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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Party's Over?

Not by a long shot.

Imagine a spring break in which tens of thousands of college students simply decided to extend their disorganized vacation and to take up permanent residence in Florida with, dare I say it, no exit strategy and no plan for the future.

That's the Tea Party in the nutshell from which most of these maniacs have recently emerged.

It amazes me that even worthies such as Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and all the great writers in the blogosphere have yet to delineate the crucial and glaring differences between the original Tea Partyers in Boston Harbor in 1773 and the latter-day palimpsest that's done little more than infect and infest the national discourse with incoherent screaming and kneejerk opposition to anything that smells like the Potomac.

The Tea Partyers in 1773 were protesting a new tea tax by the British, which would've seriously hurt many tea merchants in the colonies but the destruction of the British tea was merely symbolic, a synecdoche touching on one of the biggest impetuses for rebellion and finally revolution: Taxation without representation.

Unless you live in Washington, DC or happen to be in the LGBT community, this isn't an issue anymore. The Tea Partyers of today are protesting taxation even with representation. There was no Boston Massacre in 1770 or any other that serves as a rallying cry for the maniacs who'd clumped together at CPAC last weekend.

The original Tea Partyers sought not anarchy but independence from a British tyranny and to establish the central American government that their so-called descendants wish to abolish with no clue and no plan for replacing with anything else.

There's no real connection other than a tentative, ideological overlap between the Tea Partyers and the Republican Party. In fact, the GOP, with some very notorious and troubling exceptions, have been betrayed by the Tea Partyers, clueless as they generally are, as being out of step or completely oblivious with the concerns and fears of the American public. In fact, the Tea Party movement, if nothing else, has shown up the Republican Party to be an elite Ivory Tower Treehouse better than have liberal and progressive activists.

It's easy to disparage the Tea Party movement when one looks at the often racist, misspelled and plainly clueless signage such as "Get Your Government Hands off my Medicare!" Yet it would be both politically and intellectually dangerous to completely dismiss out of hand the impetus behind their own mini revolution.

Despite Keith Olbermann's dismissal of them being merely a small knot of angry white people, Tea Party activists actually cross age, racial, political and income differences as well as state lines. In fact, an offshoot of the Tea Party Movement has recently cropped up in, ironically, Great Britain.

As Frank Rich today accurately summarizes, the Tea Party reviles the Republican Party with nearly the same intensity as they do the Democratic Party and Obama administration. The Tea Party movement seems to represent the actual and justified angst, disillusion and disaffection with established government as a whole.

But that, too, would be as big a mistake to make as dismissing them outright. They do not speak for progressives who, while being superficially sympathetic with the cynicism of the Tea Party movement, are not advocating the abolition of the IRS or the Federal Reserve or the entire government as a whole.

While often falling far short of championing and upholding democratic ideals in its 234 year history, the Great Experiment that is our republic has also nonetheless served us admirably well and, until the rise of the Bush administration, was the envy of the world. During those 234 years, our government served to depose real tyrants and to help more vulnerable countries with humanitarian aid and advancing the ideals of democracy while establishing at home the highest standard of living on the planet earth.

The answer is not to abolish the central government or our entire tax revenue base. And it's pointless to have to say aloud what the consequences of such an action, even were it feasible, would entail. But from a national security standpoint alone, the secession of even one major state (such as Texas, for instance) let alone the dissolution of our federal government, would make us more vulnerable than ever to terrorists, hostile nations and fifth column operatives.

To say nothing of what we spend on actual national defense, Medicare and Medicaid, S-CHIP, Pell grants for our young adult students, highway and bridge renewal, public school and state universities, and countless federal grants that partly if not wholly subsidize the renewal of our infrastructure and providing jobs and, yes, that evil tax revenue.

Obviously, the Tea Party movement, giddy over its newfound notoriety and having captured the ears of several elected officials, hasn't thought beyond what would happen if the American central government suddenly disappeared or was overthrown in a highly improbable coup de etat.

We liberals and progressives, despite the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004, have yet to lose faith in the power of the ballot box or in the enduring potential of the democracy that guides our Republic.

The Tea Partyers have.
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