The lowest common denominator of the tea party political philosophy has now been defined by Montana State Rep. Alan Hale, R-Basin, who argued last week on the floor of the Montana House of Representatives against a package of stronger drunk-driving laws on the grounds that they were big-government, anti-business and a threat to Montana's way of life.
We have heard a lot of anti-government tirades in the last couple of years, but this was the first that defended Cooter Brown's right to drive his F-150 while three sheets to the wind.
Hale, a tea party Republican who faithfully votes for every pro-gun, pro-life bill that comes down the pike (and in Montana, that's a lot of bills) and who carries the endorsement of something called the "Traditional Values Coalition," spoke last week against a package of bills that would strengthen Montana's drunk-driving laws by allowing prosecutors to present evidence of repeat offenders' DUI records going back 10 years instead of five, which is what the law now allows.
Few of Hale's colleagues seem to have recognized this threat to liberty, but Hale, who is the proprietor of the Silver Saddle Bar and Cafe back in Basin when he isn't defending freedom in the Capitol in Helena, set them straight: "These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all," he said in a brief but passionate speech. "They are destroying them."
Montana is a state of vast open spaces interspaced with small towns, he said, and tying one on at the local watering hole is part of rural Montana life.
"These taverns and bars in these smaller communities connect people together," he said. "They are the center of the communities. I'll guarantee you there's only two ways to get there: Either you hitchhike or you drive, and I promise you they're not going to hitchhike."
It wasn't exactly on par with Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1775, but it wasn't bad for Montana, and it has shown a bright light on a new movement that has gained ascendency in this country, a movement that we call, "The Marching Morons," after an old science-fiction story of the same name. The story, written by the late C.M. Kornbluth in 1951, portrayed an America run by idiots as a result of overzealous breeding by the society's more stupid elements.
When we read about Alan Hale down here in Denton County, we were immediately reminded of Precinct 5 Constable Ken Jannereth, who has been convicted once of criminal mischief for destroying a gate put up by his property owners' association and who dodged a second bullet when a grand jury declined to indict him on a charge of running an illegal collection agency out of his office.
Alan Hale and Ken Jannereth are but two of a legion of clodhoppers, appleknockers, dim bulbs and peckerwoods loose in the country today. Their world view has been formed by watching old John Wayne movies and reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard.
They are not only ignorant; they are aggressively ignorant. They are proud of what they don't know and suspicious of anyone who knows more than they do, which is just about everyone. Science is for eggheads; tolerance is for bleeding-heart sissies, and what's good for General Motors is good for the USA.
For most of our history, people like this have been tolerated, if gently mocked; now they are showing up on city councils and state legislatures, in Congress and on cable television. We have elected them or bestowed celebrity upon them because there is something in each of us that longs for simple answers to complex problems.
We long for Andy Taylor of Mayberry and forget that he never really existed. We forget, too, that Andy Griffith, the talented actor who played Sheriff Andy on television, also played the lead in a scary little jewel of a movie called A Face in the Crowd, in which a funny, folksy country singer named Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes lies, steals, cheats and schemes his way to the top of the entertainment world while secretly planning a political career with the help of wealthy, reactionary businessmen.
Some Americans may look at two-bit politicians like Alan Hale and Ken Jannereth and see Andy Taylor. We see Lonesome Rhodes.