As a former Republican, I am watching the Ferris wheel of the 2012 presidential campaign with unbridled glee. Candidates rise, candidates fall, candidates rise again, in an endless circle of breezy blather.
I can’t remember a campaign when a party was less excited about its potential nominees, unless perhaps it was 1988. That was the year satirist Mark Russell quipped, “Man, if it ends being Bush vs. Dukakis, there isn’t enough caffeine in America to keep me awake.”
But the 2012 campaign is different. Like any carnival ride that involves changes in elevation, this one is keeping me awake. On the other hand, if I were still a Republican, I would be getting nauseous by now. It’s well documented that the conservative wing of the party – which apparently now is the only wing of the party – mistrusts Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials. After all, he passed a health care bill that actually has some value. But neither are they happy with anybody else.
Truly, the Republicans have no one to blame but themselves. The party has fallen prey to a bunch of zealots. It shouldn’t be called the Tea Party; it should be called the Rigiditea Party. The problem comes down to this: you can’t apply the black-and-white of religion to the gray of politics.
Religion is rife with images of purity. Priests and nuns are supposed to be celibate. Even Jesus’ mother was supposed to be a virgin. As the joke goes, they’re the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. There is no “on the other hand” to the idea of coveting your neighbor’s wife. I get that.
But real life is chaotic. It doesn’t fall into neat little cubbyholes. Sometimes people lose their jobs and need unemployment checks. Sometimes teen-age boys get teen-age girls pregnant. Sometimes men fall in love with other men. Sometimes, in a commonwealth, we channel tax dollars to support the common wealth (which is actually the derivation of the word: people coming together for the betterment of all). And sometimes we waste that money, because we’re imperfect.
So either we’re tolerant of our collective imperfect humanity, or we’re not. You can insist that everyone in your family follows a rigid path, but you can’t make that same determination for everyone else. It doesn’t work (sometimes it doesn’t even work in your own family – hey, Sarah, how’d that abstinence thing work out for your daughter?).
The proof is in the 2012 campaign. Just as the Republicans apply their rigidity to society as a whole, they also apply that rigidity to their politicians. In the real world. politicians have to make compromises. They have to do the best they can with the resources they have. That’s why, at some time, every single one of the Republican candidates has done something that their potential supporters find abhorrent.
Unfortunately, the rigiditea doesn’t stop with holding candidates to an unrealistic yardstick. It extends to the idiocy that it is better to have an ideologically pure candidate than to compromise on someone who might actually win the election. This is nothing new. I saw this growing up in California, where since 1968, the Republicans have made an art of nominating unelectable right-wingers over viable, more-liberal choices.
The problem is that they’re now applying this same rigiditea to politicians that have already been elected. As one moderate Republican congressman lamented in the New York Times last September, “You’re either an ally or a traitor.”
None of us – politicians, Republicans, citizens – live in an angelic world free of sin. But as long as the members of the Rigiditea Party judge their candidates against a yardstick that’s never touched Planet Earth, they’re going to remain a minority party. And we’re going to be stuck with the gridlock that results. That’s not a gleeful prospect at all. It’s a curse on all of us.