The Bigger Picture
Published on January 15th 2011 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
The New Year is supposed to usher in hope that the worst of the economic troubles that have battered America, Ireland and many other countries in Europe are behind us. But in my discussions with friends who are ‘independent’ voters, they repeatedly expressed the hope that President Obama would really try to work with the Republicans in Congress to address unemployment and the budget deficit during this New Year.
So what I believe American citizens need more than anything else as we enter the second decade of the 21st century; is political ‘leadership’. In America, the Democratic Party has a political leader, President Obama, but the Republican Party doesn’t. What the Republican Party does have is a lot of ‘pretenders’ and ‘contenders’ for the Republican nomination for President in the 2012 elections.
The list is as long as my arm and includes; old hands like Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney; some less familiar ones like Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Tom Pawlenty and John Thune; and some new ones like Scott Brown, Chris Christie and the newest Tea Party favourites; Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Finally there is also the ‘Ghost of Elections Past’ aka former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose apparition floats above the party like an angry dark storm cloud. But at some point in the next year and a half, one of these people is likely to emerge as the new political leader of the Republican Party carrying the 2012 Presidential sobriquet.
In the meantime, by embracing the Tea Party movement, Republican politicians in Washington have elected to continue to follow another leaderless group, which in turn embraces the rhetoric of demagogues like Beck, Limbaugh and Palin. These demagogues talk a lot about politics and what is wrong with Obama, the Democrats in Congress and the federal government but what they do not discuss are any real ideas for how to address these problems. They rarely make any references to George Bush, preferring to wax nostalgically about how great a President Ronald Reagan was. What they don’t talk about however, is the fact that although President Reagan used populist rhetoric to get elected, he governed with the ideas of intellectuals like Milton Friedman and George Gilder.
Instead of discussing how Republicans can use their political power to apply conservative ideas to our problems, the demagogic leaders of the Tea party movement use their populist rhetoric to inflame their followers’ emotions and play on their fears in an attempt to neutralize political power instead of using it for the greater public good.
The problem with democracy is that it is very messy. You have to muddle around and make compromises with others who share different and in some cases polar opposite beliefs. Dictators don't have to worry about the beliefs of other citizens much less making compromises with those who don't agree with them. But effective democratic politics is all about the art of making compromises with one's opponents. At the present time though, the Republicans who hew to the Tea Party line cannot or will not make compromises. Compromise is against their 'principles'. Therefore, one cannot help but assume that Tea Partiers would actually prefer a dictatorship to democracy, provided the dictator is someone who shares their beliefs.
Members of the Tea Party worship at the altar of the US Constitution and deify America’s founding fathers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. But when historical documents become sacred scriptures and the authors of those documents are then worshipped like Gods, Truth becomes the victim.
The Tea Party’s followers revel in reading the US Constitution at their meetings, reverently treating the words as the received knowledge. They would have others believe that they not only understand what the words mean, but that they also understand what the authors intentions were. But their interpretation is actually a false mythology that they have created precisely because they don’t understand why the authors developed the US Constitution.
They believe the founding fathers wrote the US Constitution to protect the rights of states from the 'tyranny of a strong national government'. But the historical record paints an entirely different picture. I happen to agree with the Tea Partiers that America’s founding fathers were ahead of their time as political intellectuals. But they were also the wealthy ‘American elites’ of their day and the Constitution of 1787 was designed to strengthen the federal government and weaken the powers accorded to states by the 1777 Articles of Confederation. If their motivation was to protect the rights of states as the Tea Partiers apparently believe, then they never would have written a new constitution and instead just left the Articles of Confederation in place.
But the founding fathers were motivated to develop this new Constitution in part by their fears of the 'tyranny of the democratic majority' that would trample the rights of democratic minorities. They were also worried that without a new Constitution to restrict their powers, some states might actually allow women and slaves the right to vote and even to own property.
So despite what they and their demagogues like Glenn Beck say, Tea Partiers aren’t fighting to take back their government, because they have no real ideas about how they might go about making it better. They are simply a libertarian mob that only wants their political leaders to protect their God given right to do whatever they please. But the authors of the Constitution were ahead of their time as political intellectuals, in that they saw the Tea Party movement coming more than 200 years ago and took steps to prevent it and similar movements from dictating how American citizens would be governed.
Ironically, the Tea Party movement celebrates the work of America's 18th century intellectual elites while they simultaneously condemn America's 21st century intellectual elites. What members of the Tea Party movement don’t realize is they’re actually celebrating a constitution designed to prevent them from ever gaining control over America's government.