In this week's New York Times magazine Mark Leibovich profiles Florida’s upcoming Republican primary, in which the sometimes-popular and one-time front runner Governor Charlie Crist is struggling to stay ahead of tea-party poster boy Mark Rubio. The piece details the rise of this growing, though still fringe, movement in the GOP that seeks to exorcise the party of any moderate members. Members of this loosely affiliated group rally around their disdain for the President, suspicion of all government, and scorn for party moderates who work with Democrats on any issue, no matter the cause.

Crist is demonized for, among other reasons, accepting stimulus money from a Democratic administration, despite his insistence that the funds helped to save the jobs of 20,000 Floridian teachers. He has also been lambasted for embracing the President during Obama’s first trip to Florida (Crist says he was simply being respectful and hospitable), and, perhaps more importantly, his endorsement of Sen. John McCain’s 2008 failed presidential campaign. This, say the tea-bags, shows that Crist is unfit for any Republican support. They abhor McCain’s penchant for working across he aisle to get things done--even though McCain has shown very little bipartisan spirit since Obama took office.

Let’s for a moment pretend that McCain tapped Crist as his running mate in 2008, as was heavily speculated at the time. Obama would have most likely still won the presidency, but we would never have known the name Sarah Palin, and the tea-party movement as we know it would likely not exist. (Pailin and FOX News’ Glenn Beck are the idols of the movement). Moderates like Crist would have had a better shot at running successful moderate campaigns in the GOP, and the nation would be better for it. We wouldn’t see placards calling our President a Nazi, a communist, a Muslim, and so on. And perhaps, though this is admittedly optimistic, our elected representatives would be willing  to work with their colleagues in the opposite party.  

Instead, McCain picked Palin, which helped give birth to a movement that is threatening any semblance of moderation and pragmatism in the Republican Party. This harms not only the GOP, as most voters are much more moderate than the tea-partiers, but the nation as a whole. Having a legitimate opposition party, one that is willing both to criticize the Democrats and work with them on critical issues facing the country, is key toward ending wars, lowering debt and creating jobs. But by seeking the unattainable mirage of party-wide ideological purity, the GOP is diminishing its own stature and hindering its ability to be an effective check on the party in control, which is always bad for any democracy. Perhaps if Crist wins--and he may yet still pull off a victory--he will deal the final blow to this vitriolic movement.

Michael O'Loughlin

 

Comments

Michael Widner | 1/12/2010 - 9:10am
As a Florida pro-life Democrat (talk about a minority!) I have to take a good look at Charlie Crist.  Mr. Rubio may be a nice man, but Crist has actually done some things for this state, including turning around many of the things Jeb Bush and his corporate friends put down.
I will definitely look closer at Rep Meek, especially with regard to the Haitian population which gets ignored by everyone - Dems and Repubs.
I really get weary of people not voting for a person because they are divorced.  That does not make a person a demon.  Many Catholics are divorced and they are in full communion.  Obviously they cannot re-marry without an anullment, but this kind of judgement on a person is really unfair.  Just like people who think the Eucharist is better becasue the priest is wearing lace and wearing a maniple...  (Sorry. I couldn't resist that!)
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/11/2010 - 6:18pm
''And Kendrick Meek is a joke. Typical politician with nothing to offer.''
It is MEEKS, not MEEK.
It really pains me to see America drift further and further from offering analysis and insight ...
 
Anyway, part of the problem for politicians (and us) is something that MSW mentioned in an article a few days ago, about the image that the politician projects being more important than who he/she really is as a person. 
 
Getting votes really doesn't have much to do with issues or analysis anymore.  It's who can best sell her/his image.
 
For a long time I supported John Edwards, because he seemed to be the only candidate who bothered to even mention the poor.  I heard him speak, shook his hand, went to a small invitation only forum with Elizabeth Edwards in 2004.  She came across as very genuine.  Now I don't know what to think.
 
