The Tea Party movement ins the US started as a beast of the Republican Party but now it might kill it. The teabaggers began as astro-turfing – big money from key Republican players went into giving the illusion of a grassroots movement against ‘socialist’ health care reform, action on climate change, and other moderate centre-left policies. The Republican leadership, in which we must count Fox News, purposely whipped their base into a frenzy based on ignorance and fear that was totally divorced with reality.
Now, the Tea Party monster is off the leash. What was once merely PR has become reality. The Republicans have succeeded in radicalising their own base to the point where it is turning on the leadership. All over the country, ‘old school’ or ‘moderate’ Republicans (many of whom have pretty extreme rightwing records themselves) are being defeated in the Republican primaries by drolling idiots who are screaming about Obama’s Commienazis taking over.
The danger for the Republican Party is that these fruitcake candidates are the only ones radical enough for the base but are far too radical to win the moderate swing vote. By stoking extremism to the point where it’s got beyond their control, the Republicans risk confining themselves to electoral oblivion.
National used to take a responsible approach to climate change. It was a National government led by Jim Bolger that singed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and it was a National government led by Jenny Shipley that signed the Kyoto Protocol to that convention. National began policy work on introducing a price on carbon emissions.
But, for purely political reasons, that changed once they were in opposition. National saw climate change as an issue they could use to inflame their base (much as the Right in the US has).
Suddenly, a price on pollution was being portrayed as a tax grab. National MPs whipped up the ‘Fart tax’ campaign, Shane Ardern famously drove Myrtle the tractor up the steps of Parliament and Bill English was photographed on the same vehicle holding a sign saying ‘The mad cow shouldn’t have signed’ (I presume he meant Helen Clark, although it was Shipley who signed Kyoto).
At the same time, the Nats fueled doubt among their own members about the existence of climate change, promoting the world’s most absurd conspiracy theory instead. Most famously, John Key said:
“This is a complete and utter hoax, if I may say so. The impact of the Kyoto Protocol, even if one believes in global warmingâ€”and I am somewhat suspicious of itâ€”is that we will see billions and billions of dollars poured into fixing something that we are not even sure is a problem”
The Nats cynically made their own members and supporters stupid and angry. Let’s say that again: the Nats purposely promoted ignorance among their supporters.
Now, the party is full of these brain-dead conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept the reality of climate change. And that’s no longer useful to National. It’s government now, it’s got to do responsible government things. And one of those is to impose a (too-little, too-late) price on carbon emissions.
The rump that forms the leadership of National realises that climate change is a serious problem, that it was only ever playing politics on the issue. But the knuckle-draggers that make up the base don’t understand that. They’re confused and angry to see their party suddenly recognising climate change and introducing an ETS. At the Lower North Island conference weekend before last, two remits were unanimously passed that opposed the Party’s own half-arsed ETS.
How dangerous will this get for the Nats? Will the knuckle-draggers leave for ACT? Or will they try to drag National back into their dark age mindest where science is not understood and treated as witchcraft.
Neither option is good for National. And they only have their own cynical, short-termist politics to blame.