July 25, 2013

Alan Caron: Bennett appointment signals Maine Republicans' distress

Meanwhile, the tea party sells out to Big Business, and the Zimmerman trial shows justice's limitations.

The state Republican Party last week named Rick Bennett as its chairman, to try to unite the fractured Republican family. Bennett's a good and able man who has served the state well as a state senator and businessman, and it was smart to enlist him. This will be a good move for Republicans, if they can make it work. But it's an uphill climb, at best.

The fringe elements that currently control the party don't really play well with others, as the party's last convention and LePage's term have made clear. The party's most ideological elements, most notably the tea party, generally despise compromise, common ground, collaboration, reaching out, listening and respecting differences.

In other words, they lack all the essential ingredients for unity, except on their terms.

So why are the governor and the tea party supporting Bennett? The simple answer is they're in big trouble and they know it. The Republican brand in Maine has been damaged over the last few years, and in particular over the last few months, thanks to LePage's uncontrolled anger and loose talk.

They've already lost the Maine House and Senate. Now, it seems clear they're about to lose the Blaine House and be left to wander in the wilderness for a few election cycles, recovering from their self-inflicted wounds.

LePage's only chance of winning re-election next year is in holding on to the support of virtually all Republicans, knowing he's going to lose nearly everyone else. But he's been losing a trickle of moderate Republicans for a while, and that trickle became a river after the Vaseline remarks.

So the LePage/tea party team reluctantly sprang into action, ridding themselves of the party leadership that they'd unanimously installed just seven months ago and putting a respected moderate in charge, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.

CORPORATE AMERICA CO-OPTS TEA PARTY

Speaking of the tea party, on Sunday this paper ran a story about the Air Force trying to cut spending by ditching the Global Hawk, an unmanned drone made by Northrop Grumman in California that the Air Force says is redundant. The cut would save $2.5 billion over the next five years.

Within days, Northrop launched a massive lobbying campaign, targeting all congressional districts with suppliers to Grumman and pressing into service two congressmen in whom they'd invested more than $135,000 since 2009. Congress quickly forced the Air Force to buy the system it didn't want.

What were the tea party folks doing while this outrage was unfolding? Fighting to control spending, of course, by cutting food stamps out of the farm bill, while supporting lots of unneeded waste and fraud in that same bill, including new giveaways to corporate farms to grow nothing, and protections that keep the price of key commodities like sugar artificially high.

They've also, of course, been among the staunchest supporters of subsidies to coal, oil and gas multinationals, which by some estimates cost the taxpayers $50 billion a year. Like those folks need our tax dollars.

This is all a perfect illustration of how social movements like the tea party can become co-opted by powerful partisan and economic interests and end up forgetting what they set out to do.

TRAYVON MARTIN, RACE AND JUSTICE

On July 13, George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. The verdict was a predictable legal one, given the absence of direct witnesses, but also a vivid reminder of how justice isn't quite yet race-neutral.

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