Ehrlich: Would you like some tea?
Robert Ehrlich is running for governor — again. Although my mother always taught me “no means no,” it appears Bob’s mother did not. Four years after former Governor Ehrlich was booted out of office, he’s back in the game again, running against the Democrat who beat him, Gov. Martin O’Malley. When Marylanders step into the voting booth this November, they will essentially have to choose between a loser and a man that may well deserve to be a loser.
But Ehrlich faces a dramatically different political climate than he did four years ago. Barack Obama is now president, and with his presidency has come a wave of anti-government sentiment embodied in the Tea Party movement. Made up of a strange mix of conservatives, libertarians, disgruntled Republicans, right-wing militants, neo-Confederates and others, the Tea Party are mad as hell and have started to influence Republican Party politics.
Just last week, the Tea Party movement ousted a three-term Republican senator from Utah, who described the political atmosphere as “toxic.” One of the figureheads of the movement, weepy Fox News host Glenn Beck, has stated Thomas Paine was the Glenn Beck of the American Revolution, which, if true, should have historians questioning the mental stability of the revered author of Common Sense.
Tea Party activists who have come to dominate the Republican Party demonstrate a passion for history, often showing up to events in colonial garb, but also an ignorance for details. Last month in Virginia, Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell declared April Confederate History Month but left out one tiny tidbit from the celebration: slavery. McDonnell eventually conceded — perhaps after he read a copy of the Confederate Constitution — but that didn’t stop April from being Treason Pride Month in Virginia.
And in March, the Texas Board of Education rewrote history in a way that hasn’t been done since the era of Jim Crow. The Board overhauled the social studies curriculum for thousands of Texas students to stress the superiority of American capitalism, to emphasize the perks of conservatism and to question the founders’ commitments to secularism.
The Republican Party has a rich history. It’s the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation, Theodore Roosevelt and progressivism. But in recent years, it has become the party of God and war, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, nativism and bigotry. In their quest to purge the party of moderates, who former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has implied have no place in the GOP, Tea Party activists have essentially set the stage for a new party of brutes.
And now, in his quest for governor, Ehrlich has a fine line to walk. He governed in a time when moderatism was cool, not the root of all evil. Shortly after he announced his candidacy last month, Ehrlich attended a Tea Party rally in Westminster in an apparent attempt to shore up support among the new muscle of the Republican Party. Perhaps he’ll continue his tradition of moderate governance. But as the Tea Party movement has demonstrated, reality has no place in conservative politics.
As we enter another summer of conservative discontent, Ehrlich will have stormy waters to navigate. For all our sakes, let’s hope the spell of delusion that has engulfed so much of the Tea Party movement and Republican Party doesn’t claim Ehrlich as yet another victim.
Justin Snow is a junior history major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.