An Outsider’s View – 4, Americans must think global: Beware of Tea Party ‘wisdom’
Posted on September 20th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

Almost 238 years ago, a group of American colonists protested the British government’s Tea Act when they destroyed three shiploads of prime tea, which the monopolistic East India Co. was about to unload at the Boston Harbor. This so-called Boston Tea Party, staged on Dec. 16, 1773, dumped the unsolicited taxed tea into the harbor thereby humiliating royal Gov. Thomas Hutchinson who refused to return the consignment to Britain. In retaliation, Britain passed the Coercive Acts of 1774 that provoked the American Revolutionary War in 1775. In essence, it was a populist tax revolt.

The current Tea [Taxed enough already?] Party movement has shrewdly named itself after the Boston event of yore to project itself as a populist anti-tax movement intent on initiating another American “revolution.” From my outsider perspective, it is a disparate band of noisy troglodytes who represent right-wing social conservatives (e.g., Western hegemonists, white supremacists, born-again Christians, isolationists, immigrant bashers,), fiscal libertarians (viz., those who hold individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society), and several shades of independents who clamor: “We must return the United States to the States and the people as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution “¦ written by our founders to limit the powers of the federal government, instead, giving the power to the people and the States.” (The TeaParty.net)

I call them troglodytes because they yearn to take us back to the last decade of the 18th century when some 3 million Americans divided into 13 states confederated into the United States. They think that the 48 wise men who put together the U.S Constitution (to reflect the Enlightenment thinking of Western philosophers like John Locke, J. J. Rousseau and Edmund Burke) and to please an all-white landed gentry (who ruled the roost over the female of the species and the black slaves who weren’t even thought of as part of the human species) wrote the “perfect” constitution that applies equally well to the current 308 million multi-cultural and “globalized” Americans living in 50 states and several territories stretching from the Atlantic to Guam in the Pacific.

In this context, it is amusing that the Tea Party movement calls itself “a grassroots movement of millions of like-minded Americans from all backgrounds and political parties,” while polls show that fewer than 10 percent of Democrats supports it. I smell a rat that tells me that the “Taxed Enough Already” plank of this movement is a plot””‚a Trojan Horse, if you will””‚hatched by the agents of the top-earning 20 percent of Americans “”…” those making more than $100,000 each year “”…” who received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent made by the bottom 20 percent of earners, those who fell below the poverty line, according to the new figures. The Tea Party has its roots in the top-earning 20 percent. Therefore, it lies to the people when it calls itself a grassroots movement.

The Tea Party says that it derived the core principles it stood for from the U.S. Constitution””‚the original document featuring a preamble and seven articles written by James Madison and ratified in 1788; and the Bill of Rights encompassing the first 10 amendments presented by Alexander Hamilton and ratified in 1791:

“¢ Returning political power to the states and the people

“¢ Limited federal government

“¢ Individual freedoms

“¢ Personal responsibility

“¢ Free markets

The implication of this clamor””‚with the likes of presidential aspirants Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul currently in the political forefront””‚is that the three branches of the federal structure (created by the first three articles of the Constitution) have gone well beyond the limited powers assigned them. However, Section 8 of Article 1 says that the Congress has the power:

“¢ To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States (provided they shall be uniform throughout the U. S.);

“¢ To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

“¢ To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

Article 4 of the Constitution outlines the powers and limits of the states: the relation between the states and the relation between the federal government. I think the troglodytes depend heavily on the 10th Amendment (in the Bill of Rights), which states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This is the basis for their argument that the federal government was created “to guard and secure our freedoms, [and] not to legislate, tax and regulate the people into dependents.”

However, the same critics are silent on Article 6, which asserts that the supreme law of the land is the Constitution, and the laws and treaties of the United States made according to it; and that “the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding.” It also validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that the states’ constitutions and laws should not conflict with those of the federal constitution. This means that state judges are legally bound to honor the federal laws and constitution over those of any state.

Space restrictions impel me to wind up here. But let me note that the federal government and the federal judiciary have not withdrawn the individual rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights; that the federal structure has not usurped the power of the people because the people retain the power of the ballot although some do not care to use it; that free markets are a myth of (Adam Smith’s) The Wealth of Nations because governments have to intervene to supply public goods and services, wherein the private sector is unwilling to invest. Finally, in a globalized economy, the U.S. cannot act alone by adopting a troglodyte path of unbridled capitalism that the Tea Party advocates.

[Note: This is a revised version of an essay I published in the Sri Lanka Guardian, 19 Sept. 2011]

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