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Hacker: Tea Party damages intentions of Republicans, makes future of party questionable

On Oct. 17, shortly after signing legislation to reopen the federal government and extend the debt ceiling, President Obama said, “…let’s be clear. There are no winners here.”

The government shutdown and scare about the debt ceiling hurt people from both parties. But through tactical missteps and party infighting, right-wing Republicans clearly lost this battle and fueled a division within their party. This schism in the Republican Party is more visible than ever as Tea Party influence corrodes it from the inside.

Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, the dysfunction within the Republican Party, which controls half of our legislative branch, is cause for concern.

At the core of the Republican discord was junior senator, Tea Party superstar and outspoken leader of the shutdown movement Ted Cruz.

Cruz almost single-handedly closed the federal government, forced our nation into default and tore apart his own political party.

To the Confederate flag-waving protestors in the park surrounding the Washington Monument, Cruz is a hero. But to the rest of America, he is an iconoclast — the leader of the Tea Party, a radical minority that only 8 percent of Americans associate themselves with, according to a January poll from Rasmussen.

The scary thing is that Cruz does not appear to understand the harm he’s inflicting on the country and the rift he’s creating within his own party. Or maybe he does understand, he just doesn’t care. He began his quest seeking publicity and ended with notoriety.

Cruz and his fellow anti-establishment Tea Party Republicans are using increasingly divisive means to accomplish their goals — at least the few, if any goals they’ve managed to accomplish. They use procedural loopholes, propaganda and tactical calculations to fight isolated battles, but the goal of the Tea Party is much deeper than politics.

Surprisingly, the core Tea Party mantra is cultural and theoretical. It is an adherence to cultural norms based on confirmation bias and a rejection of change.

The Tea Party rhetoric of today reflects the same right-wing conspiracy theories and rejection of government authority that existed in the 1960s during the Kennedy Administration and then reemerged when Ronald Reagan pronounced in his inaugural address that government was the problem.

But ironically, despite the fact that we are in a deep economic recession, still in the midst of the war in Afghanistan and domestic cultural norms are changing all around us, as CNN’s Fareed Zakaria aptly pointed out, no radical groups have emerged — except the Tea Party.

Despite being an insulated minority, the Tea Party, led by the likes of Ted Cruz, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin and others, has been able to radically alter the intentions of the Republican Party and shake up its base of support.

The Tea Party supporters love the United States of America in theory but hate the current reality. They spread unfounded socialism conspiracy theories as if we were still in the midst of the Red Scare of the 1920s or the rampant McCarthyism of the 1940s and 1950s.

The truth however, is that the current United States is no more centrist and top-heavy than it was in the Tea Party’s imagined “good old days” of the past.

The Tea Party propaganda machine is hard at work and it is gaining surprising leverage, but this minority — and others in the Republican Party — must come to terms with the America of today.

Until this happens, there won’t be an end to the political gridlock in Washington and brinkmanship will continue to damage our economy or even worse, our country’s reputation.

Michael Hacker is a senior political science major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mahacker@syr.edu and followed on Twitter at @mikeincuse.

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