Lexington, Concord, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and John Hancock’s extra-large signature (so the King would be sure to read it); these are icons of our nation. Our heroes, including their actions and documents, are part of the shared treasure that is America’s heritage. And yet, in today’s politics, there is a movement that proposes to co-opt that history for its own purposes. From Glenn Beck mindlessly dressing up as Thomas Paine, to countless YouTube videos, to rallies dominated by muskets and tri-corner hats,to Rick Barber’s unhinged campaign ad, the Tea Party and its adherents are turning our history into a campaign slogan.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with advocating for a libertarian approach to government (and the drastic reduction in taxes and regulations it supports); it is a perfectly rational argument. There is nothing wrong with advocating for a balanced budget amendment, which can also be rationally argued for. There is no great crime or moral deficiency in being either liberal or conservative. Nor is there any loss in dignity attached to being somewhere in between. The damming moral and ethical component to the Tea Party’s method, is that they seek to deliver a one-sided veiw of our nation’s history with the goal of rationalizing its own political agenda.
To this end, the adherents of the philosophy are willing to ignore all of the writings of the Founding Fathers that are contrary to their philosophy, and embrace all that supports their notions. They stand, paradoxically so, in support of the Constitution but against the Amendments. They are willing to argue as un-American, laws and practice directly supported by the Constitution. Finally, they are willing to weave into all of their communications the direct, relentless, and unmistakable call to violence and revolution. Some in the so-called fringe will admit to this call to action, a moment of clarity that I find refreshing. The majority of candidates allude to violence, allude to revolution, allude to secession, allude to mutiny, but retreat into defenses of “analogy” and “humor” when pressed. It is the act of a coward to call for violence and then to step back while others step forward.
The constant scream of “taxation without representation” stands as the theme of this crass and thinly supported ad campaign. The colonials that were our Founding Fathers were fed up; with the quartering at their expense of Royal soldiers; with searches and seizures of private property without warrant; with taxes levied and collected by a Royal Parliament for which no Colonial was allowed admittance or voting rights. Our nation, in perfect adherence to the Constitution as originally written and properly amended, has 435 members representing reasonably proportional groups of citizens. Our nation, in adherence to the above, has 100 Senators representing the fifty states. Our nation has a President elected to represent the whole of the country. In a nation of 300 million, laws which an individual or group opposes are the norm. It isn’t immediately apparent that taking your toys and going home is a patriotic act.
That we are paying $1 trillion plus interest in tax dollars for an unnecessary war in Iraq is not taxation without representation; it is the consequence of representative decisions that we didn’t like. That our nation passed Medicare in 1965 with a narrow majority (and over the objections of Ronald Reagan, who recorded a famous ad labeling the program communism) is not taxation without representation, it was a representative decision we didn’t like. We could repeat this list ad nauseum, going through the long history of our republic to find every piece of legislation that was passed by a majority and not through unanimous consent. But the point, I hope, is already clear.
The Tea Party proposes that we abandon our Constitution because they don’t like majority rule. They propose to ignore the Founding Fathers because they don’t like compromise. They propose to threaten, badger, and lie because they are angry that their views are in the minority (and because they are foolish enough to believe that their opponents won’t fight back). And they propose to steal the icons of American history because they lack the intellectual content, discipline, and honesty to argue on behalf of their political goals. The great tragedy of this is that many good Americans have been taken in by the earnest and repetitive salesmanship of these liars. The morally bankrupt godfathers of the movement, like ex-Congressman Dick Armey, know better but don’t care. It is the quintessential story of American politics; a few corrupt and power-hungry folks leading a group of trusting Americans unaccustomed to reading history.
Read the Constitution thoroughly, and take an interest in collections like The Federalist. The foundational documents of America are compelling works, and their recitation is sufficient to bring round most of those now following the Tea Party. Truth is a powerful ally, and it lies not with those jaded souls dressed in Colonial costumes. Don’t let the Tea Party escape with our treasure.
The Rational Middle is listening…