Tea Baggers and Tories

The “Tea Baggers” made LEO’s “list of the 50 grandest, most brain-bending and spirit-crushing gaffes, foibles and malicious undertakings” of 2009.

LEO is short for Louisville Eccentric Observer, an alternative newsweekly — print and online — in Kentucky’s largest city. “…Folks and organizations qualify for our infamous awards because, generally speaking, they’ve betrayed the public trust,” Leo explains. “Our message is simple: Do better.”

LEO doesn’t pull punches. It defines Tea Baggers as “an embodiment of all that is loud, frightened and stupid in this country.” Their “anti-government…movement,” according to Leo, “…has provided conservative middle America a perfect medium through which their fear of an illegally elected black president and his socialist utopia of spending, taxing and drinking the blood of innocent children can be mitigated, live, on Fox News. Greatest hits include: racist signage, co-opting the mechanisms of legitimate protest for corporate gain, substituting decibels for facts, and generally sustaining the political abomination that is Sarah Palin well beyond her expiration date.”

For “penance,” LEO suggests to the Tea Baggers: “Go ahead and keep voting against your own self-interest.”

This Kentucky history teacher suspects the Tea Baggers, among the noisiest opponents of health care reform, will do just that. At the same time they will likely keep standing history on its head in how they characterize their movement.

Old Sam Adams, who threw the Boston Tea Party in 1773, must be spinning in his grave in Beantown’s Granary Burying Ground. Adams’ rambunctious Sons of Liberty (King George III’s Redcoats called them sons of something else) tossed all that tea into Boston harbor in the name of “no taxation without representation.” In other words, Adams, the Sons – and like-minded Americans – argued that the British Parliament in London had no right to tax us because we weren’t represented in Parliament.

“No taxation without representation” became the rallying cry of our revolution. The Tea Baggers have co-opted the slogan, plastering it on their buttons, bumper stickers and signs.

To be sure, “No taxation without representation” is a fundamental principle of our representative democracy. Only our elected representatives can tax us.

Like all qualified voters, Tea Baggers had their chance to elect their candidates in 2008. My guess is they cast ballots for a lot of losers from McCain-Palin down.

So the Tea Baggers got mad and hit the streets, which is their constitutional right to do. But if they feel “unrepresented” it’s because the other side won.
Hence, comparing the Tea Party movement to the aims of the Boston Tea Party just doesn’t add up history-wise.

No matter, the Tea Baggers see themselves as “patriots” and revolutionaries, like Sam Adams, who was dubbed “the Father of the American Revolution.” But strictly speaking the Tea Baggers are counter-revolutionaries, notably in the health care debate. Whatever their motives for protesting health care reform, the Tea Baggers are on the side of the status quo: a private, for-profit health care system.

Tories, Americans who opposed independence from Mother Britain, were also counter-revolutionaries. Like the Tea Baggers, they favored the status quo – in their case, royal rule from Britain.

Anyway, from what I’ve seen on TV, most Tea Baggers don’t appear to be rich. But rich people, including millionaire and former Republican U.S. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, are egging them on.

Armey recently teamed up with GOP Chairman Michael Steele, who is also well-heeled, to woo the Tea Baggers to the Republicans. The GOP apparently isn’t far right wing enough for some Tea Baggers, maybe those who sport signs comparing Obama to Hitler or to monkeys. (It’s not a coincidence that almost all Tea Baggers are white folks.)

Of course, throughout history, some working stiffs have been quite willing to take the side of the rich and powerful. While many Tories were wealthy men who figured to stay in the chips with George III, a number of their fellow British sympathizers were at or near the bottom of colonial society.

Anyway, for my money, the best book on how rich Republicans have suckered working stiffs like Tea Baggers into voting against their own self-interest is What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives won the Heart of America  by journalist Thomas Frank.

Naturally, the Republicans despise Frank. They lambaste him as a “liberal elitist,” their stock smear word for anybody who exposes the con job they’ve been pulling on working people since the post-Civil War era. That’s when the GOP switched from the party of “Lincoln and Liberty” to the party of what FDR called “economic royalists.” (The Great Emancipator must be spinning in his Springfield tomb over his party’s cozying with the Tea Baggers.)

Frank wrote his book before the Tea Baggers. Even so, it is as timely as ever. You can substitute any state, including my native Kentucky, for “Kansas.”

Frank wrote: “Not long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers – when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists’ furthest imaginings — when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work — you could be damned sure about what would follow.

“Not these days. Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics [or shouting down Democratic lawmakers at town hall forums on health care]. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society [and yell some more at a Tea Party rally]. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower.”

I’ll add a working-class Presbyterian “amen” to what Frank wrote.

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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a native Kentuckian, a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance journalist. He is a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky Education Association/National Education Association. He is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, which he describes as "a strictly non-partisan chronicle of our political past from Gov. Isaac Shelby to Gov. Ruby Laffoon."
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One Response to Tea Baggers and Tories

  1. bondwooley says:

    Michael Steele wooing Teabaggers? Well, it’s a little easier to understand what he says and does when you know who’s coaching him: