Commentary: Tea Party Follies
Half a century ago, there was a movement very much like today's Tea Party. They believed our nation was being destroyed by a conspiracy to make this a socialist country.
They didn't like taxes and hated Medicare as much as today's Tea Party hates what they call "Obamacare."
That movement captured the Republican Party in 1964, and nominated their hero, Senator Barry Goldwater, for president.
He accepted the nomination in a speech which would make today's Tea Party activists swoon. "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," he proclaimed, as his supporters jeered and hooted at the mainstream Republicans they despised.
His followers didn't call themselves Tea Party members, but true conservatives. They believed there were millions of others like themselves who had stopped voting because they were disgusted with both major parties. But they thought they would show up and vote to put a true conservative in the White House.
On Election Day, they found out just how deluded they were. Goldwater suffered one of the worst defeats of all time. What little support he got came largely from racists in the Deep South.
That was the only election ever in which a Republican presidential candidate got less than one third of the vote in Michigan.
Well, those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Yesterday, a group of Tea Party activists condemned Governor Rick Snyder and called on others to sit out the election next year. The governor's crime seems to be what a sane person would call polite and rational behavior. They are angry that he invited the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to Michigan, to discuss the case for expanding Medicaid. They are also outraged that he wants people to pay to fix our crumbling roads.
In a remarkably wacky letter, they said the cabinet secretary was "a representative of the most destructive American president of our history as a nation." In a sign that they have lost any grasp of reality, the Tea Party leaders charged the governor with ignoring the "will of the people in his own state." Well, to be polite, that is just plain nuts. We had a presidential election seven months ago that was a referendum on President Obama, and Michigan voters overwhelmingly reelected him.
Polls show Michigan voters support by more than two to one expanding Medicaid, especially when they understand it would provide half a million people with health insurance at a cost to the state that is far smaller than the economic benefits it brings.
By most measures, this governor has, if anything, pandered to the far right, by, among other things, participating in ramming through a right to work law and signing a bill allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets.
Yet because he supports federal law and thinks we need good roads, the Tea Party would apparently rather help elect a liberal Democrat governor.
What Snyder should now realize is that trying to win over these people is a lose-lose situation. Back in Goldwater's day, his supporters' bumper stickers said, "In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right." But there was another sticker that quickly became more popular. It said, "In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts."
Governor, there's a lesson there.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.