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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.


Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

The Truth About The Boston Tea Party

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Cheaper Tea! How Dare You!!

Americans are “mythmakers”. There’s nothing they love better than discarding the inconvenient bits of a story to fit their purpose, whether that purpose is to sell mattresses or glorify the nation’s founding.

A classic example of this is The Boston Tea Party of 1773. Indeed, so central a story is it in American Folklore that it’s the inspiration for the ‘party’ of the same name, currently running amok in American political life. The Tea Party believes in lower taxes, and cutting the deficit (go figure), and one of its favorite banner quotations is “No Taxation Without Representation”, which just happened to be a big favorite around the time of the orginal Boston Tea Party.

What today’s three-cornered hat wearing nutters don’t realize is that the use of the term “No Taxation Without Representation” was a rather convenient cover for what the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was really about.  To explain why requires a brief overview of something which people pay little attention to these days. History.

It kind of goes like this. The British government in the early 1770s were more than a little upset about the parlous state of the East India Company which was losing market share worldwide. So it came up with an ingenious idea. It would dump EIC tea on its colonies, the richest of which were the American Colonies. The way it would do this was via the Tea Act, which lowered the tea duties colonies would have to pay on EIC tea. Yes, that’s right, lowered.

Needless to say, American Tea Smugglers were not at all happy having the price of their smuggled Dutch tea undercut by the nasty old English tea, so they raised a rumpus about it when the Tea ships arrived in various American harbors along the Eastern Seaboard. The Massachusetts governor was the most intransigent on the subject, so the smugglers took it upon themselves to right the ship, so to speak, and dumped the EIC tea in Boston harbor, thereby insuring that the average American consumer would continue to pay more for their tea.

To cover for this blatant act of price fixing, the smugglers wrapped themselves in the “No taxation without representation” moniker, conveniently noting that the phrase made no reference to raising or lowering taxes, just the right to raise them at all. But not all the Founding Fathers were quite so delirious about this brainstorm. Among them, Ben Franklin, offered to have the colonies repay the British for the lost tea (a considerable sum). He was turned down, and the dispute continued to fester.

So next time, you hear a Tea Party supporter complaining that his taxes are way too high, remember that his brave namesakes back in 1773, were actually complaining that the taxes were too, ahem, low.

Ah, those “mythmakers”. You gotta love ’em.

Written by coolrebel

November 4, 2010 at 4:15 am

The Tea Party is a Time Bomb That Will Destroy the GOP.

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The fuse was lit on Tuesday night, when the Tea Party prevented the GOP from taking the Senate even though Rubio, Paul, and Johnson are now in one way or another Tea Party Senators who trashed some pretty stiff Democratic (or in the case of Florida, Independent, opposition).  Regardless of that. the Republican Senate leadership was more than a little unhappy about not getting all those juicy chairmanships, and they began to grumble. It’s small comfort to them that the co-opting of Tea Party energy by GOP leaders was a critical part of the independent switch from Democrat to Republican that led to the hurt on Obama on November 2.

Sure, their House counterparts can claim what looks like a pretty profound short-term victory out of it,  But the writing is on the wall.  Underpinning this ‘success’ is a sacrifice that will ultimately doom the GOP. I predict that by 2016, the Tea Party will begin to field its own candidates fighting Republicans and Democrats, splitting the right wing vote and consigning the GOP to the dustbin of history.

What makes me so confident? Here are a few reasons.

1. The Tea Party is a movement built on rage. It’s not logical, it’s not reasonable, and it harbors expectations which are utterly unrealistic. Replacing social security, rationalizing medicare, repealing “Obamacare” abandoning the minimum wage, and most importantly wiping out our trillion dollar debts in a year or a few at the most, are all pipedreams that are together a tailor-made recipe for frustration. The Tea Party will blame the ‘system’ and its lack of constitutional purity for the failure to achieve those expectations, and the GOP is part of that system.

2. The rise of the “Conservative” movement as distinct from the GOP (a movement driven, ironically, by the GOP itself from Reagan onwards) means that decoupling ‘Conservatism’ from party affiliation has become that much easier. The Tea Party can without too much trouble assume the mantle of ‘true conservatism’ from the corrupt estbalishment GOP, that will be seen by the base as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

3. The Tea Party is not a social movement, it’s a proletarian response to economic powerlessness. Deep down, what Tea Partiers hate most is Wall Street and outsourcing of US jobs to China, both of which are part of the fabric of the pro-business GOP.  The old Rove trick of using social conservatism as the come-on to the white working class will no longer work, and because the GOP will never be able to deliver on overreaching economic promises that absorbed the unreality of Tea Party demands, the fissure will break into open warfare very soon.  The Tea Party will have no problem at all turning its ire on the GOP to whom it has no loyalty whatsoever, especially as it regards the GOP as manipulators who used Tea Party energy to drive its gains in the recent mid-terms.

4. The Tea Party is demographically doomed (by the rise of minority voting power, a long-term leftward swing in under thirty voting patterns), but will always see its failure as a conspiracy rather than a numbers game. As the white middle and working classes have been squeezed economically and demographically, they’ve lashed out, but their profoundly conservative approach will soon be a tough sell to independents.  Even though Tea Party rage rippled out to the Independents in these mid-terms, even in the first flush of the Tea Party’s forays into politics its weaknesses were on clear display in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, and indirectly California. It won’t take long for Independents to get the message that the Tea Party is beyond the pale politically. That will have two clear effects. It will further build the siege mentality of the Tea Party, and push Independents back to the reasonable Democrats, because the GOP will have no choice but to pay homage to the beast that they created.

5. The role of primaries in choosing candidates puts the GOP is in a terrible position. The Republican Base has essentially been hijacked by the Tea Party, and without co-opting it the GOP is now powerless to control candidates in key races. In short, they’re damned if they work with the Tea Party and damned if they don’t. Even in the run-up to this election, establishment GOP candidates were steam-rollered by the Tea Party, and in three critical cases the Tea Party cost the GOP power in the Senate. That lack of leverage is only going to become more evident, as gridlock sets in and the GOP is blamed for not getting the Tea Party agenda even remotely addressed. After two to three cycles, the Tea Party will have had enough. In its rage and frustration it will begin to seriously field its own candidates in key Midwestern and Southern Congressional primaries and the GOP will be doomed.

6. The Tea Party is proud of being a grass-roots movement, but lacks organization and coherent message. That’s why it’s ready for the plucking by a powerful and charismatic leader.  Palin, Rubio, and DeMint come to mind as candidates who can provide the top-down structure that could turn the movement into a party. Palin is hedging her bets. She hasn’t ditched the GOP yet, but she’s sending out feelers to see if Tea Party leadership would be a viable gateway to power that would otherwise be blocked by a GOP establishment that loathes her.  Rubio is the last hope for the GOP to hold off the Tea Party threat, but his positions are so far to the right that Independents would be hard pressed to take them on in a national contest. If he softened his positions he’d anger the easily enraged Tea Party base, and if he didn’t, he could easily lose the general election. But if he’s rejected by the GOP during the primary run for whatever reason, he could easily ditch them to lead the Tea Party as a very powerful third-party candidate. Next up, and if he’s not presidential material, is Jim DeMint, who clearly sees himself as the Tea Party’s George Wallace. If he senses the Tea Party has had enough of GOP failures, he clearly has the organizational chops and could easily jump ship and take the reins of the Tea Party into a general election. And finally, there may be others we don’t even know about yet.

7. The good news for the Tea Party is that there isn’t going to be an economic recovery of any note. The Tea Party is a recessionary phenomenon, like many other far-right parties before it. If the economy improves it’s going to lose traction fast. But between the utter devastation of the housing markets and the foreclosure crisis, persistently high and endemic unemployment, the continued pillage of our financially overloaded economic system by untrammelled banks,  the endless drive to outsource US jobs to Asia, and the spiralling national debt, it’s hard to see how the US economy could be on a steady footing any time soon. That is also bad news for the GOP. The last time they oversaw a boom, under Bush, it was based on unrepeatable phenomena, like rampant and irresponsible lending, and a debt-driven consumer binge. But you can bet the Tea Party want another one of those booms all the same. And when they don’t get it, they’ll dump the GOP real fast.

8. Finally, the Tea Party is reckless. It’s a party of zealots, and zealots are very often self-destructive. If the Tea Party did threaten to leave the GOP fold, the Republican’s would make any promise they’d have to do to stay, but the Tea Party would simply say, you lied to us before, you’ll lie to us again. We don’t want to be used anymore. The GOP would tell them they’re committing political suicide, and dooming the nation to decades of “socialism”, but the Tea Party are true believers andsimply wouldn’t believe that their brand of politics could possibly fail.

Even though Obama’s profound leadership failures may have led us to impending gridlock at the worst possible time for the country, the 2010 midterms are the harbingers of doom for the enemies of the left.

So cheer up, grab a beer, sit back on the sofa and watch the soap opera unfold.

If the nation can survive another ten years, there’s hope for it yet.

Written by coolrebel

November 4, 2010 at 3:38 am