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September 22, 2017

Progressives Are Drawing the Wrong Conclusions From the Tea Party Insurrection


There’s a prevailing sentiment among many progressives that Tea Party obstructionism was successful because it effectively blocked President Obama from enacting his agenda; also it resulted in Republicans winning two consecutive midterms and now a presidential election. One can certainly understand how tempting it might be to draw that conclusion. To tell you the truth, I often find myself doing the same.

The problem with that sentiment is that it only tells part of the story. Yes, Tea Party obstructionism did block Obama from passing much of his agenda, not to mention blocking, shamefully, the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. But the way I see it, the rise of the Tea Party was mainly due to Democratic malpractice on a massive scale. Put succinctly, Democrats took their eye off the ball and provided this movement with the impetus needed to seize power. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the Tea Party merely filled the void the Democrats created.

But as a political movement, the Tea Party has virtually no accomplishments to show apart from winning elections. So thorough was its takeover of the GOP that the Party, despite its electoral success, is no longer mainstream. Worse, the Tea Party created deep fishers within the Party that have ostensibly crippled its ability to govern. Think about it: Republicans now control both Houses of Congress and the White House, yet Speaker Paul Ryan was unable to get a bill passed that would’ve repealed the Affordable Care Act. Astonishing. If that’s what progressives view as a success, I’ll pass.

Yet progressives, at least most of them, seem determined to adopt the Tea Party strategy, flaws and all, and force Democrats to toe the line. To coin a phrase from the movie Network, they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. And just like their Tea Party counterparts, they are exerting pressure on their Congressional leaders to stand up to Republicans and Donald Trump. Anyone not on board is being threatened with a primary challenge.

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch has become a litmus test for the Left. Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes covering politics knows that Gorsuch is going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, either by securing the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster or by a simple 51 vote majority. The former requires Democratic support; the latter requires Mitch McConnell to invoke the nuclear option and end the Senate filibuster. Progressives are demanding that Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats filibuster Gorsuch when he comes up for a vote on Thursday. Schumer knows full well the filibuster will fail, but he basically has no choice. If he doesn’t comply he faces a rebellion among the rank and file, which might very well threaten his position as Minority Leader.

This is exactly what happened to John Boehner a couple of years ago. Basically he and the Republican leadership had lost control of the House conference. They were unable to rein in the more extreme members of the Party. The result was that we had a government shutdown and damn near defaulted on the debt.

This insistence on cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is exactly what’s wrong with politics today. As much as I agree with progressives that this seat was stolen, the strategy that they are forcing Democrats to employ is not only foolish, it is potentially fatal to any prospects the Party may have to block future legislation and the next Supreme Court nominee, which you can bet the ranch will make Gorsuch look like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It is time for cooler heads to prevail here. Schumer must not lose control of his caucus the same way Boehner lost control of his conference. He must come to his senses and not submit to this lust for vengeance from his left. He cannot let the tail wag the dog. Say what you will about Harry Reid, he would never have allowed this type of grandstanding.

This is Chuck Schumer’s first test as Senate Minority Leader. How he handles it will go a long way towards determining the fate of his party, and perhaps the whole country.

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Peter Fegan

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