the Tea Party and me

Oct. 4, 2010

I went to a Tea Party rally here in Madison a couple of months ago with my video camera. Despite my initial skepticism I was impressed. In the past I have been with camera to similar pro-choice, pro-life, gay pride, anti-war, anti-nuke, pro-marijuana, democrat, republican, Vietnam War, teacher’s union, immigration and other rallies here in Wisconsin’s capitol city. In almost all of these rallies the signs had a mass-produced look. Just last week for instance, President Obama came to Madison to speak in front of a large crowd of UW students and supporters. The word ahead of time was that no signs were to be allowed. In fact there were many signs and they were all the same. MOVING AMERICA FORWARD. VOTE!!! All had obviously been made in some central office of the Democratic Party and passed out to willing sign-wavers. (Not many flag-wavers.)

In the Tea Party rally the signs were more varied. Most of them were obviously home-made and some were amateurish. That and talking to some participants lent credence to my impression that the Tea Party was indeed a grass-roots affair. I saw no evidence, as some claim, that it was organized and financed by some shadowy right-wing corporate conspiracy. I saw no signs that were racist, anti-immigrant or promoting fundamentalist religion. Almost all were stridently pro-American, pro-Constitution, founding fathers friendly, anti-tax, anti-big government. Some were anti-welfare-state and for limiting terms in Congress. Most were decorated with American flags. Studies show that Tea Party supporters are on average better educated, have higher incomes and are more demonstrably patriotic than regular democrats or republicans

The rally did not make me a Tea Party “member” but it did make me more sympathetic to their efforts. As readers of these blogs can know I too am a supporter of limited government, free-market economics, private sector growth, lower taxes and less regulation. In short I am for a government closer in style and substance to the one our Constitution ordered. Not exactly the same of course. The Constitution has had a number of desirable amendments like getting rid of slavery (and a few undesirable ones, like Prohibition). In so far as Tea Party politics can advance these ideas I am all for them.

My biggest reservation about the Tea Party, and it is an important one, is the seeming absence of a strong program for the future. From what I saw at the rally and what I read in the press the emphasis seems to be almost exclusively on the negative–reducing the size of government, cutting back on the national debt, stopping the Obama agenda and limiting the power of unelected bureaucrats.

That’s all fine but what we need above all it seems to me is leadership in growing the economy. Leadership in unleashing the power of free-market capitalism, free trade between states and countries as well as educating and encouraging entrepreneurial creativity in America. Leadership like Ronald Reagan provided in his “it’s morning again in America” speeches and campaigns. Unfortunately the Democratic Party is crippled by its alliances with the environmental movement, government unions, and trial lawyers, all of whom oppose vigorous economic growth, denounce free trade and work instead to promote “sustainable” zero-sum policies. The Republican Party has often not been much better. They talk a good talk sometimes but have too often been crippled by their alliance with business and religious groups who want to advance their own private fortunes at public expense. Perhaps the Tea Party can lead to something better.

Remember the lines that Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote about Hitler, “they came first for the Communists/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist./Then they came for the trade unionists/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist./Then they came for the Jews/and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew/Then they came for me/and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

If the “Pastors” of the new Tea Party were writing the lines today here is a suggestion.

“They came first for the Wall Street bankers/and I didn’t mind because I wasn’t a Wall Street banker./Then they came for the oil companies and the big corporations./I didn’t mind because I didn’t work for an oil company or a big corporation./Then they came for Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Starbucks./I didn’t mind because I never liked to shop there anyway./Then I lost my job in the government and went on unemployment./By that time the economy was bankrupt/my unemployment check bounced/and no one was left to pay me.”

Some readers might find this re-write a trifle blasphemous but it does highlight what seems to me a disturbing trend. I am not like some Tea Partiers claiming that we are on a Fascist or Socialist road to serfdom. I am saying that in so far as the government is assuming more and more power and taking more and more responsibility for our lives I am glad the Tea Party is playing an opposing role. A good government supports wealth-creating private businesses but it doesn’t itself do much to create wealth. In other words what the government gives to some it must take from others. This is a zero-sum exchange, not a win-win one. The money has to come from somewhere and debts have to be paid by someone. Someone else. More than likely, by your grandchildren.

If it goes too far and government regulates more and more of our life choices our grandchildren or great-grandchildren may end up like indentured servants. Well taken care of and happy servants perhaps (though that’s what plantation owners in the deep south used to say about their slaves). We may never get concentration camps or gulags, but our grandchildren may find themselves like workers in the now defunct Soviet Union or present day Cuba, North Korea or Venezuela. “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. I am in the process of publishing my new book on the Cold War, 9/11 and the Future of Free-Market Liberal Democracy. It is a personal view leavened by between chapter memoirs. Many of you read the opening chapters on the Cold War that began this series of blogs and Newsletters. One supporter suggested I change the working title from WHAT IS TO BE DONE? ( a Vladimir Lenin title) to WHAT HAVE WE DONE? (in reference to our own part in 20th century happenings). Last night I had another idea. How about somehow linking the title to the Tea Party itself? THE ROAD TO TEA PARTY? What do you think? Open to any and all ideas. Email me at billjane@hawkhill.com.

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