Tea for Terror
Sat September 18, 2010 10:37 am

I have believed for some time that the Republican Party made a deal with the devil when it embraced the Tea Party. The tail is going to wind up wagging the dog. We are entering a phase of politics that is reminiscent of the Terror during the French revolution: universal suspicion and the impulse to destroy those who fall victim of it. Here is a brief history:

The Terror Begins
While the Committee of Public Safety wasn't an executive government – on August 1st 1793 the Convention refused a motion calling for it to become the provisional government – it was the closest France had and, over the next year, it marshalled the nation's resources to meet and defeat the many crises. It also presided over the bloodiest period of the revolution: The Terror.

Marat may have been killed, but people were still forwarding his ideas, chiefly that only the extreme use of the guillotine against traitors, suspects and counter revolutionaries would solver the country's problems; they felt terror was needed. The Convention deputies were increasingly heeding these calls. There were complaints about a 'spirit of moderation' in the Convention and another series of price increases were quickly blamed on 'endormers', or 'dozer' (as in sleeping) deputies.

On September 4th 1793 a demonstration for more wages and bread was quickly turned to the advantage of those calling for terror, and they returned on the 5th to march to the Convention. Chaumette, backed by thousands of sansculottes, declared that the Convention should tackle the shortages by a strict implementation of the laws.

The Convention agreed, and in addition voted to finally organise the revolutionary armies people had agitated for over previous months to march against the hoarders and unpatriotic members of the countryside, although they turned down Chaumette’s request for the armies to be accompanied by guillotines on wheel for even swifter justice. In addition Danton argued that arms production should be increased until every patriot had a musket, and that the Revolutionary Tribunal should be divided so as to make it quicker. The sansculottes had once again forced their wishes onto and through the Convention; terror was now in force.

Execution
Over the following weeks radical action was taken. On September 17th a Law of Suspects was introduced allowing for the arrest of anyone whose conduct suggested they were supporters of tyranny or federalism, a law which could be easily twisted to affect just about everyone in the nation. There were also laws against nobles who had been anything less than zealous in their support for the revolution. A maximum was set for a wide range of food and goods and the Revolutionary Armies formed and set out to search for traitors and crush revolt. Even speech was affected, with 'citizen' becoming the popular way of referring to others; not using citizen was a cause for suspicion.

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The single-minded ideology of the Tea Party has the potential to destroy the Republican party by pushing it farther and farther to the right. This fits the current mood of the conservative electorate, but in the long run, this zeal for weeding out the establishment will not sit well with the majority of Americans. You know that a faction is out of control when it turns its fury on thoughtful, mainstream elected officials like Robert Bennett in Utah and Mike Castle in Delaware. No one is exempt. The most vulnerable Republican in Texas may be John Cornyn. He voted for the bailout, remember.

America has a two party system. We are always going to have a party of the left and a party of the right, with each trying to establish its bona fides with the center. The Republicans will probably win a huge victory this fall, but it will come at a price, and that price is likely to be losing the center to the Democrats.

It is amusing (and, I have to confess, somewhat gratifying) to see the right turn against Karl Rove, creature (if not creator) of the establishment that he is. It was Rove who pushed Bush to the right, who refashioned him from a moderate Republican into a chattel of the religious right. Bush once described himself to me, when he was running for president, as a cork (or was it a twig?) in a rushing river over which he had no control. That is the state of the Republican party today. As I once heard it said in the Texas House, the Republicans have "opened Pandora's box and let loose a can of worms." There is an invisible scale in American politics, and the public has a keen sense of when it is out of balance. During the Bush administration, the moment that occurred, I believe, was the Terry Schiavo case. In the current history of the Texas Republican party, that moment, I believe, came when Rick Perry flirted with secession. The Tea Party loved it, but the worms are out of the can and you can't put them back.

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