Here’s an idea for a satirical horror story: a major party descends into complete incoherence and contradiction… and its members don’t notice.  Like the Monopods in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, they cheerfully repeat their leaders’ latest dictum even if it’s the compete opposite of the last one.   And their movement only grows stronger.

The Tea Party is now furiously in favor of reducing the deficit– so long as it’s not by raising taxes or by reducing spending.  (Reducing health care spending is bad, means-testing entitlements is bad, and of course no touching the defense budget.) 

And they’re opposed to the stimulus, because government can’t create jobs, and at the very same time Tea Party Congressmen are busy getting stimulus money for their districts– in order to create jobs.

And they’re capitalizing on populist anger against the Wall Street bailout… by giving in to Wall Street’s resistance to reform.

Jacob Weisberg made the case that the real problem is the American people, who have a toddler’s insistence on getting whatever they want and not paying for it.  But that gets things backwards, I think.  Why do so many Americans think government spending is good but paying for it is bad?  Because their leaders have been telling them so for thirty years.  Irresponsible leaders make for irresponsible voters.

There’s also the only-got-a-hammer syndrome: the Tea Party is so caught up fighting the 1960s, or perhaps Bolshevism, that they just can’t see that it’s 2010 and their enemies left the stage long ago.  (Anyone who thinks Obama is a socialist reveals that they know nothing about either.)  Tax cuts and apocalyptic vitriol are the only tools they have. 

It took a long time for the Republicans to get into this situation and I’m afraid it’ll take as long to get out.  There are smarter, younger conservatives out there… but they won’t be influencing party policy for a generation.  The Tea Party is no good at actually governing, but they’re formidable at enforcing ideological purity.  Normally losing elections is the way that a party learns that its message needs changing, but that’s not working, obviously– loss only makes them more bitter and more extreme.  And the few Republican moderates are just too weak to stand up to the extremists.