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Tea Party terrorists on the loose

A. Barton Hinkle
August 9, 2011

I was savagely attacked by a crazed terrorist last week—and barely survived to tell the tale.

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration. What actually happened was, Virginia senatorial candidate Jamie Radtke dropped in. She shook hands with the Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial Department staff and talked.

Still—it was a very narrow escape for all of us. We were this close to having our heads sawed off with a rusty knife. Because you see, Radtke is a Tea Party Republican.

According to Froma Harrop, the new president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers (NCEW), Radtke's Tea Party roots place her among those who "have engaged in economic terrorism against the United States." (Harrop, incidentally, will spearhead the NCEW's newest venture, which is called—kid you not—the Civility Project.)

To Harrop and nine out of 10 other pundits, Tea Party Republicans are "insane," "ultraorthodox" extremists—"political suicide bombers," says Maureen Dowd of The New York Times. As Dowd's colleague Nicholas Kristof put it two Sundays ago, Radtke and her ilk are "the biggest threat to America's national security."

Well, tell you what: The terrorist crazies are getting savvier. Not so long ago they all seemed to be Middle Eastern men with glassy eyes and moist upper lips, wearing big overcoats to hide their explosive belts. Once in a while they'd show up as racist yahoos like Timothy McVeigh or Luddite hermits like the Unabomber.

But Radtke wasn't wearing a vest at all. Neither was her advance man, Chuck Hansen. The mother of three wore a business suit and heels; he was Friday casual. They could have fooled anyone—even an Israeli airport profiler. They looked like perfectly normal, middle-class Americans.

They sounded like it, too. Radtke didn't shout "death to America!" even once. She didn't quote a single line from The Turner Diaries. (She might have fired a few rounds from an AK-47 into the ceiling for emphasis once or twice—but who doesn't?)

She did talk a lot about George Allen, the former Virginia governor and senator she wants to take the GOP nomination from. She's got a long slog ahead of her on that score: According to a recent poll Allen beats her 11-1 in a hypothetical primary. Seventy-seven percent of Virginians don't even recognize her name.

But Radtke thinks she has enough time to overcome that obscurity. And she thinks Allen's record leaves her an opportunity to win over at least the Republican wing of the Republican Party, which is the wing that counts in nominating contests.

She remarks with amusement on Allen's tergiversations over the corn-ethanol subsidy: He once was "a reliable vote against expanding the ethanol industry," noted The Des Moines Register in 2005. As he began to think about the presidency, he switched (a spokesman said his position had "evolved with technology").

This year Allen supported a measure to end ethanol support, claiming to have "long maintained" such a position. It depends on what the meaning of "long" is. A spokesman said Allen had held that view since 2007. Radtke laughs, and points out a 2008 piece in which Allen supported a dollar-a-gallon tax credit for ethanol blends sold in the U.S.

In sum: Allen stood (a) against government support for the ethonol industry, (b) then for it, (c) then against it again, unless (d) the ethanol is sold domestically. Now he might be against it categorically, unless he's changed his mind again. Check your watch.

Radtke also rakes Allen over the coals for his conversion on raising the debt ceiling: He voted for it four times, but a spokesman says he would have voted "nay" this time. And she tweaks him relentlessly for his past support of big-government notions such as the High Speed Rail Investment Act.

For his part, Allen—tacking right—says he regrets his past support for the Bush administration's expansion of domestic government through Medicare Part D and the No Child Left Behind Act. But he also supported other measures to expand the scope of government: the Patriot Act most notoriously, but also the Military Commissions Act and, his principal contribution to federal law, a measure to pump billions into nanotechnology research. No wonder a slice of the, ah, "Republican street" is upset. Some Kiwanis conservatives may feel about Allen as diehard liberals do about Barack Obama: betrayed.

But it's easy to talk big when you don't have to back it up. Radtke never has served in Congress. She's never even held elective office. (Then again: Neither did one of liberalism's patron saints, Paul Wellstone, before he became a senator.) She never has had the pleasure of having her arm twisted by the White House, party leaders, and campaign contributors with chits to cash in. Maybe once in office she, too, would fold like a wet sock.

Or maybe she'd just cut off their heads. You never can tell with those crazy terrorist types.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.



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