WASHINGTON -- Take names. Remember them. The behavior of certain Republicans who call themselves tea party conservatives are the most destructive posse of misguided "patriots" we've seen in recent memory.
If the nation defaults on its financial obligations, the blame belongs to the tea party Republicans who fragged their own leader, John Boehner. They had victory in their hands and couldn't bring themselves to support his debt-ceiling plan, which, even if not perfect, was more than anyone could have imagined just a few months ago: no new taxes, significant spending cuts, a temporary debt-ceiling solution with the possibility of more spending cuts down the line as well as their beloved constitutional balanced-budget amendment.
These people wouldn't recognize a hot fudge sundae if the cherry started talking to them.
The tick-tock of the debt ceiling debate is too long for this space, but the bottom line is that the tea party got too full of itself with help from certain characters whose names you'll want to remember when things go south. They include, among others, media personalities who need no further recognition; a handful of media-created "leaders," including Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips and Tea Party Patriots co-founders Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler (both Phillips and Martin declared bankruptcy, yet they're advising tea party Republicans on debt?); a handful of outside groups who love to hurl ad hominems such as "elite" and "inside the Beltway" when talking about people like Boehner when they are, in fact, the elite (FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, Club for Growth, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity); and elected leaders such as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, head of the Republican Study Committee, and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who grandstand and make political assertions and promises that are sheer fantasy.
Meanwhile, freshman congressmen have been targeted and pressured by some of the aforementioned groups to vote against Boehner's plan. South Carolina's contingent was so troubled, they repaired to the chapel Thursday to pray and emerged promising to vote no. Why? Not because Jesus told them to, but because they're scared to death that DeMint will "primary" them—find someone in their own party to challenge them.
Where did they get an idea like that? Look no further than Sarah Palin's Facebook page, where she warned freshmen about contested primaries and urged them to "remember us 'little people' who believed in them, donated to their campaigns, spent hours tirelessly volunteering for them, and trusted them with our votes." Her close: "P.S. Everyone I talk to still believes in contested primaries." While they're at it, they also should remember that Palin came to the tea party long after the invitations went out. The woman knows where to hitch a wagon.
Unfortunately for the country, which is poised to lose its place as the world's most-trusted treasury and suffer economic repercussions we can ill afford, the stakes in this political game are too high to be in the hands of tea partyers who mistakenly think they have a mandate. Their sweep in the 2010 election was the exclusive result of anti-Obama sentiment and the sense that the president, in creating a health care plan instead of focusing on jobs, had overplayed his hand. Invariably, as political pendulums swing, the victors become the very thing they sought to defeat.
Who's overplaying their hand now?
It must be said that the tea party has not been monolithic—and the true grass roots shouldn't be conflated with leaders who disastrously signed on to the so-called "Cut, Cap and Balance" pledge. What is it with Republicans and their silly pledges? Didn't get enough Scouting? This pledge now has them hog-tied to a promise they can't keep—the constitutional balanced-budget amendment. As many as a third desperately want a pardon from that commitment, according to sources close to the action.
Hubris is no one's friend and irony is a nag. The tea partyers who wanted to oust Barack Obama have greatly enhanced his chances for re-election by undermining their own leader and damaging the country in the process. The debt ceiling may have been raised and the crisis averted by the time this column appears, but that event should not erase the memory of what transpired. The tea party was a movement that changed the conversation in Washington, but it has steeped too long and has become toxic.
It's time to toss it out.
Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker(at)washpost.com. (c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group.