties – Republican and Democrat – and their progenitors vanished from the political scene.

The Tea Party’s aversion to centralization meant that it never become a third party with national reach. What it did was to temporarily sabotage the traditional Republican Party with an in extremis, anti-government agenda that was overwhelmingly rejected in the 2012 elections. In the wake of that defeat, if the Republican Party wanted to remain viable, it had no choice except to bridle its aging “young guns,” and not try to recruit more of them.

Don’t expect the tea kettle to whistle loudly again anytime soon.


In the weeks after the 2012 elections, a deluge of newspaper columnists and talking head commentators have been confidently predicting what the outcome means for the future of American politics.  Unfortunately, as happened with their pre-election predictions, the pundits are misreading the evidence.   They carelessly project trends, if not permanent realignments, that are far from certain.

From the Right, we’ve heard from Rush Limbaugh that “we’ve lost the country,” and from Stanley Kurtz that “the existence of America as we know it is in doubt.”  Star Parker announced the triumph of those “not having traditional values on family, sex, and abortion.”  These plaintive cries reflect shock, anger, and nostalgia about the passing of an imagined America rather than serious analysis of what just transpired.

On the question of what to do in the wake of defeat, Charles Krauthammer insisted on “no reinvention when none is needed,” and that the party “required only a single policy change: border defense plus amnesty” to get back into the business of winning.  Kurt Schlichter’s laughable solution was for Republicans “to do what guerrillas do and infiltrate into the enemy’s turf, slipping conservatives into mainstream media, academia, and the entertainment world.”  (Apparently, he missed Clint Eastwood’s conversation with an empty chair.)

Rick Santorum was more in tune with the evidence when he called on Republicans “to build a new box and offer Americans a broader, bolder and more inclusive vision of freedom and opportunity, as well as the tools to use them,” exactly what he was unable to do in his own presidential campaign.

From the Left, we’ve gotten exaggerations about the scope of the Obama consensus.

Liberal activist Robert Creamer interpreted the vote as approval “for a society where everyone gets a fair share and plays by the same rules…. whether you are a man or a woman, a gay or a straight.” Joan Walsh considered Obama’s reelection “a victory for the Democratic ideal of activist government, and a mandate for more of it.” Paul Krugman’s thought the win showed “a lot of liberal ideas have become perfectly mainstream.”  Eugene Robinson referred to a “multihued, multicultural future.”  Maureen Dowd rhapsodized how supporters “lifted up Obama” with the hope that he would now be more amenable to dramatic change.

Drowned out in the euphoria and the rhetoric of wish fulfillment were the president’s more modest and realistic post-election response: “I’ve got one mandate.  I’ve got a mandate to help middle class families and families that are working hard to get into the middle class.”

Democrats were understandably overjoyed at the results of the 2012 elections. They gained two Senate seats and five new women senators joined their ranks. In the House, Democrats added eight seats, while there were eleven fewer Tea Party-supported candidates from among those who sought re-election.

Understated in the post-election celebrations were several important inconvenient truths:

  • On election eve, a majority of Americans did not favor Obamacare, the President’s approval rating stood at only 50%, and a majority of Americans wanted to “drill, baby, drill.”
  • Voter turnout for the “critical election” was appreciably lower than it was for those of 2008 and 2004 – 57.5%, versus 62.3%, and 60.4%, respectively.
  •  Obama took the popular vote by only 3.2%, about half of what he received in 2008, against a weak opponent who was not enthusiastically embraced by his own party.
  • In the swing state of Ohio, Obama’s margin of victory was less than 2%; in Virginia around 3%, while in Florida, it came in at under 1%. The close results cannot be blamed on voter suppression, though a number of Republican legislators worked toward that goal under the pretext of preventing voter fraud.

If Romney had won some of these swing states and/or captured the 44% of Hispanics who voted for George W. Bush, and if the Republican Senate nominees from Missouri and Indiana had not self-destructed by making idiotic comments about rape, we could be having a very different conversation about the meaning of the 2012 contest.

As things stand, the election results endorsed President Obama governing from the center-left, not the left-center.  The wealthy will pay more, but not on the scale of massive wealth transfers that characterized the Great Society of the 1960s. The president also received confirmation to use the federal government for job creation, for continuing to offer programs for the disadvantaged, and in acting as a first responder to weather-related catastrophes.

The Republicans got a mandate to modify an agenda based exclusively on competition/individualism without compassion, and to offer more to people of color and women.

The mandate for both parties was to work together to end gridlock in Washington and to find a balanced solution to deficit reduction.

As I write these words, there are signs that elected officials from both parties understand the real mandates they have been given.



Leave a Comment
  1. “As I write these words, there are signs that elected officials from both parties understand the real mandates they have been given.” — Harvey, as much as I have enjoyed your perceptive comments, I think this conclusion represents the triumph of hope over reality.

    What signs do you see? Certainly not the ones I do.

    The way I see it, both sides in this argument know the likely end-game, and they are acting out a piece of political theater designed to satisfy their bases enough to accept the necessary compromise. Only the President, who no longer has to be concerned with re-election, can be a statesman. But he, too, is playing his role for the sake of his party.

    After the compromise is taken care of and the next deficit ceiling debate ends, I see a Congress returning to its state of dysfunction and looking ahead to the 2014 and 2016 elections with self-interest dictating their actions.

    • Harvey Asher / Dec 4 2012 5:55 pm

      Fred — You might be right. From my point of view, the factors you need to look at are these: Obama will stick to his guns about having the wealthy “pay a little more.” The Republicans will come around to this position because they don’t want to be cast as the party that refused to compromise, which would leave them in the position of being defenders of the rich at the expense of the middle class. Though not a tsunami, a number of influential Republicans have broken with the Norquist pledge.

      Politicians always act in their own self-interest. It is in the Republican self-interest to compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, women’s rights to control their own bodies, and, in general, to move away from being perceived as the party of a diminishing base of white males that cannot win them elections. The fear of self-destruction will lead them to become reluctant compromisers in these areas. That is to say, pragmatism — not a change of heart — will soften their rigidity.

      So I am less convinced than you that there will be a complete return to pre-election politics.

  2. Dorothy Webb / Dec 4 2012 2:48 pm

    I truly appreciate your thoughtful, rational writings. I have learned a great deal from them. Thank you. Dorothy Webb

    • Harvey Asher / Dec 4 2012 5:57 pm

      Dorothy — I’m pleased to hear that my posts have been helpful to you. Thank you for writing and letting me know.

  3. Lynn Hinds / Dec 5 2012 3:05 pm

    Harvey the laments that “we’ve lost our country” reminded me of a conversation I overheard in a barber shop years ago. Frank Sinatra was singing on the radio and a customer said, “Sinatra ain’t what he used to be.” The barber replied “Sinatra was never what he used to be.”

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