I think that I'm becoming more like Maria :-) (I say this with affection, Maria) ... Maybe, as Catholics, we should turn inward and redefine our own Catholic culture again, using the Catholic social teachings.  Rosaries and Mass on Sunday.  No contraception, no abortion, no death penalty, a lot of caring for the poor and sick, visiting prisoners, and sharing the wealth.  Heck with the rest of the country.
Anonymous | 1/11/2010 - 5:04pm
The leaders of the tea-baggers are Beck and Palin!!!
This small minority 'know-nothings'can only look good in low turnout off=schedule elections. A push for voter turnout by progressives will be most important this year. However I don't see tea-baggers having any money to impact elections,no corporate or big money donors.
Anonymous | 1/11/2010 - 4:57pm
Oh, and one other thing.  Given the Democrats' response to the Stupak Amendment, will you mind pointing out to me where the "moderate" voice is in the Democratic Party?  Funny that its only conservatives who are "extremists" or "immoderate."
 
And Kendrick Meek is a joke. Typical politician with nothing to offer.
Anonymous | 1/11/2010 - 4:54pm
It really pains me to see America drift further and further from offering analysis and insight towards dressing up the tired (liberal) shibboleths found elsewhere and putting a supposed "Catholic" patina on it.  A pig with lipstick, I guess you could say.
As a Republican, I am not a fan of the tea party movement, but it draws on something deep within the American political tradition that BOTH parties would be wise to heed.  The images of Nancy Pelosi at the Detroit auto show in today's news are truly frightening, reminiscent as they are of East German bureaucrats trumping their cars.  The American people remain deeply skeptical of big government (and big business).  The tea party movement has given voice to this sentiment & will have have an effect, like it or not.  Dismissing them is fatal, I think, to any student of American politics today.  The story of Crist is a harbringer.  He has the ENTIRE republican machine behind him, but he's still being challenged by Rubio.  Like it or not, that means something, and calling them names and denigrating their leaders does nothing to change that.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/11/2010 - 4:28pm
My opinion of Charlie Crist is not based on negative rumors, but an actual experience - a struggle at the state level which spanned several years.  I hesitate to post the details here.  I had a lot of hope for Charlie Crist, but came away realizing that the man is cold and heartless.  Even Jeb Bush has more compassion.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/11/2010 - 4:14pm
My vote for the Florida Senate race is with Democrat, Rep. Kendrick Meek.  An African American and proud father of 2 (yes, he is married to his first wife), Rep. Meek supports policies that help working families and believes that every American deserves access to affordable, quality healthcare.   He promotes democracy in Cuba while working to ease travel restrictions for Cuban Americans who want to visit loved ones, and is a leader in Haitian issues (more Haitian Americans live in Florida than any other state.).
 
Kendrick Meeks may not have the celebrity status of Crist or Rubio, but he represents the interests of Florida, and is my choice for senator representing this beautiful state.
William Kurtz | 1/11/2010 - 4:14pm
Let's see, by P. Lake's logic, Barack Obama and Joe Biden (neither ever divorced, no rumors of infidelity) were far superior choices to John McCain (divorced and remarried) and Sarah Palin (rumors of infidelity).
We elect government leaders, not saints. I assume Charlie Crist has his faults, but oppose him on the basis of issues, not negative rumors.
Peter Lakeonovich | 1/11/2010 - 3:02pm
America, you are not serious? Wake up! Marco Rubio is a pro-life Catholic, a husband and a father of four children. Charlie Crist is a divorced man, married to a divorced woman, and father of none. We should pray for more politicians like Marco Rubio, who is giving Charlie Crist a serious challenge despite having only a fraction of the campaign funds available to Mr. Crist. This is not how campaigns usually go, but then again God's ways, thakfully, are not our ways.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/11/2010 - 2:42pm
Perhaps.  But I am no fan of Charlie Crist.  I have seen him up close, and know that his ambition trumps any kind of real moderation or integrity.  With Charlie Crist on the ticket, it feels like a lose-lose situation to me.