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Shutdown Exposes Simmering Conflicts

Barrington M. Salmon | 10/23/2013, 3 p.m.
The federal government has reopened, 800,000 so-called "non-essential" federal employees are back at work, post-mortems of winners and losers drag ...
President Barack Obama

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Cay Johnston said the American people have to wrest control from what he called a fanatical minority.

"We have to elect a different Congress," said Johnston. "Government is based on majority rule with some limitation on that. The Tea Party types, however, believe in the minority view. I think the way this played out has energized the Tea Party types. Their publications, which I read, blame this on the liberal media not honestly telling their story. There's not a shred of evidence to prove that they are a majority.

The Tea Party depends on what is politely called low-information voters."

Electing members of Congress who aren't as radical and irresponsible as the Tea Party faction is made more difficult with what the GOP has done since before the 2010 elections, Johnston said. Republican legislators who dominate state legislatures have tilted electoral politics in their favor through a calculated and cynical attempt to steal non-whites' right to vote, he said.

"One point four million more Democrats than Republicans voted in the 2012 elections so why is the GOP in control of Congress? Because blacks, unions and young people were corralled in Democratic districts, districts with disproportionate numbers of Democrats," Johnston said. "That, combined with the crude and open effort to take the franchise — voting — away, are key Republican strategies. It is deeply racist but the media — which lives with white skin privilege — only talks about this occasionally."

In an Oct. 15 Wall Street Journal Opinion piece, William Galston, quoting author and professor Walter Russell Mead, described Cruz and the Tea Party as heirs of the Jacksonian legacy of being "suspicious of federal power, skeptical about do-gooding at home and abroad, [opposing] federal taxes but [favoring] benefits such as Social Security and Medicare that they regard as earned."

Jacksonians, he said, are anti-elitist, believing that the political and moral instincts of ordinary people are usually wiser than those of the experts.

And like true Jacksonians, Galston added, the Tea Party is "Angry and in full revolt against a new elite."

That's what has many establishment Republicans worried as the struggle goes on for the soul of the Grand Old Party.

"At first the Tea Party played a constructive role. It could have been healthy but not the way it's going now," said Robert L. Woodson, founder and president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. "Blacks had their own Tea Party with SNCC and other organizations which pushed against the status quo. And the Progressive Baptist Convention split with the National Baptist Convention. It's healthy to have resistance from within. Dr. King said one of the surest signs of maturity is to rise to the point of self-criticism."

Woodson criticized establishment Republicans.

"Mainline Republicans have to put some starch in their shorts and be willing to engage Tea Party people without rancor and debate them without vilifying each other," he said during an interview Tuesday, Oct. 22. "If that happens, it would benefit the party."

Woodson, 76, said he doubts the country will see another shutdown.

"People are looking at the polls. They don't want it to go to zero. One of the Founding Fathers said nothing concentrates the mind more than a hanging in the morning."