Voting is no tea party

by Jim Longworth

I was taught early on that voting is a privilege to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, given the quality of candidates these days and the tenor of their campaigns, it is difficult to take any of it seriously.

There are two reasons. First is the growing nastiness of political rhetoric. Both major parties are guilty of this, but Republicans are the worst offenders. Who can forget Rep. Virginia Foxx’s warning that healthcare reform would result in the formation of death panels, where the government would decide when elderly people should die? Foxx’s statement established a new low for political discourse, and set the tone for a new era in politics, where TV ads, speeches and rallies were fueled by deliberately misleading and volatile information. But while most of the right-wing extremists in Congress are arrogantly partisan, they are not uninformed or unintelligent. And that brings me to the second reason why it’s difficult to take voting seriously.

Today there are a growing number of candidates who seem to be unashamed of their absolute ignorance. Most of them identify with the tea party movement, which inadvertently rose from the primordial soup when Dr. John McCain Frankenstein created the Palin monster back in 2008. Sarah Palin, the former, short-term Alaska governor, flaunts her ignorance as if it were a badge of honor. Once when a GOP handler tried to get her to read through some briefing books, she refused, saying that she was too busy reading texts and e-mails from her “prayer warriors.” Palin’s Facebook approach to politics has spawned and/or encouraged an array of similarly small thinkers to run for office.

Today there are a growing number of candidates who seem to be unashamed of their absolute ignorance.

The most visible is Christine O’Donnell, a candidate for US Senate in Delaware who wasn’t able to identify separation of church and state in the First Amendment. She also told the Washington Post that homosexuality is “an identity disorder.” Meanwhile, Christine’s argument against evolution is that today’s apes aren’t turning into humans. And, during an interview with Bill O’Reilly, O’Donnell announced that, “American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals, and coming up with mice who have fully functioning brains.”

But Delaware isn’t the only staging ground for ignorant tea party candidates. The list includes Joe Miller of Alaska, Carl Paladino of New York, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Susanna Martinez in New Mexico, Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle of Nevada who once called reimbursements to gulf fisherman following the BP oil spill, a “slush fund.”

Palin’s movement is popular because millions of people are either out of work or struggling to make ends meet. And when people get angry, they gravitate to candidates who fuel that anger. But make no mistake, the tea party is not a populist entity, nor are its candidates true populists. That would require an understanding of issues and thoughtful proposals for reforming problems, neither of which the Palin spawns possess. Their stock in trade is inflammatory rhetoric without basis in fact. They will say anything to rev up a crowd against something, but they offer no viable solutions for anything.

Grant Lyon, writing for the Huffington Post, said that people like Palin, O’Donnell and others “love to say America is number one, yet it is their extremist language as a whole that is devaluing America around the world.”

Lyon is right. Win or not, these mental lightweights are an embarrassment to our nation. They love to invoke the founding fathers and our Constitution, while lacking the attributes of the former or an understanding of the latter.

Christine O’Donnell is convinced that mice now have fully functioning brains. If only that were true of the tea party gang.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).