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Tea Party complication

Yet despite the Democrats’ problems, Republicans are aware that their own brand is in tatters, less popular than congressional Democrats or President Obama. As such, they’ve decided to steer clear of any policy talk that might remind voters of the Bush years, focusing instead on making 2010 a referendum on Democratic governance.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and the Tea Party crowd has filled that void. If Republicans refused to talk about their vision of America, these extremists would do it for them. Now things have gotten more complicated.

“With the Tea Party creating the mischief that it is in Colorado, we may not win that seat. My sources in Nevada say with Sharron Angle there’s no way Harry Reid loses in Nevada,” said Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah to the AP, after recently being ousted by conservatives at his state’s party convention. “[A]t the moment there is not a cohesive Republican strategy of ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ And certainly among the Tea Party types there’s clearly no strategy of ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ ”

It’s not just a question of strategy, but of a clear grasp of the issues.

“The problem with the Tea Party, I think it’s just unsustainable because they can never come up with a coherent vision for governing the country. It will die out,” noted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to The New York Times. He recounts pointedly asking a group of Tea Party activists at a meeting, “ ‘What do you want to do? You take back your country — and do what with it?’ ... Everybody went from being kind of hostile to just dead silent.”

They certainly haven’t been silent in the national debate. Instead, they’ve polluted it. Take, for instance, the healthcare law.

“There were no death panels in the bill,” said Republican Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), recently ousted in his primary for the crime of pushing back against birthers and other ignorant Tea Party types at townhall meetings. “[T]o encourage that kind of fear is just the lowest form of political leadership.

It’s not leadership. It’s demagoguery … It’s very difficult to come together to find solutions.”
It’s hard to find solutions because it’s impossible to have a legitimate debate when one side tries to argue the merits of policy alternatives while the other side screams about death panels, Kenyan-born presidents, BP slush funds, communism and an NAACP that’s supposedly racist because it called out the racism within the Tea Party movement. 

“[T]hey make more money off of race than any slave trader ever,” frothed Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, on NPR, while penning a “mock letter” from the NAACP leadership to Abraham Lincoln, with such gems as “Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.”

The national GOP can’t move past its usual claptrap. Lowering taxes isn’t a solution to its deficit hysteria, while its reflexive defense of corporate rogues like BP and all of Wall Street won’t win it many votes. In fact, none of its ideas will. 

So the party has ceded its agenda to the Tea Party — and thrown a lifeline to Democrats this November.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).