There’s no doubt about it: The tea party is on a roll.

Its support helped propel Scott Brown into Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat; it led the way in shouldering aside ultra-conservative Robert Bennett in Utah’s Senate primary, in favor of an even more conservative candidate; and it was a factor in forcing Florida Governor Charlie Crist to leave the Republican Party to run as an independent.

And finally, as the pièce de résistance, it saw one of its favorite sons–Rand Paul, son of Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul–win the Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, despite the massed opposition of the entire GOP establishment, lock, stock and Dick Cheney.

Could life be any sweeter?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Paul could keep his mouth shut, for one thing. In an interview after the election he launched an assault on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It seems he thinks lunch counters, for example, shouldn’t have to serve African Americans if they don’t want to.

Hardly had the uproar over that died when Paul attacked President Obama for being mean to BP, the leaky oil giant. Paul called criticism of the British firm “un-American,” and also said we shouldn’t jump all over Massey Energy just because 29 miners died last month in its West Virginia coal mine disaster.

“Accidents happen,” he said.

Which prompted John Kyl, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, to say: “I hope that he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here.”

That’s Washington-speak for “Quiet, dummy.”

But Paul, like his father, is not merely a Libertarian but a “Paleolibertarian.” He believes in a government so small you hardly know it’s there.

In common with most of those extreme conservatives, he is an honest man who does not mince words. And he’s as crazy as a tick.

In a world dominated by gigantic global corporations with virtually unlimited funds to influence elections, the belief that personal freedom lies in a weaker government is a form of insanity.

The problems of the tea partiers, however, are just beginning. Should they start winning actual elections, they will be placed in the position of the dog who, after chasing cars all day, finally catches one. What’s he supposed to do with it?

Tea partiers want to cut the deficit. Well of course. Don’t we all?

But they don’t want to raise taxes. OK, but then they’re going to have to cut government spending. Fine.

They are a lot of things you can do to cut government–abolish the Education Department, get rid of the Federal Reserve, do away with subsidies to farmers and small businesses, privatize the Post Office, end foreign aid–and all of them put together won’t balance the federal budget. They’re too small.

There are basically three places big enough to make a real difference: the military, Social Security, and Medicare. Are conservatives really ready to take on those sacred cows? People like Rand Paul might be, but most others, not so much.

They would also like to end government bailouts of failing corporations and banks, but they hate the idea of regulating industries and banks in order to make their collapse less likely.

So they doom us to frequent financial crises that spiral down into depressions (as opposed to recessions), complete with bread lines. Is that a platform you can win elections with?

They want to create jobs while shrinking the deficit and making the government smaller, a trick akin to a magician sawing a lady in half, then producing her whole a few moments later.

One thing, though: If these people ever do get into office, we won’t need term limits. About one term is all the public will be able to stand. Voters may be slow to understand their best interests, but they’re not that stupid.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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