It was a scene right out of Alice in Wonderland. We had tumbled down the rabbit hole. Along with thousands of other Fourth of July parade watchers lined up along Coeur d’Alene’s main street, my friends and I watched the giant earth-moving machine roll down Sherman Avenue, looking every bit as terrifying as the rock crushing machines in the movie Avatar. (You may remember the implication that these machines were turning the green planet of Pandora into an ugly brown wasteland.)
High up on the deck of this frightening apparatus were the local Tea Partiers, waving flags and singing “This land is my land, this land is your land, from California to the New York island…”
The contradiction was striking between the baby-terrifying vehicle and the familiar words of Woody Guthrie, famous for his great folksongs and left-wing politics. The crowd where I was standing watched in baffled silence.
The Tea Party phenomenon is itself puzzling in its contradictions. It is fueled by anger, aimed primarily at the federal government. Yet it appears to be fervently red, white and blue patriotic. Apparently, they love the country and are hopping mad at it — all at the same time.
The makeup of Tea Party gatherings is predominantly older and white. The NAACP recently accused the movement of containing “racial elements” in its midst. The torrent of anti-Obama and anti-immigrant rhethoric that some Tea Partiers emit reeks of racism. To its credit, the Tea Party Federation recently ousted conservative commentator Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express.
A central thread running through Tea Party literature is a strong desire for government to make itself smaller. You will remember that Alice found a bottle with a label tied around its neck reading “DRINK ME” in large letters. Upon drinking the contents, Alice, shrank to 10 inches high, which she regarded as “curiouser and curiouser.”
Alice also spent time at the Mad Tea Party with the Hatter, Dormouse and March Hare — a party that was filled with riddles with no answers, not unlike today’s Tea Party agenda. May I suggest that the Tea Party is just one example of a strange, illogical disconnect that has emerged on the political scene in Idaho and the country today?
Curiouser and curiouser.While Tea Partiers’ positions may stretch the boundaries of our imagination, they were outdone by the Idaho Republican Party’s platform drawn up in Idaho Falls last month. It’s fair to assume that the lively Tea Party presence in our state influenced the very conservative bent of the Republican platform.
Idaho Republicans must have been drinking from the “DRINK ME” bottle when they added the plank urging repeal of the 17 th Amendment — the direct election of senators by popular vote. It would be a genuine shrinkage of democracy to return the choice of U. S. Senators to the caucus rooms of state legislatures and the good ol’ boy system. Big-money interests would love to send their lobbyists into that secret scramble for power.
The amendment that gave each of us a vote for the two senators each state sends to Washington, D.C., was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1913 after ratification by 36 states, including Idaho. The enactment of direct election of senators was a result of the populist movement that sought to bring political power to ordinary people. Isn’t that a goal of the Tea Party?
The Republican platform also calls for abolishing the nonpartisan reapportionment commission, which was created by statute in 1993. Before that change, legislators were drawing their own district maps, each legislator looking out for his or her own seat and political party. It would be another step backwards through the looking glass to hand the job of drawing legislative district boundaries back to the legislators themselves.
As a card-carrying enviro, I blanch at the Republican plank seeking to turn federal lands over to the state. Idaho is 49 th in the nation in the amount we spend on students. If we can’t even support schools for our children, how on earth could we replace the federal dollars that support personnel in the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the many other federal agencies that bring money into our Idaho economy?
Along with privatizing Social Security, the Republican platform would abolish the Federal Reserve Bank and back the U.S. dollar with gold and silver reserves. My guess — backed up by a lot of economists — is such a change would produce a drastic deflation and instant depression following the complete destabilization of the U.S. dollar.
The loyalty oath section of the Republican platform has drawn the most attention and has been denounced by several Republican officeholders. If the platform is followed as published, Republican candidates for office will be required to sign a “disclosure statement” supporting the Idaho Republican Party platform 100 percent, no questions asked. Failure to comply, I suppose, would result in an “off with her head” moment, just as was demanded by the Queen of Hearts.
But we must remember her retort to the queen. “Who cares for you?” asked Alice (who had grown to her full size by this time). “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”
Mary Lou Reed is a former Democratic state senator in Idaho. She lives in Coeur d’Alene. Send comments firstname.lastname@example.org.