To understand why the Tea Party has such a stranglehold on the legislative process we must understand the nature of hyper-partisan districts that reward extremists for their outlandish and unproductive behavior. Because of deep overwhelmingly red districts the Republican Party base has all but disintegrated into an anti-tax, anti-immigrant, anti-government, anti-science cult.
A party that once turned the wisdom of party icons like Bill Kristol, William F Buckley, Ben Stein and George Will has now forfeited intellect altogether and become increasingly the party of carnival barkers like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Alex Jones. Talk radio and the hyper-partisan land of FOX News has created an alternate reality for culturally isolated Republican voters.
As the rest of the nation has become more cosmopolitan and more accepting of cultural changes including gay marriage, the rural and suburban hamlets that were specially drawn to keep returning Republicans to office over and over again, have grown increasingly radical in their opposition to progress. Nowhere is this more obvious than along the highways and back roads of East Texas in two adjacent congressional districts represented by Louie Gohmert (TX-1) and Steve Stockman (TX-36).?Both men not only oppose House Democrats, but they are both so radical that they view House Speaker John Boehner as a “liberal” to be opposed as well.?From just North of Beaumont to Marshall Texas you can drive for nearly 250 miles without leaving the Congressional Districts represented by Steve Stockman and Louie Gohmert, two of the most extreme members of Congress. The lonely drive will take you through the heart of Texas? Piney woods as you run parallel to the Louisiana border.
Although the two Congressmen may appear absurdly dogmatic to the rest of the nation, each of them claimed over 70 percent of the vote against their Democratic opponents in 2012. This area of the country is among the most hostile to Barack Obama. Although the hostility may be towards liberalism in general, there is also a thinly veiled racial element to that hostility. Inside the boundaries of Steve Stockman’s district is Jasper Texas where African-American James Byrd was dragged to death by white men in 1998.
Stockman returned to Congress in 2012, but he had served in the 1990s as well. His most memorable act in his previous stint in Congress was to accuse President Clinton of staging the showdown in Waco simply to justify banning assault rifles. He wrote his statement in Guns & Ammo Magazine, and the magazine ran his piece shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. In 1996, Stockman was defeated by Democrat Nick Lampson. Although his extremism contributed to his defeat in 1996, by 2012 the entire Republican Party had moved in his direction, and it afforded him a great opportunity to return to Congress. He won a crowded primary and then a runoff, before easily dispatching his Democratic opponent.
Since returning to Congress, Stockman resumed where he left off, calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama and continuing to use inflammatory rhetoric to make his point. When it was time to vote for Speaker of the House, he was one of ten House Republicans who voted against retaining John Boehner as the House speaker. He verbalized that he was willing to impeach Obama over the President’s support for gun control legislation. When Stockman fought extending the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) he argued:
?This is a truly bad bill. This is helping the liberals, this is horrible. Unbelievable. What really bothers?it’s called a women’s act, but then they have men dressed up as women, they count that. Change-gender, or whatever. How is that?how is that a woman?”
Like Stockman, Louie Gohmert also carried over 70 percent of the vote in his mostly white Texas district in 2012. Like Stockman, Gohmert also represents an East Texas District that was traditionally Democratic and populist. The two districts meet near Sam Rayburn Reservoir. This area was once home to Congressman Rayburn and also to the pugnacious Jack Brooks, two Democrats who personified the Southern Democratic populism of the region just a few decades ago.?Now Gohmert and Stockman speak with the same folksy Texas twangs, but their loyalties are not to the working folks of East Texas but rather to the super rich, very few of whom reside in their districts.
Like Stockman, Gohmert is a constant thorn in the side of Boehner and the House GOP leadership. He too chose not to vote for Boehner as Speaker of the House when the 113th Congress began the 2013 session. Gohmert voted instead for Allen West, who was no longer even a member of the House, having lost to Patrick Murphy in November of 2012.
Gohmert alleges that Al Queda Muslims are impersonating Hispanics to cross the US border and wage jihad on American soil. He also maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood has great influence in the Obama administration.
Here in East Texas, where the adult population is 35 percent less likely to have a college degree than in an average district, and where residents are nearly 25 percent more likely to be high school dropouts than the national average, anti-intellectualism runs strong. Residents are all too willing to embrace the most outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding the Obama White House. In a region where demographic transformation is happening only slowly, the longtime residents seem to be fighting against modernity and an unwelcome shift from a white dominated country to a multicultural one.
Along the Sam Rayburn Reservoir, the former iconic House Representative is now but a ghost. This area seems to have traveled backwards in time to a period even before Rayburn’s era. This is where James Byrd was dragged to death in the past two decades. It is also where hatred of Obama is at its most feverish and irrational level. The Congressmen in this area, Steve Stockman and Louie Gohmert, are the embodiments of a land that has been forgotten by time. The area is not only socially and ideologically isolated from urban multicultural meccas like New York City and Los Angeles, but it is also culturally distant even from nearby Houston, Texas. Houston, where multiculturalism is accepted, a lesbian mayor holds office, and the horror of lynch mobs is only a distant memory, seems miles removed from Gohmert and Stockman’s districts.
While America has become more tolerant and diverse, that trend has not spread evenly, and East Texas is one of the places where it has barely spread at all. In this crucible of white resentment and antipathy towards the federal government, the Tea Party brews its toxic tea without much resistance. That tea then infects the body politic with the demented Congressmen who represent the area.
These voters not only sent Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman to Congress, but they were also voting strongholds for Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Rick Perry. As long as these people, and others in similar districts in other rural and exurban districts like theirs, continue to think and vote the way they do, America will be at an impasse. Something has to change.
Edited/Published by: SB