There's a scene toward the end of the great movie Lawrence of Arabia when the Bedouin warriors seize Damascus, their long yearned for and hard-fought prize at last within their grasp.
Alas, chaos soon grips the occupiers. Fires break out over the city and the new, bickering rulers of Damascus find themselves impotent. They know nothing about electrical grids, or how to operate the water system, or how to govern. Meanwhile the British Army sits on the sidelines — and waits.
In short order the frustrated Bedouins, completely bumfuzzled over the complexities of modernity, return to what they know best — the desert, leaving the city to the British.
The lesson here, of course, is that while passion is an admirable quality, passion won't make the trains run on time if you have no idea how a railroad works.
For example: Followers of the tea party, a movement filled with its own political Bedouins of malcontents and folks angrier than Yosemite Sam meets Snidely Whiplash, would throw all the bums out of Washington and replace them with — what?
There is a school of thought that the tea party effort is made up of ultra-right-wing neo-conservatives who believe in smaller government, lower taxes and yada-Glenn-yada-Beck-yada-Rush-blah-Limbaugh-blah-Fox-blah. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this is a burgeoning party-within-a-party, whose ideals are grounded more in civic illiteracy rather than flag-waving, and situational ethics rather than phony motherhood and apple pie patriotism.
You want proof? Christine O'Donnell.
A few days ago, Delaware make-believe Republicans rejected Mike Castle, an able, experienced legislator respected on both sides of the political aisle. A guy who might have given the GOP control of the U.S. Senate was tossed aside in favor of the Gidget from hell — maybe literally.
Christine O'Donnell, a perennial Delaware political gadfly, is less electable than David Duke running in Harlem. She won the Senate nomination thanks to the Know Nothing Tea Party voters who preferred a candidate who has dabbled in witchcraft and hasn't had a job in five years. This is a fiscal conservative whose house was foreclosed on and who used campaign funds to pay her living expenses.
Now there's a Margaret Thatcher moment for you.
Castle's sin? Who knows? Maybe he once said "Good morning," to Barney Frank. Uh-oh.
In Utah, three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, an intellectually honest conservative, was denied re-nomination after being told by a tea party bumpkin he didn't love the Constitution enough.
And in New York, the tea party helped nominate Carl Paladino for governor, a chap who likes to send racist and obscene e-mails. How's that values thing working out for you?
If you are a loyal, rock-ribbed Reagan/Goldwater Republican, you have just been played for a chump. Your party has been hijacked by a gaggle of faux Bible-thumpers, conspiracy theorists, revisionist historians, lemmingesque disciples of the radio dial drive-by bloviators and Sarah Palin, the queen of the cut-and-runners.
This isn't a political party. It's a perverse quilting bee of pinched, ill-informed supernumeraries who would cast an ignorant, unquestioning vote for an unelectable candidate because a failed vice presidential candidate, who looks fabulous in leather, told them to.
You know things aren't looking up for Republican political fortunes when the likes of Karl Rove start checking out real estate listings — in France. Rove looked the most shell-shocked over O'Donnell's primary victory, reacting as if Roseanne Rosannadanna might someday wind up sitting on the Senate Finance Committee.
But Rove himself always has relied upon the cluelessness of an easily manipulated body politic to advance his candidates and causes. The O'Donnell win could be viewed as a case of "The Architect" being hoisted on his own disregard.
In the long run, the ultimate victim of the tea party useful idiot euphoria may be Palin herself. If Palin decides to run for the presidency in 2012 (please, please, please, run, Sarah, run) it's hard to imagine the Republican establishment rallying around a figure who so openly opposed more viable GOP candidates that she may have cost the party at least control of the Senate this year.
To her credit the Palin imprimatur has been a valuable commodity this primary election season. But at what cost to her at least titular association to the party, which has provided her such a lucrative career?
In the meantime, Palin better be careful not to even nod hello in the general direction of a Democrat. These tea party types have a very low threshold for perceived treason — or reality.