David Hoppe

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:: Tea Party dreams on

The tip of an education iceberg

By David Hoppe

The whacking Republican voters handed St. Richard Lugar last week is a good example of the kind of weirdness people can commit in the name of love.

I'm sure at one time or another you've known someone who professed an undying loyalty to a partner they otherwise appeared to detest. One might be a neat freak with a perverse pleasure in complaining about the other being a slob. Or a person who by nature is shy and retiring might unaccountably pair off with a mouthy, aggressive type. These are the sorts of couples who give each other “I'm with stupid” t-shirts and claim it's just a joke.

This appears to be the sort of relationship Tea Party voters who chose Richard Mourdock over Lugar have with America. They claim an essential love for this country. Yet it seems there's little they actually like about the way this place behaves.

Tea Partiers are steamed about the mountain of federal debt and what they say is a government trampling their rights. These are real concerns many people share. But the Tea Party's way of dealing with these issues is to back candidates like Mourdock, who would use the debt as a wrecking ball to effectively bring down the federal government as it has existed since the days when Franklin Roosevelt used it to make life bearable during the Great Depression.

Mourdock has said he sees little point in trying to compromise with Democrats. What he says he wants is a Republican dominated Senate or, in other words, one party rule. That, as someone once said about Mussolini's Italy, is a great way to make trains run on time, but it has nothing do with governing a complex nation made up of a wide variety of people living across a spectrum of circumstances.

America has been a profligate spender, it's true. We shoveled at least $3 trillion into a fruitless war in Iraq, to take just one example. But our national debt is due to more than the tendency to throw money at problems.

A country this size has real needs that states cannot meet by themselves. Finding ways to address these needs is how our government makes sure everyone shares an American life, regardless of what state they've landed in.

Since the 1930's, the federal government has created programs like Social Security and Medicare to protect older citizens, Civil Rights laws to create equal access to voting and public facilities, even an Interstate Highway system to enhance travel and commerce across state lines. The manifest success of these programs makes you wonder what America the Tea Partiers and candidates like Mourdock want to “recover.”

Mourdock's victory seems certain to push the easily impressed Mitt Romney further to the right as he makes his bid to be president. Moderate Republicans (an increasingly antique breed) and some independents have been hoping Romney might find a way to pivot toward the center now that President Obama is his sole adversary. But the Tea Party's virtual takeover of the Republican agenda means that to do this, Romney would have to run against, not with, the tide in his own party. And if we know anything about Romney by now, it's that he's not one to buck a trend.

This puts President Obama's personal endorsement of gay marriage into context. The president had previously danced around the issue, claiming that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but that he supported civil unions and was also in favor of equal rights for gay people. Over time, he said, his view of gay marriage “evolved,” until finally coming round to support for the idea.

Although Obama's endorsement is not tied to any kind of legislative initiative, it has, nevertheless, stirred up a lot of speculation about how it could impact his race with Romney. Romney, predictably, is a man-and-a- woman guy, against gay marriage and civil unions, too. In light of the fact that both candidates say they think this issue should be left to the states, many pundits have questioned why Obama would choose to bring it up.

The reason may be that he sees that he's running against the Tea Party — a party, as Mourdock has proclaimed, of no compromise, bent on undoing generations' worth of nationally unifying work in the name of balancing the federal budget.

By waiting to make his endorsement until national polling confirmed that a majority of Americans have no problem with gays marrying one another, Obama adroitly found a simple, unmistakable way of showing the difference between how he and Romney understand American life.

It might also be that Obama is at last beginning to understand the nature of his opposition: the Tea Party doesn't want to make America better, they want to change it.

A lot of marriages are based on this same, fatal premise. What starts out as a weird attraction winds up becoming a tug-o-war, as one benighted spouse tries to make the other conform to his or her idea of a dream lover. It's no wonder almost half the marriages in America end in divorce.