The audacity of fear
Fear is the most natural of reactions. It is a mechanism without which we could never have evolved. It is an instant response to an instant threat to our being. And it leads us to react immediately and viscerally too – fight or flight.
The economic downturn in the US has proven a lot more stubborn than even Obama’s top economic advisors predicted and as a result fear is percolating through the veins of the American body politic. It is a natural reaction, and in response, a swathe of the electorate have opted to fight. This is the origin of the Tea Party. Parallel expressions of anger, at a time of global downturn and austerity, are materialising across the Western world. The Tea Party is different in one respect, however. Their voice has been amplified and their impact has been inflated by certain elements of the Republican Party (Palin et al) Fox News, and opportunist big business jumping on the bandwagon to promote their own deregulatory self-interest. Consequently, the Tea Party is punching above its weight today, achieving disproportionate attention, credit and – after last week’s mid term elections – influence.
Candidate after candidate gave victory speeches that paid homage not to the Republican Party, but to the Tea Party. They are like an entryist group, as Militant was to the British Labour Party in the 1980s, but without even any pretence of deference to the host organization. This will profoundly affect the dynamic between Obama and Congress over the next two years.
Obama talks compromise. He is a conciliator and his objective is always to make progress, what ever the starting point. It is his brand and his nature and no one will be surprised by it. The Republicans, on the other hand, are in a bind. The leadership see the ghosts of 1994 swirling all around them. When they last took Congress during the Democratic Presidency of Bill Clinton, they were ultimately embarrassed by an extreme leadership who went as far as to shut down the entire federal government for not getting what they wanted. Clinton went on to walk to re-election in 1996. The current Republican leadership want so desperately to avoid this that some of them have already gone on record to renounce any possibility of a government shut down this time round. But this puts them in direct opposition to their own newly elected Tea Partiers. The Tea Party base is so viscerally and vehemently opposed to anything Obama that the merest hint of compromise with him on anything will result in immediate howls of “betrayal” and “sell out”. This is a group, many of whose members have little difficulty equating him with Bin Laden or Hitler.
An impasse is now inevitable. Congress is required to pass any budget and approve or renew any spending legislation, and as a result a rupture will travel across the Republican Party leaving it divided by a wide chasm. One of the things about fear is that it can become self perpetuating. So even the Republicans who would not naturally be allied to the Tea party will fear its wrath and so may well find themselves marching to its tune. This is the other problem with fear. If taken too far, rather than protecting you, it can paralyse you instead. Paralysis is likely to be the hallmark of the next two years of US government. The only way that the next Speaker of the House, John Boehner, can avoid this is by widening the chasm within his own party. Not a pleasant choice by any means. One can imagine few predicaments less fraught than the one that lies before his party. But then, when you choose to ride the dragon of fear to victory, you shouldn’t be surprised when it turns to devour you too.
Picture: Getty ImagesTagged in: John Boehner, obama, Republican party, tea party
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