Stuck in the Middle With You

Thomas Jefferson said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” And it would seem the we are brewing up what may be a batch of rebellion for 2012. That is, assuming that the Aztec God Quetzalcoatl doesn’t bring the world to an end, which would be maybe a bit too much rebellion.

American politics seems to be fracturing in interesting ways. On the far right, we have tea-party rock stars like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and the Fox pundit crew. They seem to have a solid hold on about 25% of the population, a non-trivial chunk of folks who would follow them off a cliff. Further, they have been driving moderates from their ranks in an effort to purify the herd into some sort of army of malcontents. They are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore. They don’t have a plan for anything better, but whatever this is, it has to stop.

There is some danger this could morph from a political rebellion into something more militant. Recently, there has been an emergence of the slogan, “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8.” The psalm reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” But precedes the more ominous passage, “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.” Former, right-wing evangelical leader Frank Schaeffer worries that this could be trolling for assassins. If some would-be soldier of God takes up this call, it could come back against the teabaggers, or it could cause them to bond even further. Either way, it looks increasingly like this group is going to become it’s own political party.

Should the Tea Party emerge, it will garner much news coverage because love them or hate them they are great entertainment. But they are unlikely to be directly relevant. They will be a permanent minority who’s main agenda will be to oppose whatever anybody else wants.

We are seeing aspects of the results of this today. The Republican minority is not really a functional adversary to the Democrats, and this has resulted in the Democrats fracturing internally between their liberals and conservatives. For lack of opposition, they’ve created their own. Add to this, the defection of moderate Republicans like Arlen Specter and the disenfranchisement of moderate Republicans in general and it would seem we have the recipe for a split of the Democratic party where moderate Republicans and Blue-Dog Democrats would bind and form a new right of center party.

This could create an interesting situation for American politics. Historically, when a new party rises, one of the old parties fall. But I can’t imagine the Tea Party folding in to any other organization. And with a quarter of the population locked in to irrelevance, the two functional parties are left such that neither can ever have a controlling majority. They would be forced to cooperate at some significant level to accomplish anything. And that would be a refreshing change.

Such is the nature of multi-party legislatures in other countries, and I’m curious if we could adapt our systems here to permanently accommodate multiple parties. It might just be the little bit of rebellion we’re looking for.

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