Monday, July 05, 2010

Defining the Tea Party

ABC News online has a feature story about the Boston Tea Party, written by Mark Gemein (of Fortune Mag, Salon, and elsewhere) who points out the disconnect between high taxes and the real Tea Party, using it to make some observations about the modern TEA folks:
The effect of the Tea Act was not to make tea more expensive for colonists, but much less so -- and much cheaper than it was in England. The economic losers here were tea smugglers, among them the wealthy merchant John Hancock, who would go on to become the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Yet, ultimately, this didn't matter one bit. What was at stake was no longer tax revenue and the price of tea, but the right of the Crown to tax the colonies.
He goes on to summarize:
Democrats assume that if they could only convince folks that the program of federal austerity advocated by Tea Partiers will prolong the economic malaise, that support would wither away. But to try to prove to that to Tea Party supporters today is a little like trying to prove to the original Tea Partiers that the net effect of the Tea Act was to lower the price of tea. It may well be correct, but it misses the driving force of the movement. The Tea Partiers may talk about economic growth, but what they really care about is the moral project of rewarding the Responsibles and punishing the Deadbeats. For the movement zealots, it's the principle that really counts -- and even a little Depression may not be too high a price to see it through.
But is it a fair observation or a cleverly worded partisan hatchet job? Well, he refers to Paul Krugman as something of a modern Keynsian Paul Revere; a voice in the wilderness trying to warn the stubborn TEA people of the impending Hoover-like doom (evidently compared to the successful FDR spending programs and eventual war borrowing that cut the depression to only 10 years). All in all it's one of those articles that feels like a slam without the official slam seal of approval.

For instance, he seems to paint the movement as not only ignorant of history but more a pack of closet xenophobic racists who just want to punish minorities and their entitlements at the expense of patriots ('responsibles') for our massive debt, which he never calls dangerous or unsustainable. The fact he links to Rand Paul to summarize 'their position'--as if Paul has somehow been elected as TEA president--is another clue. And the cheap shot at Hancock feels like one of those "flog a sacred cow" kind of historic revelations inserted to shock the hoi polloi.
Of course more context would have been useful but why ruin the intended effect.

Fortunately in Democracies history isn't written by one man or Wikipedia--thanks to the sex poodle there are other sources. Here's another way of looking at the Tea Act in a much less verbose summary, taken from "Social Studies for Kids", an online scholastic site:
1773 Act that gave a monopoly on tea sales to the East India Company. In other words, American colonists could buy no tea unless it came from that company. Why? Well, the East Indian Company wasn't doing so well, and the British wanted to give it some more business. The Tea Act lowered the price on this East India tea so much that it was way below tea from other suppliers. But the American colonists saw this law as yet another means of "taxation without representation" because it meant that they couldn't buy tea from anyone else (including other colonial merchants) without spending a lot more money. Their response was to refuse to unload the tea from the ships. This was the situation in Boston that led to the Boston Tea Party.
Notice the slight difference in tone in getting to the point--the Colonists saw it as a stunt along with an unfair tax, even if the price was lower--but of course the scholastic site wasn't trying to make any political points. Here's a summary from the Boston Tea Party Historical Society:
The Tea Act taxed the tea at source (i.e. in India) so there was no tax collection in the colonies. The act allowed the tea to go directly to America instead of having to be imported to Britain and then re-exported to the colonies. This made the tea 9d per lb cheaper, even with the 3d tax. It also allowed the East India Company to sell the tea exclusively to chosen merchants (consignees) in the American colonies. This established monopolies in America and offended colonial merchants.
Manipulation and monopoly. Here's yet another short take:
The Boston Tea Party was an "in your face" approach to let the British authorities know that the Patriots in the New World had their own ideas; their own agenda; and their own plans for self-government.
In other words the point was more of making a point--that the government of Britain, of which they had little say, was not going to dictate their affairs any longer, even if through bribery. And in that alone there are certainly some parallels to modern politics and the mood of the TEA folks, regardless of whether they completely parallel the original history. So here's another version of what the modern TEA party might represent in context with the original Boston Tea Party:
The Tea Act was a bailout by the British government of their state-run tea company after years of screwing the Colonists on high duties, which precipitated a black market. The act was craftily marketed as a benefit but one which the Patriots saw through almost immediately and acted valiantly to stop. Hancock was not a criminal, he was a free trade patriot. And taxation without representation is wrong; bailouts don't work over the long run; and free markets are more in line with the rights of man than artificial government manipulation.
While it's true there are some who don't understand anything except "no new taxes" and some who probably don't get the historical connection, such wasn't completely explained in Mr. Gimein's article. But before calling it a partisan shot maybe it's more a style issue. For comparison, the same writer seems to be defending George Soros in this provocatively titled older piece. It's an interesting read, pointing out Soros' war against the "with us or against us" Bush doctrine (that liberals took completely out of context) and the evils of capitalism in general. It goes on to illustrate how an enraged Soros bought his way into the Democratic machine in trying to effect change on American politics, and how he should be taken seriously not as some kind of nut.

But was he defending him or just trying to warn free-marketeers? Hard to say but there wasn't anything in there close to insinuating that Soros was a misguided socialist ignorant of history or economics, which might more parallel the above piece. One thing is sure--the closer the November elections come the more of these kind of articles will appear in the mainstream press as they attempt to pigeonhole the Democratic opposition.


LASunsett said...

MSMers continue to misinterpret/misrepresent what the modern day Tea partiers stand for, but I think it is no coincidence.

Like you say, as November approaches, it is likely that more hit pieces will emerge in an effort to get uninformed Americans to view Tea Partiers as extremists. They will use fear to paint an inaccurate picture of normal people just wanting the government to live within their means.

Painting us as racist didn't work, so now we are going to be portrayed as rebellious entities. They will claim we are armed and plotting revolutions.... and possibly even terrorist attacks against innocents like the heinous scumbag, Timothy McVeigh.

They may even create some plots to bust up for the cameras. If that doesn't work, look out. They might just set off a bomb, themselves, to make it look like homegrown extremist elements are behind it.

I could be wrong, of course. I often am. But if there were some way to suspend elections to keep this current party in power, there would have to be something that would/could be used as a threat to the safety and security of voters. In my view, this would be just what they need to pull something like that off.

Debbie said...

So it was a "bailout" of a company that wasn't doing so well. Hmmmm. Seems we've had a bunch of that from our present administration. Didn't work out for the Brits and it's not working out for me.

Also shows how warped history can be depending on the source.

Right Truth