A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Today I'd like to comment about the Tea Party movement.
The Occupy Wall Street folks seem closest to a fairly far left wing of the Democratic Party, while the Tea Party people occupy the far right position of the Republican Party. Neither one is an organized political group in the usual sense, although the Tea Partiers obviously worked hard to elect Republicans in 2010.
In a sense, the Tea Party is the latest manifestation of the struggle within the Republican Party between its moderates and its radicals.
The first time I became aware of that struggle was in the Presidential campaign of 1952. As the Republican Party's nominating convention began, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, a solid conservative by the standards of that far-off day, appeared to have a lock on the nomination.
Except for a novice to party politics named Dwight David Eisenhower.
Eisenhower represented the more moderate side of the Republican Party. I remember the mellifluous Senator Everett Dirkson delivering a blistering speech in which he blamed the moderates for leading the party to defeat in 1944 and 1948.
He glowered at Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate who lost to Franklin Roosevelt in '44 and was upset by Harry Truman in '48. Dirkson urged the delegates to eschew the moderate position and go with a real Republican of unimpeachable conservative qualifications.
Somehow the convention went with Ike, who – moderate or not – swept into the White House by huge majorities in 1952 and 1956.
The point is, the battle for control of the Republican Party between conservatives and moderates is nothing new. The major difference between 1952 and today is that the entire tone of American politics – in both parties – has marched consistently to the right.
So now we have the Tea Party conservatives, who want to move the nation still farther rightward. They have certainly pushed the Republican Party toward a more conservative stance.
Many of the Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 with the help of Tea Partiers have sworn never to vote for tax increases of any sort. Their intransigence (or loyalty) has been a major factor in triggering the budget battles that have racked Washington all year.
Politics is the art of knowing how, and when, and how much to compromise. But the Tea Party position seems to be an inflexible insistence on holding the line against any and all tax increases.
Maybe they're right. Our budget troubles, and the enormous deficits Washington has run up, stem from Congress' willingness to spend more money than the government takes in. While it might seem reasonable to increase taxes to help make up the shortfall, the Tea Party's position is that the more money we give to Washington, the more they spend.
As President Ronald Reagan said, the problem isn't that we're not paying enough taxes, the problem is that the government spends too much.
Trying to rein in government spending is like trying to build the Great Wall of China with nothing more than a toothpick. Perhaps an unyielding stand against increasing taxes is the only way to get the job done.
But there's something else that bothers me deeply about the Tea Party. It's their know-nothing attitude toward science. They seem to be against stem cell research, against women's abortion rights, and against Darwin's concept of evolution.
Politicians who want Tea Party support faithfully parrot the statement that evolution is a "just a theory," and schools should give equal weight in science classes to other ideas, such as creationism.
Any politician who takes that position is either ignorant or a liar. Either way, I wouldn't want such a person in the White House.
Look, you could say that Newton's concept of gravity is "just a theory." But gravity exists. Jump off the roof and you'll get proof of it.
Darwin's concept of evolution has been proven by mountains of evidence. To deny it is the height of ignorance. And folly.
Stem cell research is already providing clinical successes in treating a variety of ills. But not in the United States. Ultraconservative resistance to the advance of knowledge is like a lobotomy that destroys our intelligence.
Ben Bova is from Naples. His latest futuristic novel is "Leviathans of Jupiter." His website address is www.benbova.com.