Why tea and politics shouldn’t mix

Luke Schiel | Staff Columnist
Aviya Lanis | Student Life

Aviya Lanis | Student Life

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.

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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 lfschiel@artsci.wustl.edu.

  • joe bob

    humm, while i do agree that the groups goals are not perfectly inline with the original tea party protesters, this does not discount them as a legitimate movement. Focus on the content, not the superficial. Attack the argument, not the person. This article, although respectful and well thought out, is completely ad hominem

  • Steven S. Hoffmann

    Did I go to far?

    At any rate, Professor Bauer, I will always support you, and the fine work you are doing. And for the record, I biked from SOUTH COUNTY. I’ll join your revolution any day. And I’m sorry to say that I still have one of your books. Soon to be returned!

    p.s. When I met Alberto Gonzalez at the corporate-state sponsored finger sandwich tea party at WU as the token dissenter, I refused to shake that bastard’s hand.

    I won’t shake hands with the Pope, Obama, Hillary, John McCain, or any of these baboons/buffoons. I will always stand with the people of the street.

    Laura: No, I don’t think we can entrap people into assenting to contracts without their signatures and informed consent.

    Signed: Happily anarcho-capitalist, although I DO expect to be unfairly judged because of it, and NO, I don’t mean what you mean by capitalist. DEATH TO THE STATE!

  • Laura K

    To Steven:

    “Your bourgeois Establishment assumption that we should all just accept our form of government, and only try to change it from the inside is what I would expect from a freshman at a school like Wash U.”

    Your laughably naive assertion that we should all say “screw it!” and scrap a government that provides a standard of living and amount of freedom that most people in other parts of the world could only dream of is what I would expect from a libertarian/Anarcho-capitalist/generic short-sighted radical who employs ad hominems ad nauseum and most likely has never lived through an actual revolution.

    “but I defy you to answer a very old political question attributed to Lysander Spooner: If I didn’t sign the Constitution, then how does it apply to me?”

    If you don’t believe in the concept of a social contract then that’s fantastic, but if that’s the case then you can’t philosophically justify ANY form of government (including libertarianism, anarchism, or anarcho-capitalism, if that’s your thing) without eventually invoking a similar premise. Unless of course you’re an egoist or think it’s mandated by god something, in which case your argument is ludicrous to begin with.

    “Why don’t you step back for a minute, try to understand how your political views could actually be exploiting people, get off your high horse, and stop trying to justify Our Federal Government, just because that’s how you were brainwashed to think in kindergarten.”

    Right. Those of us who believe in fixing the government think people trying to bait Americans into revolt are nuts because we’re ALL brainwashed. Not perhaps because most Americans have a relatively good quality of life and are generally happy with this governmental structure, despite any quibbles with current or previous administrations.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    PS. Thanks again for your comments, Steven. I believe I owe you a few more sessions of the Cervantes Free University version of “Hindu Medicine and Indian Food.” Thanks for your support! Thanks for bicycling all the way from South City to attend one of our first open houses. Please recommend us to your friends. We need all the support we can get, right now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    Thanks, Steven, for your thoughtful comments. I would like to hear more about Ron Paul and all forms of libertarian and anarchist thought in Student Life. Let’s hear from the socialists and communists too, and all possible alternatives to the status quo, every possible label.

    I agree: let’s all get off our high horses. Question everything. Challenge authority. Don’t ask permission, it’s YOUR education! Live free or die!

  • Steven S. Hoffmann

    As one who was present at the very beginning of the modern Tea Party movement, which was hatched in 2006-2007 by libertarians (who were trying to elect Ron Paul) as a protest against the BUSH ADMINISTRATION, and who has watched the movement be polluted and co-opted by Neocons, I feel fairly ambivalent about Tea Partiers (or if you prefer the vulgar Tea Baggers).

    The so-called progressives & liberals who were so opposed to us when we complained about pre-emptive wars, bloated budgets, and new abuses against civil liberties (none of which has changed under the dream/hope/change candidate) are now feeling the effects of the ‘return of the repressed’ as Sarah Palin retakes the country. Do I feel sorry for them? Not one bit.

    Luke, firstly, your sense of modern political history is pathetically shallow, secondly, your bourgeois Establishment assumption that we should all just accept our form of government, and only try to change it from the inside is what I would expect from a freshman at a school like Wash U., but I defy you to answer a very old political question attributed to Lysander Spooner: If I didn’t sign the Constitution, then how does it apply to me?

    Why don’t you step back for a minute, try to understand how your political views could actually be exploiting people, get off your high horse, and stop trying to justify Our Federal Government, just because that’s how you were brainwashed to think in kindergarten.

  • http://www.facebook.com/imosley Ian August Mosley

    “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”).”

    The mantra was a complete canard. Even if the American colonies had been granted representation, their representatives would have been completely outweighed by the rest of Parliament, and thus ineffectual. Yes, Virginia, the tea party really was about taxes, even if it doesn’t sound as sexy as equal representation.

    But don’t take my word for it. Read the Founders’ own declaration of why they found British rule intolerable — there is a litany of depredations and abuses listed in the Declaration of Independence. Were they of the same magnitude as the depredations being committed by the Feds today? I encourage you to read and consider.

    “The real irony here, Luke, is that these tea baggers don’t even know the real historical reason for the original boston tea party, which was a protest against the king of england giving tax BREAKS to the monopoly east india tea company (the walmart of its day), who wanted to freely dump tea onto the american market…”

    That’s complete nonsense. First of all, “dumping tea on the American market” doesn’t make any sense to begin with, since there was no domestic production of tea at that time. Now it’s true that the East India Company was otherwise having to compete with tea smugglers, but the reason they WERE smugglers was because they were dodging British duty taxes, which the Tax Act (following the equally controversial Townshend Act) affirmed applied to America!

    I’d do a little research before I tossed around accusations of historical ignorance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593555791 Jerome Bauer

    The suggestion that our students and faculty are biased against the tea party movement is fair enough and probably true. We ought to be more open minded. However, one reason for the local bias may be certain excesses allegedly committed by certain local activists connected with the movement. I am NOT referring to the Young Americans for Liberty, or anybody associated with WashU.

    I think we should all try to listen a little more and not be so quick to label ourselves or each other.

  • Richard Arnone

    “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;”
    Your article has a few things that I feel are wrong. We no longer have the government given to us by our Founding Fathers. We have a Constitution which is largely ignored by the very people who swear to defend it. For instance the Tenth Amendment reserves to the States and to the people any powers that the Constitution did not delegate to the Federal Government. We tea party people, and I count myself as one of them, don’t want a new form of government. We just want to go back to the one we were entrusted with.
    I wonder if you have spent any time actually attending any town meetings or Tea Party demonstrations. The people I know are determined to “engage in the existing political system” in order to take power back from the Progressives in Washington and in our both of our political parties. You sound to me like you may have gotten most of your information from the highly partisan Main Stream Media and from the overwhelming Left leaning professors in your University. If so, you need to hear and read what the now majority of citizens are feeling, thinking and saying. (And Voting as in Massachusetts.)

  • Dave K.

    The real irony here, Luke, is that these tea baggers don’t even know the real historical reason for the original boston tea party, which was a protest against the king of england giving tax BREAKS to the monopoly east india tea company (the walmart of its day), who wanted to freely dump tea onto the american market, without having to pay the same tariffs that everybody else has to pay, and thus hopefully putting all the local tea companies out of business.

    a REAL tea party protest would be throwing containers of cheapo imported walmart goods into the water.