Excess Self-esteem and the Tea Party

flag USMy Comments: I’m stepping in political waters here but I can’t help myself. This came from the Financial Times and the insights shed a lot of light on how we got to where we are in Washington. There is no reason to think this doesn’t apply to both the Republicans and the Democrats alike, but right now the focus is on those NOT in the White House.

For most of us, our value systems are largely a function of the world we grew up in when we were between ages 11 through 20. The forces at work during those years have a huge impact on what we become as adults. As an investment advisor, I can attest to this when I compare those whose lives were impacted by the Depression years compared with those whose early lives were spent following World War II.

By Gary Silverman in New York | October 3, 2013

The Republicans who shut down the government are like overindulged, trophy-laden children

Call them the trophy kids. They grew up at a time when every young American was a winner and every Little League sports season ended with the presentation of a shiny self-esteem booster to every player on every team, no matter what they did.

I saw them in action as I cheered on my own little leaguers, and I wondered what would happen to all these young people with shelves full of happy endings when they grew up and had to deal with the non-MTV version of the real world.

I’m beginning to think that some of them became the kind of adults who would shut down the government. Maybe I’m getting curmudgeonly in my old age, but I have detected a decidedly trophy-kid sensibility in the young guns of the Republican party who have caused much of our federal apparatus to grind to a halt this week.

The mark of a trophy kid, to my mind, is a self-confidence as well reinforced as an underground Iranian nuclear reactor. They feel as if they are winning even when they are losing – and if we know anything about the Tea Party contingent on Capitol Hill, it’s that they practice this kind of accounting.

The Republican hard core in the House of Representatives has been labelled the “suicide caucus” – by a conservative commentator, Charles Krauthammer. They essentially voted to shut down the government in the hope of blocking implementation of President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms. But they can’t do that because they lack both sufficient support in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and a friend in the White House, which remains occupied by the very man who supplied 75 per cent of the syllables for “Obamacare”.

Yet that isn’t getting the Tea Partiers down. Like any proper trophy kids, they aren’t hung up on results. To them, winning is a sensation – a buzz. The zeitgeist was captured a few days before the big House vote by Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator, who compared the current feeling in the Republican ranks to that reported by the actor Charlie Sheen during his infamous internet rants of two years ago.

“Does anybody remember Charlie Sheen when he was kind of going crazy … and he was going around, jumping around, saying, ‘Winning, winning, we’re winning’,” Mr Paul said. “Well I kind of feel like that. I think we are winning. And I’m not on any drugs.”

No, he’s high on life – but one that could scarcely have been imagined by your humble narrator when he started playing little league baseball in the late 1960s. It was, to use the technical term, a simpler time, when we measured ourselves by more objective criteria.

Trophies, as a result, were dear. You only earned one if your team won a championship or the coaches picked you for an all-star team. By the time I hung up my sneakers, I had won four, and even today I wish I knew where my mother put them after I left home.

By contrast, if you lost back then, you cried. Because baseball was the most popular little league sport of that era, we all generally came equipped for such moments with a leather glove in which we could bury our faces when the tears began to flow. Viewed from the touchy-feely, tell-it-all-to-Oprah perspective of today, that may seem cruel. But it was fair, and it produced people prepared to be citizens of a republic. We could pull for our team, fight for our cause – and then live by the numbers on the scoreboard.

By that measure, I spent most of my life thinking of the Republicans as the party of actual winners. From 1952 to 2004, the Grand Old Party won nine of 14 presidential elections. Twice, a Republican – Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 – carried 49 of the 50 states (with both receiving 55 per cent or more of the vote in such current “blue” states as California, Illinois and New Jersey).

It’s hard to imagine the current government-closing GOP matching that record of success. At the risk of running foul of libel laws, I would suggest that many of today’s Republicans remind me of those fey Democrats of yore who inspired Will Rogers to say: “I belong to no organised party. I’m a Democrat.”

The sad thing for Republicans is that so few of their national leaders – trophy laden and otherwise – seem to understand their position. Mr Obama knocked them on their posteriors almost a year ago, but they still can’t distinguish that particular body part from their elbows, as the old saying goes.