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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

A Tea Party Obituary

Just a few days after the 2012 election, it may be too soon for an obituary for the Tea Party -- but I don’t think so. As a historian who has spent decades studying trends, I’m going to predict that the never-official party will go down as a one-election phenomenon, with only the 2010 election as its brief zenith.

It lost major races for Congress last week, with incumbents in Heartland states such as Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana being the most notable losers. Mainstream Republicans, who appeared to be a vanishing breed until last week, seem eager to push their fringe element back into the closet. News shows in the days after the election were full of Republican consultants warning those who write their paychecks that if the GOP plans to exist in a more tolerant America, it must shed itself of negativism.

Demographics alone mandate an end to rhetoric against immigrants, blacks, gays, and feminists. Especially young people simply aren’t buying an “anti” message anymore. But at the same time that I want to write the Tea Party’s obit, I fear that it is likely to be replaced with another such group. The people who align themselves with such negativity seldom are satisfied, and they will continue to believe, despite all evidence, that they are the not-so-silent majority. Such personalities often seem incapable of contentment; they thrive on resentment and anger.

A friend told me her husband was so angry as he watched the election results that he punched a hole in the wall. She sat quietly, not telling him that she had voted for Obama, lest he punch her instead. Yes, he is on probation for domestic violence. He also displays the ideological confusion that marks many such men, as his sole income is SSI for disabilities that originated with football. Almost literally, he bites the hand that feeds him.

Being on the losing side is a major blow to the egos of such people, and because they cannot handle losing, I expect them to cast off their Tea Party identity. They will suck their thumbs for a while -- but probably will re-emerge with another name, another slogan that reflects their fundamental thoughtlessness.

A few years ago it was “throw the bums out,” an anti-incumbent group that somehow gave a pass to Republican incumbents. Before that, they were the Lyndon LaRouche and George Wallace supporters, the John Birch Society, and for a century, the Ku Klux Klan. Almost always they are motivated by anger at the loss of privilege to which they think their race and gender entitles them.

They rage at economic entitlements, but I suspect that many are suppressing a guilty knowledge that they are living off of some such -- how else can they stay up all night for their radio talk shows? If you want to hear what lunacy abounds in the red states, tune in to AM radio after midnight. You’ll be amazed.

I also suspect that “exceptionalism,” the right’s new phrase for America’s right to rule the world, is subliminally grounded in their view of their individual selves as exceptions to rules. Freedom, to them, means being free to exploit others. They think they bought the flag and literally wrap themselves in it, ignoring longtime codes of respect for that symbol. And such faux patriotic groups have existed in all eras, even when the vast majority of Americans united to fight for real freedom in World War II.

Much though I hate to admit it, some were women. Almost always upper class, they virulently opposed Democrat Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. They could not acknowledge that his reforms in the 1930s were bringing the nation out of the reckless capitalistic catastrophe that began under Republican presidents in the 1920s. Their hatred for FDR and Eleanor was akin to the hatred that some hold for Obama and Hillary today.

Blacks were not powerful enough then to merit much attention from these haters. Instead, they targeted Jews, the war’s greatest victims. Lyrl Van Hyling, leader of “We, the Mothers,” which claimed had 150,000 members, was so anti-Semitic that she even concocted a theory holding Jews responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln eighty years earlier.

That is another aspect of right-wing organizations: they usually feature conspiracies. They promote fear and appeal to those who are fundamentally paranoid, people whose worldview is “us against them.” Their leaders use trendy words to coat extremist political and economic theories, aiming to attract those with little knowledge. They inflate egos by letting followers think that they have insider information.

But they don’t, and this year’s voters were not taken in by their ploys. It was an amazing thing, and may be a turning point in American history --especially because billionaires who thought that they could manipulate people like puppets were allowed to spend more than ever before.

Their investments were largely in vain. Sheldon Adelson better stick to casinos, where the house stacks the deck, because he proved himself a terrible odds-maker in elections: he spent millions, and ended up 0-6. The Koch Brothers, too, should bow out before they lose their reputation as smart investors.

Many Democrats were outspent ten to one or even more, and yet won. Locally, Mark Danish may be the best example of this: he was outspent by an astonishing 1,900%. Danish raised less than $20,000, compared with almost $400,000 for his opponent, incumbent Republican Shawn Harrison – and that’s not counting another probable $100,000 in soft money for Harrison. A middle-school science teacher, Danish began door-to-door contact with voters back in January -- and in November, the university-based district proved that money can’t buy everything.

Central Florida voters also did an excellent job of listening to grass-roots volunteers and rejecting big spenders. They defeated Chris Dorworth, who (for reasons I’ll never be able to fathom) had been ordained by Republican leadership as speaker designate. Even though they knew that Dorworth had deep personal flaws, including bankruptcy, the party poured money into his campaign -- and lost.

Tampa native Karen Castor Dentel also defeated a Republican incumbent in the Orlando area, despite a campaign against her that was absolutely scurrilous. Or perhaps I should say because instead of despite, as this time right-wingers went so far off balance that they probably caused their own fall.

Karen, whom I’ve known since she was a preschooler, is a teacher with a happy marriage and two great kids. The fear-mongers opposing her had the temerity to send a mailer tying her to Jerry Sandusky and child abuse because Karen supports teacher tenure – and we all know, of course, that football coach Jerry Sandusky kept his job only because of tenure.

So we can end on a happy note, as voters all over the nation rejected such despicable lies and the ton of money that funded them. Maybe I will be wrong: maybe another Tea Party won’t soon arise. In any case, this one is on its deathbed.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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