Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Tea Parties in History

Right-wing extremists across the land mobilized today in a nationwide series of protests against tha tax policies of President Barack Obama. Full of sanctimony and self-proclaimed nobility, they depicted Obama as a socialist perpetually jeapordizing their freedoms, and cast themselves in the role of heroic fighters against oppression. Rhetoric about "no taxation without representation" and the government not babying lazy good-for-nothing who don't work was everywhere in the movement that sprung up "spontaneously" (it was actually bankrolled almost entirely by large corporations and publicized by FoxNews).

They dubbed their orchestrated outcry the "tea party" protests, as a way of harkening back to the Boston Tea Party that played such a seminal role in the founding of this nation. Ignoring the glaring logical flaw in that analogy (the colonists were protesting against taxation without representation, whereas these individuals are protesting against having taxes raised against individual who earn more than a quarter-million dollars each year but are undeniably represented, and excessively so, by this government), I think it is worth pointing out that there are two other historical events which can be more accurately conjured up as fitting comparisons to today's occurrences:

1) The American Liberty League. During the early years of Franklin Roosevelt's administration, wealthy conservatives who were terrified that the New Deal would jeapordize their unique privileged status in America's social, economic, and political life decided to form a faux populist organization to protest FDR's policies. Dubbed "The American Liberty League", this group would frequently rant about how Roosevelt was encroaching on people's freedoms with his policies, even as they were demonstrably shown to be alleviating the suffering of the poor American who had been hardest hurt by the depression, stimulating the economy, and in general having an entirely beneficent effect on our nation. It managed to recruit not only the bulk of the Republican party, but even two of the three former Democratic presidential candidates still living at the time (John W. Davis and Al Smith both fell for the American Liberty League hook, line, and sinker, remembering as they did on what side their bread was buttered; only John M. Cox, the progressive Ohio governor who has been unfairly shuffled into obscurity by his crushing defeat at the hands of the far inferior Warren Harding, stood on the side of the angels). The agenda of the American Liberty League was obvious - to stir up popular outcry against President Roosevelt by comparing him to King George III (or Karl Marx or Stalin or Mussolini or Hitler, as was common enough from the so-called "better classes") and comparing the erstwhile Liberty Leaguers as latter-day freedom fighters. The problem, of course, was that most people could detect that their quality of life was markedly improving under Roosevelt's policies, which it had not done during the four years of Hoover policies that most Liberty Leaguers championed. What's more, when Roosevelt challenged the Liberty League to point to one verifiable case of their liberties being encroached, their failure to do so only furthered the widespread public perception that they were disingenuous shills of the wealthy. Perhaps the most flagrant giveaway of where their sympathies truly rested could be found in the epithet they were most prone to throwing at Roosevelt when in private - that he was a "traitor to his class".

2) The Seventh of March speech. During today's rallies, Governor Rick Perry of Texas put himself on the record as suggesting that the Lone Star State secede from the Union if tax policies more amenable to the interets of the wealthy aren't put forth. The same conservatives who frequently questioned the patriotism of left-wingers (even though no prominent liberal politicians have been quoted openly advocating armed rebellion against the government, and certainly not as brazenly as Governor Perry) seem to be dismissing Perry's comments as being hyperbolic, or even chuckling about them as "cute". To them, I will respond with the famous words of one of America's most eloquent statesmen:
"Secession! Peaceable secession! Sir, your eyes and mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! ... There can be no such thing as a peaceable secession. Peaceable secession is an utter impossibility...We could not separate the states by any such line if we were to draw it..."
That quote comes from Senator Daniel Webster's famous Seventh of March speech. Republicans might want to read the text of that document over and over again, until it gets through their thick skulls that rhetoric such as Perry's is unacceptable (and let us not forget the role Sarah Palin's husband played in a nascent secessionist movement within Alaska, even as she was the governor of said state).

That is all I have to say. For now.

No comments: