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The Tea Party and History: The Mythmakers Go to Work.

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One of my favorite stories about American history is about the original Tea Party, in 1773. It goes like this. The British wanted to find a way to boost the sagging fortunes of the East India Company. The brain trust in the Colonial Office in London came up with a genius idea. Dump cheap Indian tea on the American colonies at a great price, to boost the EIC’s bottom line. The way they decided to do it was to reduce the duty the colonies paid on the tea. That pushed the price down just below the price that American smugglers charged for the Dutch East Indies tea they distributed in America.

Pretty sneaky. But it gets more amusing. The smugglers were enraged. After all this was just another classic example of Britain’s wanton use of its prerogative over the Colonies, who wanted “no taxation without representation” (even if the taxes were, umm, lowered).  The British said they wouldn’t back down and insisted that the tea be shipped. The smugglers took matters into their own hands in Boston Harbor.

Of course, the modern Tea Party are less concerned with Royal prerogative than they are with lower taxes, which are sacrosant. So if they were discussing this in the coffeehouses of Philadelphia and Boston would they have supported the smugglers and their higher prices, or the East India Company and it’s shall we say ‘competitive’ pricing?

Demagogues love history, or at least a simplified, sanitized highly convenient version of it.

The truth about history is never so simple. It’s complicated and full of contradictions, because it’s human just like us.

The Tea Party throws around the Constitution like it’s going out of style (which it should be but won’t). But they don’t even understand that at its core its based on a profound compromise that defined this country until the final blood-letting of the Civil War. They support the document as if it’s set in stone, but conveniently ignore the fact that it was built to be updated, and has been 27 times.

The Tea Party is making a very solid bet that the people won’t actually take the time to scrutinize the history and constitutional law they supposedly hold so dear. And they’re right. People don’t want history, they want myths or partial historical truths that fit into their world-views.

It’s incredibly difficult to combat the impressionistic power of the “Mythmakers”, and it won’t be the first time that American history has been whitewashed and molded for propaganda purposes, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic and debilitating for our public discourse.

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Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

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