Apparent Tea Party Resurgence is Part of Natural Death Trajectory (May 20, 2013)


The Sunday morning political talk shows are always fraught with varying degrees of danger. Every guest has something to sell, usually themselves, and all proffered arguments and positions ought to be viewed through that lens. So for every fair and balanced appearance of Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker, almost as critical of his Democratic allies as his Republican opponents, we get a trend-of-the-moment bandwagon jump from Arizona Senator John McCain.

My favorite vignette from yesterday’s edition of “Meet the Press” came during a segment featuring Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell married an acute persecution complex with equal parts righteous indignation to rail against the alleged recent targeting of Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Why, why, McConnell wondered, were American corporations and entities being denied their right (sob!) to criticize the administration? Free speech is endangered y’all (I paraphrase).

Leaving aside the creditable philosophical argument that organizations are not people and therefore not entitled to same rights, freedoms and empathy that we reserve for actual humans, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory confronted McConnell with a 25 year-old video clip. In it, the Senator cautioned his fellow Americans against – you guessed it – accepting the growing trend of political action committees seeking and abusing 501c3 status. When pressed by Gregory to explain why this phenomenon is now deemed cuddly and benign in a post-Citizens United political culture, the Senator demurred. Shocking, I know.

Folks, with so much cynicism clogging up the Capitol, it’s tough to resist the urge to grab the nearest chocolate bar before retreating to the fetal position. I want to double down on the calories when I come across headlines like this on a Monday morning: Tea party looks to take advantage of moment. According to writer Thomas Beaumont of the Associated Press, “the IRS acknowledgment that it had targeted their groups for extra scrutiny — a claim that Tea Party activists had made for years — is helping pump new energy into the coalition. And they are trying to use that development, along with the ongoing controversy over the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks and the Justice Department’s secret seizure of journalists’ phone records, to recruit new activists incensed about government overreach.”

It’s natural to feel concern, annoyance, fear and disgust at the possibility of a resurgent Tea Party Movement gaining disingenuous strength from the leverage of non-scandals. But let’s keep the moment in perspective.

Scientists Glaser and Strauss first described the concept of death trajectories in pioneering qualitative research conducted in the 1960’s. In the course of caring for and supporting a terminally ill friend or loved one, many are victimized by a pernicious anomaly that can occur at the end of the death trajectory, or the process by which the body gives up its temporal struggles. Referred to informally as the “glow before you go” phenomenon, a patient can exhibit a brief but intense “recovery” prior to final expiration. What is so nefarious about this is the false hope it can instill in a patient’s support network, just prior to bereavement.

In this freak of the death trajectory, comatose invalids have been known to suddenly sit up and hold a conversation. A variation of this curiosity, I would argue, is at play in the Tea Party evolution.

Beaumont’s article arrives at nearly the same conclusion. He writes, “It’s unclear whether a movement made up of disparate grassroots groups with no central body can take advantage of the moment and leverage it to grow stronger after a subpar showing in last fall’s election had called into question the movement’s lasting impact. Republicans and Democrats alike say the Tea Party runs the risk of going too far in its criticism, which could once again open the door to Democratic efforts to paint it as an extreme arm of the GOP.”

I say let the tinfoil hat wearers (Bachman, Cruz, Rubio and yes, McConnell) enjoy this current chatty moment in the sun. It will be their last. “The President is a foreign Muslim!” “Death panels!” “They want to take our guns!” You can only cry wolf so many times before everyone stops listening. They are in the death throes. Hear the squawking for the mask it is.


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