We’re supposedly just three days away from the final House votes on health care, and still nobody’s sure how it’s going to go. If you listen to Fox News, there’s no way Nancy Pelosi will round up the necessary votes; over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was talking like passage was a done deal even before America’s favorite liberal leprechaun found his conscience (and, quite likely, a pot o’ gold of some sort) on St. Patrick’s Day.

With all the lingering uncertainty over ancillary issues — most prominently the rather despicable fact that the health security of millions rests on the re-election prospects of a handful of Democratic congressmen from red states — both sides are getting more than a little desperate. Pelosi has cooked up her ”deem and pass” scenario, which would fold the House’s undesired vote for the Senate bill into its (much preferred) vote on President Obama’s fixes. The idea, ostensibly, is to save some congressmen from a vote they’ll have trouble defending to their constituents; more likely, the true intent is to save Pelosi and the Democratic leadership from being forced to whip two votes when they can’t get their act together to schedule even one.

Yesterday the president, even as he derided Washington’s focus on legislative process, undercut ”deem and pass” as a maneuver that might do vulnerable House members any good in November. And while the Dems can be forgiven for any last-minute parliamentary tricks they find necessary, considering the horrendously bad faith with which health-care opponents have acted over the last year, one can only hope they’ll find the stones to do this the right way and let the question rise or fall on its own merits.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, all hell has broken loose as the various incarnations of the right wing rage (once again) against the injustice of being a distinct minority on the brink of defeat. Their fury isn’t (yet) quite what it was in late October 2008, when the reactionary rantings at McCain/Palin rallies became so extreme that they frightened even the GOP standard bearer. And it’s not quite as bad as last August’s town halls/death panels/birthers freak show. But the general flailings of the Republican/tea party/Fox triumvirate certainly have reached ”Code Red,” as their latest advertising/rabble-rousing gimmick puts it. It’s not so much Code Red for saving the economy, or for defending the American way of life, or anything like that — it’s more of a Shutter Island kind of Code Red, the kind where a few too many lunatics have managed to get out of their cages.

Yesterday, even as tea-party folk were screaming through the office doors of ambivalent House members, Fox’s Bret Baier transmogrified into a town-hall wackjob during his interview with Obama — apparently in the belief that only through disrespect could he break through the president’s focus on substance over process (or at least draw the kind of ratings Roger Ailes demands). Congressional Republicans did their part by conveniently ignoring their own histories with reconciliation and ”deem and pass” while railing against the Dems’ plans as unconstitutional and anti-democratic; by insisting that passing health care will surely mean the end of the Dems’ majorities, even as John Boehner incongruously demands that reform ”never, ever, ever, ever pass”; and even by planning ahead for a repeal effort in 2011 after they presumably take over.

If this confluence of crazy achieves nothing else over the next week or two, it has already given the lie to the silly notion that there’s any distance between Fox, the tea part(ies), and the Republican Party. Baier’s unprofessional interview, piled on top of the million bits of evidence that can and have been collected from years of videotape, proves beyond question that Fox is incapable of ”fair and balanced”-ness even during the ”news” hours outside its evening slate of talk-TV lunacy. And the TPs’ recent shift from denouncing the particulars of health care to obsessing over the Democrats’ legislative maneuverings — with marching orders provided by the GOP and Fox — is only the latest showcase for the simple fact that the tea-party chimera represents nothing like an ”independent” movement, but rather an outlet for the anger of the Republican base.

That base has been in self-loathing mode since at least 2005, when the bankruptcy of modern conservatism became clear for all to see — in the hysteria over Terri Schiavo, in the quagmire of Iraq, in the torture chambers of Gitmo, in the jobs-free ”recovery” of mid-decade, in the comedy of Social Security privatization, in the cronyism of Harriet Miers, in the floodwaters of Katrina. (All of which was quickly followed by the kink of Mark Foley, the hypocritically wide stance of Larry Craig, and much, much more.) ”This isn’t really conservatism,” Republicans began telling themselves as their party’s electoral fortunes soon mirrored the cataclysm wrought by the policies they’d been cheering for years; eventually they disowned the president they’d twice finagled into the White House, and then the GOP nominee who wanted to take his place.

