“Our rich are too poor and our poor are too rich!” It’s a pithy expression that captures the outlandishness of the Republicans’ core ideology. But for those unsatisfied with a party that espouses only mildly insane political views, there is the Tea Party, a national movement of the paranoid right that opposes everything from income taxes and tyrannical federal government czars to the socialist Kenyan usurper in the White House. That many of their gripes consist of nothing more than delusional fantasies of the mentally unstable has not stopped politicians and political activists on the right from attempting to channel this disturbingly widespread anger into a coherent political force. The Tea Party Convention, a for-profit gathering of diehard right-wingers that featured former Gov. Sarah Palin alongside such luminaries as former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who opened the convention last week by pining for the days when literacy tests kept blacks from voting in the South.

Oh dear.

Amazingly, Tancredo was one of the saner speakers. His rant against “the cult of multiculturalism” and lament that “people who could not even spell the word vote or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House [whose name is] Barack Hussein Obama,” may be the angry lashings of a man desperate to hold on to the dying white male Christian power structure, but aside from calling Obama a “socialist ideologue,” it is possible to understand what he is referring to. His remarks may be wrong, crazy and racist, but at least they deal with events that actually happened. What is impossible to comprehend are the words that came from people such as Joseph Farah, who, after giving a speech questioning Obama’s citizenship, told a group of his fellow convention-goers, “I can give you absolutely conclusive and definitive proof that Obama’s birth certificate does not exist. How else do you explain why Joe Biden is vice president?” Former Gov. Palin, the keynote speaker at the convention, insinuated that the very ideas of hope and change were foolish and suggested we all consider bringing back “divine intervention” into our government. What?

Clearly this movement is empty, cynical and tired. It is all opposition and has no policy prescriptions, no vision for the future. There is nothing new about this rhetoric or the people involved. In the past we would have called them McCarthyists, Birchers, and survivalists; ever fearful of the government’s black helicopters. The Tea Party movement is simply a continuation of the same right-wing paranoia that has infected American society since it’s founding. It’s a vague collection of feelings summed up perfectly by one attendee: “What do I want? Well, I want it all to stop. Our way of life is under attack. I truly believe they are trying to destroy this country. It’s just hard to say who ‘they’ is.”

“They” are you and me; Americans without irrational and deep-seated fear of the other. Maybe we are destroying the tea partiers’ idea of what this country should be, but that is undoubtedly for the better.