As Gail Collins recently noted in her New York Times column, ‘The state of the union is angry.” Given the condition of the economy, particularly the high unemployment, this should come as no surprise. Over the past year we have seen a number of ‘Tea Party” protests pop up across the country. The protests can best be described as anti&-government, although the message is sometimes less than coherent. While it may seem new and exciting, the Tea Party movement is not so much a grassroots effort built on populist ideals as it is an attempt to tap into the nation’s anger. Protestors use it to advance an agenda that is worrying, radical and indistinguishable from the brand of conservatism that was in power not too long ago.
People are upset about bailouts and excessive bonuses, as they should be. Could the administration be doing a much better job in this area? Of course. However, ‘better” is a matter of perspective. What we need is for government to act in a way that is fair, rather than not acting at all. The excesses of Wall Street won’t be solved with fewer regulations but rather with more, since lack of oversight got us into this mess in the first place. The government need not be our enemy because it answers to us, which is not true of corporations looking for profit. We are as much to blame as anyone for our own dissatisfaction. Liberty, as it were, won’t be protected by re&-creating the Gilded Age of the 1870s, but rather by emulating the progressive period that followed it. During that time, reformers used the government to enact laws that protected workers and limited the power corporations could gather.
The Tea Party movement carries with it a great deal of ideological inconsistency. The people who are behind the anti&-government protests are many of the same people who greatly expanded government spending on ill&-advised wars and compromised civil liberties in the name of counterterrorism.
It is disingenuous for these people to complain about the power of ‘big government” when they themselves used it for destructive ends. Why is it that ‘big government” draws comparisons to Nazism when it tries to provide insurance to the poor and protect the environment, but when it does things that actually kill people, the Tea Party crowd generally looks the other way?
If Tea Party demonstrators do in fact represent true populism, why weren’t they out protesting just last week when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions may be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns? Corruption in government had seemingly been a major concern for the Tea Party protestors, as it should be for all Americans. It then seems strange that they would more or less lend their support for a ruling that would open the door for more corruption.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, considered to be one of the heroes of the Tea Party movement, has said that all campaign finance reform is an encroachment on liberty. To Congressman Paul I would say this: let us not confuse personal liberty with corporate liberty. One of the greatest problems in our democracy is the influence that big corporations have over politics, which mostly benefits a few individuals at the expense of the public good.
The Supreme Court asserted that money is speech, which therefore leads to the dangerous conclusion that those with a great deal of money have a greater right to free speech than the poor. It is needless to say that this idea is inherently un-American in character.
We hear a great deal of talk about the supposed evils of ‘big government.” A careful look at the Tea Party agenda, however, reveals that they would do away with ‘big government” only to replace it with ‘big money” not much of a bargain. A true populist spirit is one that seeks to reform the government and make it work for the people not render it so ineffective that our country begins to resemble a corporate oligarchy. We need true campaign finance reform and new ethics rules so that we may reduce the influence of money in our politics.
Does the government sometimes fail to do the public good? Of course it does, and it is up to us to correct that. It would be nave, however, to think that a world run by Coca-Cola, United Health and Monsanto would be one we would want to live in. What the Tea Party movement has always failed to realize is that we need our government to protect liberty and justice for all people, not just those who can pay for it.
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