By Tom Ehrich
Religion News Service
(RNS) Even though Tea Party activists probably distrust liberals like myself, I'd like to "reach across the aisle," as they say in our dysfunctional Congress, and find some common ground.
Forty-five years ago, you see, I was in the anti-Establishment role. In protesting the Vietnam War, in siding with blacks seeking justice, and in vowing not to "sell out" to Wall Street, we were giving political voice to a vague but deep sense that America had gone astray.
We looked around then, as Tea Party activists do today, and saw disturbing signs that American values were being corrupted.
The patriotism that had stirred in us as we said the Pledge of Allegiance was being distorted by demagogues chasing domino theories. The sense of fairness and opportunity that drove us forward into adulthood had been stolen by bigots.
As we moved through an education system supposedly based on merit, we discovered what many are seeing today amid revelations of fraud on Wall Street: that the game was rigged to benefit a few. We could be smart and try hard, but doors would never open for the likes of us.
The Establishment fought back, of course, and labeled our cause "communist" and "unpatriotic." We were neither -- we had grown up on the Mickey Mouse Club, after all. But one way to trivialize and disparage the legitimate concerns of solid citizens is to declare them blasphemous, dangerous and un-American.
Like today's Tea Party folks, we didn't have a plan. We certainly didn't intend to overthrow the government; we just wanted it to work fairly. But the Establishment -- in which we saw both Republicans and Democrats -- had little ear for protest. We were left to sputter and fume, as today's Tea Parties are encouraged to parrot the fuming of blowhard commentators and the nasty politics of the bigoted and greedy.
We knew that "blame the Reds" was nonsense, just as today's "blame the government" is nonsense. Tea Party folks could get exactly the small-footprint government they want, and nothing would get better in their lives.
Instead, greed merchants would declare open season on American suckers; the prosperous would intensify their war on the poor and middle class; shoddy enterprises would flood the marketplace with harmful products; and people's golden years would become a nightmare.
Their lives would worsen steadily, because once again We the People had gotten hoodwinked into blaming the wrong people for our travails.
How does any of this constitute "reaching across the aisle?" I think many of us -- conservative and liberal alike -- have concerns about the moral fiber, leadership, fairness and wisdom of the rigged game that today's Establishment wants to perpetuate.
Just as former slaveowners in the 1860s were determined to prevent poor blacks and poor whites from making common cause against a corrupt landowning class, so the political class is hijacking the Tea Party movement and turning it into a sop for the Republican Party -- the very party, along with its Democratic opposition -- that got us into this mess.
I suggest we put down the vicious placards provided by opportunistic hijackers and actually talk to each other about the decay, corruption, unfairness, greed and un-American behavior that we all see. Once the opportunists and demagogues left the room, I think we would find more common ground than we realize.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus," and the founder of the Church Wellness Project, www.churchwellness.com. His Web site is www.morningwalkmedia.com.)