What happened last week, in Maine and the nation, shows, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports of the tea party’s death are greatly exaggerated.
The national political scene was shaken by the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia. Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, is a little known college professor who co-authored “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand” and who got a half million dollar grant to promote Rand’s ideas.
Rand was not only starkly anti-government but also opposed to what democratic government requires, compromise. In “The Virtue of Selfishness,” Rand argued that pursuing the collective good was immoral and, “There can be no compromise on moral principles.”
Rand showed the limits of her own ideology by, after decrying Social Security and Medicare, taking their benefits under an assumed name. Tea party Republicans’ opposition to compromise and nearly everything government does is legendary.
Oddly, they also say they revere the Founders, who compromised to craft our Constitution, a document that proclaims that one of government’s purposes is the promotion of “the general welfare.”
The tea party candidate won GOP primary in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which had pitted pro-compromise, centrist Republican Kevin Raye against the starkly conservative Bruce Poliquin. While Raye (like the successful Democratic nominee, Emily Cain) pointed to accomplishments that depended on people working in a bipartisan way, Poliquin derided these as impure deviations from principle.
What does purity mean to Poliquin? Well, he embraced a precept that basically rejects any future fiscal compromises with Democrats, even if those fulfill a good many of his goals.
As Kevin Raye put it in a debate, “It is Bruce [Poliquin] who has signed a pledge which will permanently prohibit him from closing those [tax] loopholes,” Raye said. “That will permanently prohibit him from addressing the idea of special tax breaks.”
Yes, according to Poliquin’s pledge, he would vote against closing every tax loophole that now exists. Even if the special tax break benefits a very small number of people or businesses, giving them much lower rates than the average Mainer, Poliquin would retain it. Hedge fund managers could keep their low “carried interest” rate.
Yet Poliquin supports raising the retirement age before people could receive Social Security, which would translate into Americans paying more in Social Security tax. Because people doing manual labor don’t live much longer than before, they would pay in more but not get as much out. Somehow that doesn’t go against Poliquin’s commitment.
Poliquin, who was endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee and who opposes marriage equality, made appearances at evangelical churches throughout the district. According to blogger Aaron Prill, Poliquin’s visits were “the driving force in both of the margin of Bruce [Poliquin’s] victory as well as the unexpected higher turnout among Republicans.”
(It was also a campaign with such nastiness that conservative former state Sen. Deborah Plowman remarked that “many Republicans feel Poliquin’s personal attacks on Raye during the campaign are ‘unforgivable.’”)
As Raye, who has not endorsed Poliquin, noted on election day, “[Poliquin] certainly has sought to position himself to the far right.”
Disdaining compromise increasingly isn’t just a view held by conservative writers like Ayn Rand but by conservative voters.
Data from a new survey on political polarization from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows shifts toward both sides of the political spectrum. But there are clear differences in how liberals and conservatives see compromise.
When asked if they prefer elected officials who “make compromises” or “stick to their positions,” only 32 percent of consistently conservative people chose negotiators while 63 percent support stand-patters.
In contrast, 82 percent of consistent liberals prefer those who compromise, with only 14 percent desiring politicians who won’t shift views. By the way, most people overall prefer elected figures who will craft agreements.
Given that the most conservative voters oppose compromise, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see GOP primary voters choosing Bruce Poliquin.
In November, we’ll see if a district that’s elected moderate, bipartisan-inclined individuals such as Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, John Baldacci and Mike Michaud, will pick Poliquin, who won’t close any tax loophole whatsoever because that goes against his principles, or Cain, who has worked across the aisle and made change.