What if the Tea Party ruled? Imagine a land, let's call it Glennbeckistan, where white, patriarchal, religiously zealous, Tea Party-type patriots hold a super-majority in both houses of the legislature, sit in the governor's mansion, and control most local governments. It's a place so out of sync with the rest of the nation that states' rights and even secession are always on the agenda. It's a place where gun-ownership trumps all other rights, climate change is considered an insidious socialist conspiracy, and a miscarriage can be investigated as a potential crime. Welcome to Utah.
Our rightwing red-state legislature just finished its annual 2010 session. So-called message bills challenged the federal government's right to govern federal lands, enforce gun controls, legalize abortion, and mandate health reform. In addition, Utah's lawmakers cut the education budget, raised tuitions, and slashed services to the disabled. In fairness, state legislators across the nation, faced with disastrous drops in revenue, have likewise slashed social services and balanced budgets on the backs of the poor. In Utah, however, they also shelved pensions for public employees. That they could take such draconian action is instructive -- organized labor is weak here, unions being another manifestation of creeping socialism. Utah's history of labor organizing, or grass roots and civil rights organizing for that matter, is anemic compared to most of America. This is the place, after all, where IWW radical Joe Hill was arrested and executed.
Although Utah may be unique in some ways, Republican leaders here want the rest of the nation to be more like us. In fact, a survey of the 2010 Utah legislative session could be considered a trailer for a movie the national Republican base would like all Americans to star in. This movie would be for the Tea Party movement what Avatar is to tree huggers.
Hot-Tubbing With a Naked Fifteen-Year-Old
Before we get to this movie's best scenes, let's identify some of the actors: The posse that goes after the bad guys -- the black-hatted Obamacrats -- are easy to identify. They wear white hats (and skins). They also wear their superior principles like shiny badges, and they claim to be the underdogs in this script, even while acting like schoolyard bullies. And the bad guys? In our state, they're nowhere in sight unless you're looking at Glenn Beck's chalkboard.
Demonizing opponents is a creative activity for the posse and paranoia comes in endless variations, so the bad guys could be tax-and-spend liberals, illegal immigrants, gays (or at least those following "the gay agenda"), non-Republican blacks, federalists, socialists, environmentalists, pornographers, feminists, or those nature worshippers who believe in evolution. The cast of evil-doers changes each year.
So this year, for example, immigrants and gays got a break. Proposed bills to scuttle Salt Lake City's new nondiscrimination ordinances were shelved until a future session of the state legislature -- the Utah-based Mormon church is already catching enough flack for its support of Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California. Further antagonizing the national gay community just now was deemed unwise. Immigrants were beaten up enough in last year's session.
The good guys are easy to recognize because they're the ones constantly telling the audience how good they are. Sadly, as is so often the case with holier-than-thou-heroes, there are visible stains on the white hats. In fact, the 2010 session was bookended by scandal. As the doors opened, Sheldon Killpack, the State Senate majority leader and an outspoken proponent of tougher drunk-driving laws, was busted for… drunk-driving. He promptly resigned.