It’s interesting to note that the recent incarnation of the Tea Party bears little similarity to the original activists of 1773 and that supporters who carry the flag, “Don’t Tread on Me,” are using it in an historically, inaccurate context.
The original Tea Party was a first response protest by Boston colonists protesting Britain’s Tea Act – a tax levied on tea that was shipped to the American colonies from England. Its principled battle cry was “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” It was one of many political protests that gave rise to America’s independence from a British Monarchy.
In 2009, citizen groups congregated under the term “tea parties” to protest larger federal deficits and the stimulus plan put forth by President Obama. The current Tea Party Patriots, as they prefer to be called, is a loosely based organization with no apparent national headquarters.
According to teapartypatriots.org, “Tea Party Patriots, Inc. is a non-partisan, non-profit social welfare organization dedicated to furthering the common good and general welfare of the people of the United States. TPP furthers this goal by educating the public and promoting the principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets.”
My first reaction: Who’s not for greater responsibility, limited government and a free market system? My trouble with the Tea Party stand is that it is so broadly defined that it can and has been open to differing interpretations.
One sign at a rally in front of the Rhode Island State House read, “Liberty or Death.” Another in Florida: “We will not go quietly into the socialist night.” And at a highly vocal Chicago rally, one Tea Party Patriot held a sign reading, “The American Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama’s ovens.” Not exactly a Goldwater Republican there.
Historically, the Gadsden flag, “Don’t Tread on Me,” was first used in 1775 by the U.S. Navy to seize British ships carrying war supplies to British troops. Now, the flag has been adopted by Tea Partiers to protest against a large federal government as a whole.
What’s most troubling to me are not the protests. Protesting has a long and important tradition in this country. It’s a right we all enjoy, (and one that would be illegal under a true socialist regime). However, what many current Tea Party Patriots have done is co-opt historically recognizable symbols and cause many to believe that their definition of federal intrusion is directly linked to the historic definition. Therefore, it must be right. And that’s wrong.
Taxes are a favorite theme of the current Tea Party Patriots. Factually, 95% of working families in America pay fewertaxes. Some Tea Party members are fearful of government gun control. According to “a claim made by Gun Owners of America,” Politifact.com writes, “a version of a health care bill… ‘could be used to ban guns in home self-defense. Now,” an e-mail reads, “all guns must be listed on your nest (2010) tax return!” Completely, “Pants-on-Fire false” says Politifact. There is no choice between “Liberty or Death” facing America here.
So, who is the Tea Party, and why are they believing the worst case scenario inspite of the facts?
Last week the New York Times and CBS News sponsored a poll about them. Here’s a portion.
“The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45. And while most Republicans say they are ‘dissatisfied’ with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as ‘angry.’”
84% of Tea Party supporters hold an unfavorable opinion of President Obama. Congress rates worse at 96% disapproval numbers.
However, according to the poll, “Most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as ‘fair.’ Most send their children to public schools. A plurality do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, they think that Social Security and Medicare [both federally funded programs] are worth the cost to taxpayers.”
“At rallies,” the Times writes, “Tea Party supporters often nod to President Bush’s role in creating the deficit. Yet in the poll, 57 percent of them view Mr. Bush favorably — about the same percentage in the general population that has an unfavorable view.”
And the digger you deep into the numbers and interviews of Tea Party supporters, the more incongruity you find.
But there is something important the Tea Party represents, and I’ll talk about that on Wednesday.