Why tea and politics shouldn’t mix
I like tea. As a matter of fact, most would call me a tea enthusiast. I also enjoy stir-fry at the Village, warm weather and democracy. I would have to say, however, that just as I cringe at the thought of mixing my stir-fry sauces, I also shudder at the thought of mixing tea and democracy. And let’s face it. After the election of President Obama, it seems like America—and our democracy for that matter—has been steeping in a boiling pot of social angst and political caprice. The national Tea Party, a collection of conservative independents who feel they are “Taxed Enough Already” (T.E.A.), held the first National Tea Party Convention on Thursday. According to The Washington Post, former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., opened the convention by proclaiming that “the race for America is on…so put your running shoes on.” He further asserted: “People who couldn’t even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.” While social and political activism is the cornerstone of American democracy, I have a problem with the Tea Party movement.
First, its semantics are totally unfounded. While its historical allusion to the Boston Tea Party is compelling superficially, it completely misses the mark. The Boston Tea Party wasn’t organized solely because of high taxes, but rather because the American colonies didn’t have representation in the English government (hence the mantra “no taxation without representation”). Sam Adams and his compatriots ignited a revolutionary spirit in Americans by protesting something much more fundamental than high taxes—they were protesting an oppressive system of government.
The present Tea Party movement, with its grassroots meetings and impulsive protests, is capitalizing on the revolutionary spirit implicit in the American composition. And that’s alarming.
The main difference between the tea party circa 1773 and today’s Tea Party is the form of government the parties operate under. As my Law in American Life professor pointed out succinctly: We have the government that the original tea partiers were fighting for. The implication then, for the National Tea Party Convention, is that they want a new form of government built from the ground up; Sarah Palin went so far as to say, “America is ready for another revolution.” The Tea Party movement’s semantics suggest that members disagree not only with the policies of the Obama administration, but also with the legitimacy of the administration itself.
The actions of Tea Partiers only reinforce their position as rebel members of American society. Case in point: health-care town-hall meetings. We all remember the yelling and condemnation American politicians received when they went back to their constituents to explain health care reform. Not only were the tactics that the protestors used distasteful, but they also underscored their disregard for American government in general. Instead of trying to engage our political system by speaking with their representatives, Tea Partiers closed off conduits for communication and attacked—both literally and figuratively—the U.S. government.
Finally, it’s worth noting that America is an established country. The revolution was fought more than 200 years ago. The Civil War ended more than 100 years ago. We’ve had ample time to iron out the fundamental creases in our system of government. Now it’s time to accept that the ironing is done. Subversively yelling “You lie” during a presidential address to a joint session of Congress just shouldn’t happen.
Look, I’m not suggesting that we become complacent in the face of governmental wrongdoings. Like I’ve said, civic engagement is the cornerstone of our system of government. But I do think that we should accept certain elements of our government as simply untouchable.
If the Tea Party movement wants lower taxes, it should certainly try to accomplish its goals. But it must stay within the established rules of the game. It should accept election results. Instead of trying to change the system from the outside—trying to spark a political revolution in the process—Tea Partiers should engage the system from within. Overall, Tea Partiers should take a step back and realize that they’re not fighting the same fight that those Bostonians fought so long ago. They should accept that disagreement with governmental policies is part and parcel of our system of governance. Instead of trying to tear the system down at its roots, Tea Partiers should recompose themselves (perhaps even cool off with a nice cup of tea) and work through their angst politically—not revolutionarily.
Luke is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].