Heroic Times

This is just one example – singing Amazing Grace at the caucus meeting planning the debt default. But as you survey the whole terrain of this multiheaded shutdown, ObamacareDefundo, debt default crisis, you start to see that the divide is not simply one of ideology but something more basic about the times we’re living in.

Everything about the actions of the core Tea Party faction in the House suggests people who think they’re living in heroic times, zero compromises, whole histories at stake – a right wing version of the world many New Left protestors were living in in the late 60s and early 70s, a mix of high histrionics, deep commitment and performance art.

In a very real sense they’ve forced a truly historic crisis. That’s the point John Judis argues for here. And I agree with them. I spent several days last week trying to put the arguments and ideas into a post. But it didn’t come together.

We know the country is basically divided ideologically. We see this in the presidential vote, the rough split in Congress. But beyond that divide there’s another that I think is something like 70% v 30% or perhaps 75% to 25% that is one not so much of ideology but a basic reading of the times. Outside the Tea Party, do people really not look at these antics and say, are we really in such a moment of high drama? I think most Americans see a much more workaday world, one with problems and possibilities. But not this. I’m not sure it’s precisely the historical moment they’d choose but I look at these folks and it’s like a mix of insecurity, self-regard and a very different perception of their own identity and place in American society is making them feel like they’re in a perpetual London May 1940.

For them, in a sense, perhaps it is. Many people came out of the 2012 election believing Republicans would need to see that the GOP couldn’t survive in its current demographic composition and begin at least some marginal change. But exactly the opposite happened. In fact, in that sense, the unexpected demise of immigration reform was the fire bell in the night portending this current crisis.

I feel like most of the country, a sizeable majority, whether we agree with Obamacare or not, are just living in a different mental world, one not marked by the fevered apocalypticism that is the calling card of the ‘Tea Party.’

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