I am watching this thing, this Tea Party movement; I am watching it grow in speed, sound, and fervor, and I know what happens next. Just before it starts to rain, you can sometimes smell it coming: that's the odor of ozone molecules gearing up for the storm. And if you catch the scent of something coming in on the political winds today that you cannot place, it may just be the harbinger of further violence, illogic, and rage, the natural byproducts of mass hysteria.
If a presidential administration came to power in America and attempted to institute a socialist economic system, raise taxes to oppressive rates, and curb the cherished freedoms that have been enjoyed by (some of) her citizens for more than two hundred years, there would indeed be a rational basis for anger among the people. The Tea Party would make perfect sense in a world where passionate resistance was necessitated by unstoppable tyranny. Here's the rub, though: Barack Obama was the choice of more than 69 million Americans -- the most votes ever received by a presidential candidate in this country -- and has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans since taking office. He has cut taxes on more than twenty-five separate occasions: for small businesses, first-time homebuyers, parents, college students, and basically everyone earning less than $200,000 per year, for a total of more than $300 billion in cuts. As for the socialism charge, it's one of the most ludicrous allegations imaginable. Socialism has a definition, and it makes zero sense to accuse a person of it when that definition has not even remotely been met by their actions. Until the government takes steps to control the means of production, dictate the allocation of resources, and replace free market capitalism with a purely public sector, it's utterly baseless. If you think health care reform or the bailouts were socialist policies, you are objectively wrong. It is not a matter of opinion.
So who starts a large-scale, mad-as-hell anti-tax movement at a time when taxes are at historic lows? People who have been misinformed, for one. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll of self-identified Tea Party members reveals that only 2 percent of them believe that President Obama has lowered taxes (the truth), versus 44 percent who think that taxes have increased under his watch (a lie). The sources of those and other grave misconceptions, of course, are the likes of Glenn Beck, the Michael Jordan of inflammatory innuendo and a zealous enemy of reality, and Dick Armey, whose non-profit organization, FreedomWorks, is dedicated to tricking the country into thinking that the Tea Party is a grassroots movement rather than a heavily funded, centralized political organization. If you go to a Tea Party rally and ask attendees what they hope to achieve with all of their righteous rage and equally righteous signage, they won't be able to tell you. It's not because they're ignorant, though; it's because the Tea Party doesn't have an actual agenda with reachable goals. Lower taxes? Already have you covered. Prevent socialism? Check. Revolution?
Here's the deal: you can have your revolution, but first you have to explain why. Tell the rest of us what it is you're rebelling against; speak those unspeakable evils, and if any of them turn out to be non-mythical, then by all means proceed with the great American refounding. You can't use higher taxes or creeping socialism, though, since they don't exist in reality, and you can't say that "they" are "taking away our freedom." Freedom is not a commodity, so it's important that you cite some sort of example of something the Obama administration has done to make you less free. When in the course of human events our Founding Fathers saw fit to declare a revolution, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind compelled them to explain themselves. I urge you to do the same, as many of us are dying to know why the political discourse of this country has been hijacked so urgently. I urge you also to keep in mind that while the rebellion we staged against Britain was largely over the issue of taxation without representation, you currently face the lowest federal tax burden faced by Americans in at least sixty years, and are free to vote for the officers of your government. In light of the fact that Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., declared that federal taxes "are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president," in light of the fact that Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation reported that last year's stimulus bill will have reduced taxes by more than $320 billion by the end of 2010, in light of every single statistic there is -- including the little boxes on your own tax returns -- I make the same request to you that my third grade math teacher made of me: show your work.
The debate over the size of government is an important one, but those who are viscerally disgusted by the idea of federal authority (no doubt, Tea Partiers cannot stand the likes of Federalist icons George Washington, John Adams, and John Marshall), do their side of the argument a great disservice by failing to contribute anything but circular logic, hot tempers, and extreme conclusions to what always has been and what should continue to be a serious discussion about the nature of our political system. Until I hear what the motivations of the Tea Party are, I have to assume that the entire movement is based on some mix of misdirected anger over the economy, lies being fed by the media, and personal dislike for the president.
Back in the 1840s, a political party called the Know Nothings enjoyed a brief moment in the sun. They were a fervently nativist organization who believed that the America they loved was being unraveled by the presence of Catholic immigrants, and they vowed to stop at nothing to prevent their country from collapsing at the hands of their perceived enemies. The Know Nothing agenda included calls for complete bars on immigration, criminalizing the use of languages other than English, mandatory Bible study in public schools, and restricting elected offices to Protestants. In Baltimore, St. Louis, Washington, Louisville, and New Orleans, Know Nothings sparked riots in an effort to kill immigrants and influence elections, and they did so successfully. They got their name from their unwillingness to divulge who they were and why they did what they did; when questioned about the party, members were under orders to respond that they "know nothing." History has discredited the Know Nothings, but their furious blame-placing, justifications of rage and violence, and antipathy towards discourse and rationality live on today in the Tea Party. For a group whose favorite pastime seems to be completely misunderstanding historical flags, I offer up this one: Join or Die. Join the world of reason, and I guarantee your outrage will be taken more seriously. If your fanatical umbrage has a sincere basis, let the world know; skip the hyperbole, the death threats, and the costumes, and do as Jefferson and Madison did. Talk. Write. Argue in good faith. Or die. Continue down the bold, feel-good path of inexplicable revolutionary fantasies, and it won't be long before the meteor falls, and knowing nothing will be all that's left of your party too.