I’ve argued for some time that the surprising GOP landslide in the 1994 election was a pivotal moment in the nutjobization of the Party. Dick Armey, in an interview for Politico has agreed with me. Well,…sort of. Though not in so many words.
I mean, he didn’t mention me by name or anything, but he publically acknowledged a subject I’ve talked about without openly disagreeing with it. So, yea. He agrees.
As chairman of FreedomWorks Armey helped spawn the Tea Party monster and he continues to fantasize that he can influence it. He is making an effort to convince these folks not to burn down the capital, delicately urging them in the Politico interview to be “cautious” and “keep an even keel.” Along the way he alludes to the, how shall we say…”unpolished” quality of the ’94 GOP Congressional class and the problems that rabble created. It’s that tightly couched comment (he didn’t use the word “rabble”) that caught my attention. Here’s why it’s interesting.
Prior to the ’94 election most of the South operated locally under a de facto single-party democracy. You might have preferred Republicans in principle. You might even vote for them consistently for President or Senate. But all serious local politics was conducted under the umbrella of the Democratic Party.
One side-effect of this situation was that almost no one who was serious about civil service ran for local office on the GOP ticket. No matter how conservative you might be, if you wanted to serve as a county clerk, or a judge, or to a certain extent even a Congressman, you found a way to deal with the Dems.
Who was on the GOP ticket in those races? Sometimes someone serious would run, but Republican ballot slots were a magnet for weirdoes. You could almost always get your name placed somewhere on the GOP ballot just by showing up and paying the filing fee. Credible Republicans couldn’t do much to curb this problem. It bred a culture of strange on our side of the aisle that was largely ignored because it didn’t matter.
And then in 1994, some of those oddball characters found themselves putting down their sandwich boards, upgrading their tin hats, and stepping into new jobs as judges, clerks, Legislators, and yes, even Congressmen.
Armey’s specific comment about these folks: “The fact of the matter is we ended up with an enormous number of the new freshmen that came in in ‘94 that got defeated in ‘96.”
And why were they defeated so quickly? Here comes the beautifully crafted euphemism: “…most often because they simply were not people who were prepared for the responsibilities of the office and didn’t conduct their personal affairs and so forth.” Translated: they were completely f’g nuts.
The folks who were gradually peeled back out of office in ’96 and ’98 didn’t just go back to sleeping in their cars and protesting at the public library. Like my former Congressman Steve Stockman, they are now more or less permanently ensconced in the Party’s infrastructure, taking roles in think tanks and advocacy groups.
But Armey claims that the wave of Tea Party enthusiasts swept in by the 2010 landslide will be different. His description of them: “I think this is a much more sober and more qualified group of new freshmen than what we had in ‘94.”
Sober and qualified, naturally. How else would anyone describe them?
Armey’s careful reference to the unique personal qualities that marked so many of the ’94-ists in the context of a conversation about the ’10 class suggests he and others in the Party have more awareness than I realized of what’s going on. It also suggests that some folks in positions of power may actually be calculating how they might dial down the crazy.
On the one hand that’s comforting. You’d like to believe that they aren’t completely deluded about the character of this movement. The concern is that they clearly still think they can steer this mob, which means that they are going to continue to sponsor and aid them for the near term. That’s a depressing mistake which suggests more damage before any light appears in this tunnel.
But hey, on the bright side no less a figure than Dick Armey now agrees with me about the ’94-ists. I’m looking for some kind of a shout-out, at least some minor reference in an upcoming interview. Be watching for it.
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