Whatever shape the final budget deal takes, it will have been crafted along strictly Republican lines. Important government services—those serving the needs of the most needy—will have been cut, while taxes—on the wealth of the most wealthy—will not have been raised. Why such an uncompromising “compromise”?
The determining role played by the GOP’s Tea Party wing brings to mind several analogies. An old psychological dictum is that every family is controlled by its most neurotic member. A madman with dynamite and hostages has a lot of leverage. And if you can’t fight, act crazy, and people will tend to leave you alone.
But what are the limits of the right-wing extremists’ ability to set the terms of debate by their intransigence, messianic belief system and apparent unconcern for the consequences of their actions? How can the more sane among us exercise our rights?
One way is simply to show up. Many of the Tea Partiers who now control our government were elected last fall because large segments of the Obama coalition failed to vote in the midterm elections.
Another is to organize and focus. Minority opinions—not only on the federal budget, but on gun control, relations with Cuba, and more—can effectively control public policy because of disproportionate interest: though fewer in number, zealots care more about their cause and prosecute their position with greater vigor than the larger but more diffuse opposition. Of course, the majority—because it is bigger—need not replicate the fervor of the few in order to make their case: just a slight rise in all our voices can drown out the noisy minority.
Families can learn to control their neurotic members, rather than be controlled by them. It simply takes cool, calm and concerted effort—and a determination not to let madness reign.