We got an excellent glimpse into the schizophrenic mind of the Tea Party movement in Charleston recently. Of course, the movement is schizophrenic nationwide, but nowhere more than in South Carolina, where dwell the two polarities of the teabagger universe, Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint.
Letâ€™s start with Sen. Graham. For over a year the far-right fringe of the Republican Party (pretty much synonymous with the Tea Party) has been at war with Graham on a number of issues, including a general willingness to cross the aisle and work with Democrats. They have been particularly outraged over his proposed compromise legislation on immigration reform, his vote to save the nationâ€™s banks from collapse in 2008, and his accommodating spirit on energy policy.
Itâ€™s all blasphemy and treason, according to the teabaggers. Real Republicans would have let the banks fail, deported 12 million illegal immigrants by any means necessary, and kept the country frozen in its 20th century addiction to fossil fuels and greenhouse gases.
So despised is Sen. Graham by some Republicans that several GOP county organizations â€“ including Charleston â€“ have actually censured him. Graham has responded, saying that the Tea Party movement would â€œdie outâ€ and that it lacked a â€œcoherent visionâ€ to sustain it. For their part, teabaggers call Graham a RINO â€“ Republican In Name Only.
As an example of a real Republican, they point to Jim DeMint, the man who has become the darling of the teabag movement with his calls for tax cuts, spending cuts and a balanced budget, no matter what it costs in jobs, security and quality of life.
In an effort to smooth out some differences, Graham on Sept. 1 called a meeting of local Tea Partiers at North Charleston City Hall, 150-seat capacity; first come, first served; no media allowed. That did not stop some media members from trickling into the meeting, including The Post and Courierâ€™s Robert Behre, who reported that the meeting was mostly civil and orderly.
The same day Graham spoke to the teabaggers in North Chuck, he stopped by that State Ports Authority office in Charleston, along with 1st District Rep. Henry Brown, to warn that if the stateâ€™s congressional delegation could not secure federal funding to deepen Charleston Harbor, the stateâ€™s economy could be seriously threatened.
The issue would seem to be a no-brainer. Dredging rivers and harbors to facilitate commerce is part of the federal governmentâ€™s historic role. But in these strange Tea Party times, reason and tradition mean nothing. Ideology is everything and Jim DeMint is the ultimate ideologue.
DeMint is opposed to the federal government giving the SPA $250 to $300 million for dredging. Designating such funds for Charleston Harbor would be an â€œearmark,â€ that dirty little word in the teabag vocabulary. Earmarks, in one form or another, have been going on since the founding of the Republic. Traditionally, members of Congress have bragged about â€œbringing home the baconâ€ to their states and districts and the most productive legislators were rewarded with reelection, year after year, even if they were otherwise invisible and ineffective.
To keep faith with his teabagger constituency, DeMint officially opposes all earmarks on principle â€“ even earmarks that would make his state more competitive in international trade. But this is how his spokesman, Wesley Denton, described the senatorâ€™s decision.
Denton told the P&C that the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees dredging of the nationâ€™s harbors, â€œis drowning in a massive backlog of projects because every year Congress passes hundreds of earmarks they canâ€™t keep up with. Many of these earmarks are wasteful and distract from truly important needs like the study of Charleston Harbor. Thatâ€™s why Senator DeMint has authored and voted for needed Army Corps reforms, to reduce the project backlog, and refocus the agency on critical needs.â€
So there you have it. In perfect doublespeak, DeMintâ€™s spokesman does not say whether the senator supports an earmark for dredging Charleston Harbor, but clearly says that the problem is all those other states and municipalities that want their harbors dredged, their levees reinforced, etc. Yes, the problem is other people. But nothing from DeMintâ€™s office addresses how we are supposed to get Charleston Harbor dredged to keep it competitive with Savannah and other East Coast ports. And I have not heard or read anything to indicate that the teabaggers had any objection to DeMintâ€™s completely evasive response to this critical issue.
Lindsay Graham was right. The teabaggers lack cohesion, substance, vision. There is simply nothing holding this movement together except rage and self-delusion. The only ones the teabaggers are fooling are themselves â€“ and even they will figure that out some day.
See Will Moredockâ€™s blog at www.charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/thegoodfight