Everything Burns: The Joker Theory and How The Dark Knight Explains The Tea Party

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Thinking about the current government shutdown, I’m reminded of something I told my cousin 2 years ago in the middle of that debt ceiling crisis-the Tea Party is like The Joker in The Dark Knight and this scene is probably what it looks like when “moderate” Republicans talk to their Tea Party counterparts:

It resonated with him quite well that we talked several times over the next couple of days about it and the debt crisis.

As we have both a shutdown and another debt crisis on the way, I figured I’d explain this theory to the big World Wide Web:

At the beginning of The Dark Knight, the mob is in trouble. Where once they ran Gotham, Batman is squeezing them out. Low level criminals are too scared to break the law. Drug suppliers aren’t available in Gotham. The various criminal organizations have had to cartel their efforts and are at the mercy of foreign money launderers. Worst of all, the government and the people of Gotham have begun to stand up to the mobsters who they once feared.

Enter The Joker. Before Batman began his (caped) crusade, he was just a psychotic small-time thief who ripped off fellow criminals. Now, he has a proposition for the mob: he will kill Batman for half of their money. With all of them facing jail time, the mob agrees. Soon, The Joker begins a reign of terror. He starts killing judges and police chiefs. Then (as shown in the above clip) he turns on the mob. Soon the whole city is in a state of chaos.

I saw parallels between this and the Tea Party. For decades, the moderate wing of the Republican Party has been withering away. From Reagan to Gingrich to Bush 43, the Republican Establishment has been concerned about gaining and exploiting power through what ever means necessary. However, their policies, from the Iraq War to tax cuts to deregulating Wall Street have been disasters. People began to turn on their ideas and, in 2008, Republicans were in tatters. They had come off of 2 election cycles where the Democrats had exceeded expectations and where Barack Obama had done better than any Presidential candidate in 20 years. Things were not looking good.

Even with these losses, Republicans and their business allies were not interested in compromise. They decided they were going to oppose Obama’s agenda tooth and nail. The hope was by preventing him from passing anything the American people would turn on the President and he would loose reelection. Things would go back to the way they were. However, Republicans were not very popular. They needed a new group.

Enter the Tea Party. For decades, there has always been an element on the right that has opposed the rights of workers, women, minorities, and gays and for businesses to have no restrictions on making a profit and the police and churches having more control over our daily lives. The genius of the Republican establishment has been to keep them at arms length while using them as the ground troops of the conservative movement. With the election of Obama, the barriers they had erected in the past were torn down. Republicans embraced this fringe with money and support.

At first, it appeared to pay off. Town Halls of Democratic officials were interrupted by right-wing protestors. When Ted Kennedy died, Republican Scott Brown got elected in blue-state Massachusetts, putting Obamacare’s passage in peril. In the fall of 2010, Republicans retook the House. With a weak economy and high unemployment, it looked like Republicans were going to go back to the days of 2003.

However, the Republicans now had a beast they couldn’t control. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, as early as 2010, Tea Partiers were calling for a shut down just to shut down the government. Their idea was government is so terrible, anything to take it down was okay. They downplay the effects of laying off thousands of government employees and even of the United States defaulting on its debt. Liberals know that transitioning from a bad system (like private health care) to a better one (like public health care) takes time and patience and requires compromises that ensure people don’t have a rough ride to a better place. Tea Parties don’t really care about making a smooth transition to their libertarian utopia. If the world burns, they’ll watch with joy.

Last year proved the Republican embrace of the Tea Party was a failure. Barack Obama pushed through a far-reaching agenda not seen since the Great Society. In political terms, it failed to stop Obama’s reelection and get control of the Senate out of the Democrat’s hands. If it wasn’t for gerrymandering, Democrats might control the House as well. Despite their failures, the Tea Party is even stronger. The Republican leadership lives in fear of loosing their jobs to more radical members of their party. Pleas by several business interests to moderate have been ignored. The Tea Party appears to be determined to take down the federal government, just because they can.

Now, The Dark Knight comparison isn’t perfect. First of all, the main theme of the movie-whether The Batman is a good influence on Gotham or inspires madness-isn’t applicable. Barack Obama isn’t the Caped Crusader. He’s the democratically elected leader of the United States, not a masked vigilante living a double life. I suppose you could compare him to Harvey Dent. However, I’m certain he’d wouldn’t become a vigilante if things get rough and he suffers a major personal tragedy.

However, the is also one parallel that sadly doesn’t exist. In The Dark Knight, after Harvey’s tragedy, the mob tells Commissioner Gordon where The Joker is. It was reported today there are many in the business community, while scared of the effects of the shutdown or a debt default, still hope the Tea Party can pull off suspending Obamacare and getting tax and entitlement cuts.

We can only hope someone care get through to the Tea Party and explain Why this is So Serious…

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