After McCain lost badly, despite their mean-spirited, dim-witted and un-American vilification of his opponent, Republicans amped up their disassociation from their failed party. They answered the call of (GOP douchebag emeritus) Dick Armey (has there ever been a more self-fulfilling name?) and re-birthed themselves as Tea Partyers — in the process creating a cottage industry for ”Don’t Tread on Me” flags, Obama-as-Joker Photoshop posters, and Glenn Beck. Never mind that they brought along oodles of mainstream-Republican politicians and ideas, along with a knee-jerk opposition to anything favored by (that Muslim/socialist/fascist/foreigner) Obama … the Tea Party is an independent movement, by god, and don’t you forget it! You can tell from all the self-described ”independents” who’ve signed up — even though 99 out of 100 of those mavericks is undoubtedly a onetime Republican whose self-loathing emerged early enough to make him change his registration during the last couple of election cycles.

It’s all worked out quite well for the right wing, at least so far. The TPs imagine themselves as scions of true, patriotic conservatism, who can hold Republicans’ feet to the fire while simultaneously manning the barricades against the ”socialist” direction of the Democrats. (All of which they achieve via a combination of screaming into the wind, toting guns to political events, keeping the TV and radio tuned to Fox and Rush, and claiming credit for the election of a fiery moderate like Scott Brown.) Meanwhile, Fox creates its own ”news” programming by promoting, participating in, and covering Tea Party rallies while pretending it’s not a tool of the GOP. And the Republican Party’s politicians can have their shit-kickers and eat them, too, licking the boots of TPs during rallies and conventions while distancing themselves from the rabble’s more extreme behavior.

The Tea Partyers position their goals for 2010 in nothing less than ”revolutionary” terms, but the reality of the change they seek is a restoration of Republican majorities to Congress. (By the way, why is it that Republicans find it necessary to talk of ”revolution” every time a Democrat’s in power — the 1980 ”Reagan revolution,” the 1994 ”Republican revolution,” etc.? Do they find American democracy so fragile, so uncontrollable, or so undesirable that it must be subjected to overthrow metaphors occasionally?)

This is, finally, where the ”independence” of the Tea Party movement falls apart. We’re constantly hearing — in the comments sections of my columns, as well as many other places — taunting suggestions that ”the game’s up” for incumbents in general, Democratic ones specifically. ”This fall, baby. Wait until November,” enthused our friend Autodidact a few weeks ago. Yet, in the absence of a viable third party (and most likely even in the presence of one, if it existed), the only path to defeating Democrats is voting for Republicans. And in nine out of 10 contested races this fall, those Republicans will be not the litmus-test conservatives the TPs would prefer, but the same sort of mainstream, weak-tea Republicans who can win elections in swing districts — the same sort who collectively drove the nation into a ditch between 2001 and ’08, and have done their best to obstruct every attempt to climb out since then, using tactics based not on principle but on purely partisan calculation.

Still, the TPs will vote for those Republicans anyway, and will serve as the backbone of any GOP resurgency that materializes in November. (Does anybody really think their anti-incumbent rantings will extend to voting for Democrats in GOP-held districts?) So let’s put an end the charade of Tea Party independence — because really, folks, is it so offensive to admit what you actually are? Say it loud and say it proud: ”I’m a Republican!”

By the way, I’ve managed to get through this column without using the word ”teabaggers” even once. There hardly seems a point, really — what with the endlessly repeated TP/GOP talking point that Democrats are ”ramming health care down our throats.” It’s difficult to say for sure which Obama agenda item will next arouse (ahem) the right wing’s ire — but it’s safe to guess that the opposition will be packaged with a hilariously kinky double-entendre.