The Barefoot Conservative Nation descended on Washington in April like a wolf on the fold.
Libertarians, creationists, birthers, Birchers, flat-taxers, string savers, and tin foil collectors--all the wonderful groups that make up the tea party's intellectual wing--came to town waving signs, shouting slogans, and collaring hapless Congresspersons in their dens.
They may not have achieved their goal of shutting down the government, but in the end, they achieved something even more improbable--they made you feel sorry for Congress. (Makes you kind of miss the Silent Majority doesn't it?)
At issue was the federal budget, which needed to clear Congress to keep the government going. The protestors think the government is spending way too much and the national debt is too big. They want to cut both of them to the bone. And they intend to use the Republican Party as their knife.
Democrats, on the other hand, are more committed to using government to deal with the problems of the nation and tend to resist cutting programs.
Thus, a civil war seems to have broken out while we weren't paying attention.
This isn't the way to conduct a democracy. The traditional way for our two-party system to resolve differences is for each party to give a little and move forward without having satisfied the extremists on either side.
The tea party people and their cohort won't buy that. They don't want 60 percent of their agenda fulfilled. They don't want 90 percent. They want it all.
House Speaker John Boehner managed to keep his rebellious troops in line long enough to sign off on a compromise. President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did the same with the Democrats. The conservatives got some of the cuts they wanted, but were forced to give ground on public subsidies to Planned Parenthood and government regulation of greenhouse gases.
Does that end the fight? Not on your life.
In a few weeks, by July at the latest, Congress will be asked to raise the debt ceiling so the government can continue to pay its bills and the rumble. The tea partiers have promised not to be so compliant next time.
If we escape that crisis without a catastrophic meltdown, we will be looking at yet another new budget that needs congressional approval in the fall. By that time, the blood on the Capitol's floor should be up to the gunwales.
This is nuts. We can't allow a relatively small minority of zealots to hold the nation hostage to their ideology simply because they throw themselves on the floor and hold their breath.
It's not as though the tea party has right on its side--although you'd think so if you believed much of what you hear on radio and television.
Our federal debt is too big; I'll give you that. But the government's not "broke," as Republican leaders insist on insisting. We're a rich nation, now and for the foreseeable future. Our deficit is manageable if we're smart about it.
There are deficits and there are deficits. Those produced by "stimulus" programs are acceptable, even desirable right now, because they bolster our sagging economy. If we'd had a bigger stimulus two years ago, we'd be better off now.
The long-term deficits we accrue with programs like Medicare, where we give money to doctors and patients only after we've paid a tribute to the insurance companies that guard the entrances to our healthcare system like trolls on a bridge.
Those deficits we can and should do something about.
We also need to raise taxes on upper income people who haven't shared in our "shared sacrifice."
Government has to be about more than making rich people richer. They're rich enough now. It's time we started worrying about the rest of the people and about the future of generations yet unborn.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.