Felicia Muftic – Are today’s Tea Partyers worthy of the name?
April 20, 2010
Last weekend I viewed the brilliant HBO movie, John Adams. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling to understand what our founders were thinking in the latter 1700s. What were the anger factors that caused the protest against British Colonial rule? Are the current tax and big government protesters worthy of the Tea Party name?
What struck me was the nature of the Tea Partying spark that lit the flame in Massachusetts. It grew into wider citizen involvement and motivated John Adams to become a leader of the Continental Congress. It was he who kept the Congress from becoming simply a petition protest body, and Adams led it to declare independence. That movement toward independence began as a protest of “no taxation without representation.” It was not necessarily a revolt against all taxes; the colonies revolted against being taxed unreasonably without a voice in the British Parliament to make their case.
The Tea Party movement that has developed since Barack Obama’s election also protests high taxes. It has been inflamed by medical insurance reform. One of its major thrusts has been to promote fear that reform would increase federal deficits with resulting higher taxes, while dismissing independent projections to the contrary.
Where the Tea Party differs from its 1770s namesake is that today’s participants cannot claim they lack representation in the body politic that decides taxation issues. Many in Congress advocate their viewpoint and more could join them. Unlike the colonies, dissent can be expressed through our democratic process, and the right to dissent is protected in the Bill or Rights. For that reason, violence, domestic terrorism, or threats of it, and revolution have no place in the U.S., so long as access to the ballot and the Bill of Rights are functioning and protected.
Where so much of the anger rages with Tea Partyers is because those who share their views or wanted leaders who more resembled themselves lost the election in 2008. As John McCain himself cited the old saw regarding presidential appointments to the Supreme Court, “elections have consequences.”
In November 2010, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for election. Those elections could have consequences, too. The anger felt by the Tea Party movement is real and it gives wind to the sails of the Republican Party as they make fear of the federal debt the rationale for saying no and advocating to repeal and replace anything Democrats accomplished.
Those influenced by the Tea Partyers have made it an overarching goal to reduce the federal deficit. Deaths due to lack of health insurance, or the misery caused by those without access to insurance because of pre-existing conditions, or the contribution of health care bills to family bankruptcies are of less concern to them.
It may sound attractive to roll back any government expansion to pre-January 2009 levels. The federal deficit was already rocketing its way to the stratosphere when Obama was sworn in. The greatest leap in gross debt relative to GDP since Carter occurred during the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations. Tax cuts had only added to the deficit because major reductions in spending did not happen.
The Tea Party message of less taxes and smaller government has been heard, only it does not specify whose ox is to get gored. For every proposed reduction, some major voting constituency will threaten to take their votes and go elsewhere. Even tampering with the space program caused an uproar. (Health reform may even reduce debt.)
Watch what happens if the 1,000-pound guerillas of Social Security, Medicare-Medicaid, and defense get laid on the table. Why consider them? To paraphrase bank robber Willie Sutton, because “that is where the money is.” No meaningful reduction in the size of the debt or government can happen without trimming those: They are a great deal more than half of the budget. (Data at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities http://www.cbpp.org and http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals Table 7.1)
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