COMMENTARY -- There is an actual war going on for the very soul of the Republican Party. It is characterized by the moderate and pragmatic voices like House Speaker John Boehner on one side, desperately attempting to keep his party united, and the more extreme and intractable voices like Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas on the other. When a Republican politician seems a bit too moderate or flexible, the tea party movement has for the last few years mounted opposing campaigns against those politicians, offering up those further Right on the political spectrum and far less willing to compromise with Independents, moderates, and liberals. Such a battle for yet another seat in Congress is taking place in the Indiana Primary between incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar and tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, and it looks as if yet another moderate conservative voice might be replaced. But if there were no more substantive reasons to vote for Sen. Lugar than those that endorse, then Indianans should consider those endorsing Mourdock also as reasons to vote for Lugar.
Within the past week, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have all endorsed Mourdock for the Republican senate seat. For those looking for reasons, those three endorsements -- all extremists on various legislative and social issues -- for Mourlock should put an Indianan's vote firmly in the ballot box for Sen. Lugar.
There is no one person in the Washington corridors of power more responsible for congressional gridlock on major issues than Norquist, the lobbyist who heads the Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group that famously coerces (through peer pressure and various political means) incoming conservatives (nearly all Republicans) to sign the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," which stipulates that while the politician is in office, they never do anything that would raise taxes. Given that the federal government could not operate without taxes and given that the burgeoning population of America demands more money for infrastructural, federal, and social programs, such a pledge -- and the adamant adherence to it (those who break the pledge are opposed in subsequent elections) have been the crux of a number of budgetary and fiscal issues, including the resumption of tax levels to levels predating the Bush tax cuts. Norquist endorsed Mourdock after the contender agreed to sign his pledge, something that Lugar has never done since it was first presented by Norquist in the mid-80s.
Sarah Palin's endorsement speaks for itself in that the former Alaska governor has proved to be nothing more than a talking point mouthpiece for the far right who can't even justify her own beliefs with a coherent sentence. Once a fairly competent governor, her vainglorious reach for fortune, fame, and power within conservative circles after her unsuccessful attempt at becoming vice president has only served to polarize not only the Left against the Right but even portions of the Right against itself when she doggedly latches onto a position.
(Interestingly, Palin's partner in the failed 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has endorsed Sen. Lugar.)
Rep. Michele Bachmann's endorsement has just about as much credibility as Palin's (the two politicians are so alike, they could be political twins), except that Bachmann's is supported with her titular role as head of the Tea Party Caucus in Washington. She is one of Norquist's signers, a staunch pro-marriage Constitution amendment/anti-gay advocate, thinks god talks to her, and has had no problem defunding social entitlement programs that are primarily the only source of health care for women among America's poor.
Right-wing extremism has gripped a fair portion of the GOP, all in the name of being truly principled and truly conservative. However, what it truly represents is rigid polemics that brooks little tolerance, a system of governance that disregards the great diversity of thought and culture that is the present United States. It is a throwback to a more isolationist nativism while incongruously maintaining an militaristic foreign policy that borders on the imperialistic. Under the populist idea of fiscal responsibility, the tea party and like-minded conservatives were instrumental in heralding in the so-called "red wave" of Republican congressmen in 2010. But the intractableness of the newly elected legislators increased the level of gridlock in Washington and further polarized the two major political parties into Left and Right wings. The nation's governing body that depends upon a certain amount of diplomacy and compromise to get anything done could find common ground
Sen. Lugar has been a voice of reason in Congress for years, instrumental in many bipartisan efforts in his nearly 36-year career. But bipartisan politics seems to have become akin to a scorned or anathemic concept to those moving further toward the conservative Right. It is his voice of moderation and compromise that polarists like Norquist, Palin, and Bachmann, not to mention tea party factions, would like to see silenced. Getting Lugar out of the Senate and replacing him with Mourdock would strengthen the position of the far Right, presenting less flexibility on the Republican side with which the Democrats might find compromise. With less compromise, federal legislation becomes either/or, oppositional, and does not find passage through the congressional chambers. Less gets accomplished. And that in a governing body that already enjoys historically low approval ratings in their job performance.
Often taking as a motto the old Thomas Paine maxim, "That government is best which governs least," the far Right and the tea party movement have started taking it to extremes, defunding social programs and education, disallowing the re-imposition of taxes (not new taxes but old measures alleviated through tax breaks) while at the same time protecting corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy (while decrying the continued fiscal deficits and national debt), and continuing an increasing hegemonic approach to foreign policy that in itself is ultimately unsustainable. With individuals like Norquist and his pledge signers advocating no taxes and decreased taxes (which help enable the rising national debt just as much as increased spending) and individuals like Palin and Bachmann openly preaching some kind of American exceptionalism and purity of cause (often religious allusions of divinely-inspired manifest destiny), getting to the governing least part is already a road that is being heavily traveled.
The problem comes when Congress can reach the extension of the motto, where increasing gridlock and less taxes and defunding and governing least eventually means not governing at all. Electing those less likely to govern through compromise (on the Right or Left) only promote stalled and ineffectual government. Mourdock represents more of the "my way is the only way" style of thinking that has become the mantra of the far Right, causing the GOP to increasingly be seen as the "Party of 'No.'" Electing a politician supported by power players like Grover Norquist and Sarah Palin -- and far Right extremists like Michele Bachmann -- will only contribute to the problem that is at the root of Congress' unpopularity -- their inability to compromise and legislate in accordance with what is best for the United States and its people.
The Indiana Primary is May 8.
(photo credit: Robert D. Ward, Wikimedia Commons)