Backwoods Mentality Takes Over Congress

A growing "redneck subculture" is strangling the political process.

Posted:
 
ted20cruz_backyard20mentality20congress_charles20ellison
Sen. Ted Cruz (Tom Williams/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- At some point, the federal government will reopen, and the country will go back to a kick-the-can paradigm that runs the budget on a series of back-to-back manufactured crises. This we know, since for the most part most people -- left and right -- accept the governing construct.

But a larger philosophical problem remains unresolved. The root issue left dangling like a broken branch on a dead tree is the size of that construct and how essential it is. The evidence for that answer will come not so much from the shutdown itself but from the length of it. Each day it lasts is a day's opportunity for someone to prove that we can all get along just fine with government resembling two cups on a string. 

The nation, reasonably frustrated, continues asking reasonable questions: Who would want a government hanging by a string? Who could conceive it, and why go that far? We know that blaming this twisted idea on talk-show conservatives and fake libertarians just doesn't cut it anymore.

We also can't use the typical line about gerrymandering gone wild or red states dug in. That's a lot like baby Stewie bugging Lois on Family Guy. Tell us something we didn't already know. It's like covering your eyes during a slasher film but making a peephole with your fingers after reconciling that it's, well, just a movie.  

Our mistake has been assuming that the Tea Party army gearing up was nothing more than conservatives enthusiastically rebranding their political participation. That's what healthy democracies do, right? However, after getting a lane, they rolled over us like 18-wheelers hogging the highway. Giving these fractious Republican fanatics the benefit of some normal political doubt is like a broken flashlight under the blanket. We're still trying to engage in a largely partisan conversation, when we should have a deeper, Freudian-based psycho-social session that straps these cats down on a couch. 

Plainly put, we're not dealing with sane folks here. We'd like to think it's all just a badly produced Crossfire episode, but it's not. Just because they manage to wear suits every day doesn't prove they've got it all together up there. And just because they're elected officials doesn't prove their constituents are any less crazy. Politicians are reflections of where they're from -- you can take Billy out of the barn, but you can't take the barn out of Billy.

What we have trolling the halls of Congress these days is a redneck subculture specially brewed and designed for the times. Tragically, we missed its stirrings while we were amused by the rise of pop South. American Idol voters were as captivated by a string of neo-country rockers and rural swooners as cable was by the twang of hit shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and 19 Kids and Counting.

We've blindly watched the expansion of a soft-power Confederacy (if you will) celebrating rural culture and small-town values in a nation where 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas. We've become desensitized to pickup trucks with rebel-flag bumper stickers, failing to consider the historical ramifications of treasonous paraphernalia.   

But a closer examination will reveal that these are places where a stubborn contingent of anti-big-government, anti-Obamacare, red-meat Republican legislators reside. And while they represent only a fraction of the country's living space, they've managed to dominate a large chunk of our collective discussion on the role of government. Not only do they get license from rural and exurban voters who've backed them into rhetorical corners during town hall meetings and impromptu conversations at the Waffle House, but their language and cultural standard infects national discourse.    

We assume that they, like everyone else who goes to Washington, want to participate in a spirited federal or national political process. But do they really?