09 November 2010

From the 'Heartland'

Newspaper offices around the country are receiving copies of The Patriot's Toolbox, a publication of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute. The self-described "free-market think tank" intends the book, a compilation of public-policy pamphlets, as "a guide to public policy for patriot-activists in the Tea Party movement as well as for candidates for public office, incumbent office holders, civic and business leaders, and journalists assigned to cover the movement." That's a neat trick. If I read that quote correctly, Heartland intends to tell Tea Partiers what to think on public policy, and to tell journalists what Tea Partiers think.

While that blurb begs the question of whether Heartland speaks for the Tea Partiers or to them, institute president Joseph Bast and chairman Herbert J. Walberg feel a need to explain what they mean by patriot. "The word 'patriot' appears in the title because the principles we recommend would return the country to government based on the ideals of the Founders who led the American Revolution: liberty, limited taxation, and limited government." Oppose those, a reader might infer, and you're the opposite of a patriot -- a traitor???

"Tea Party patriots," Bast and Walberg continue, "recognize that basic American ideals and historical practice are under attack. Their views are radical but only in the original sense of the term, that is, reaching to the roots, foundation, or ultimate sources and principles. They are echoing the ideas of the American Founders including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington." In this case radicalism is in order, since once the foundation was laid, the ideas of these Founders grew quite contradictory. Hamilton and Madison speak as one in The Federalist, but rarely afterward. Invoking all these Founders implies a mixed message unless you assume a state of affairs so alien to all of them that they'd forget their eventual differences. But our state of affairs arguably derives from their fundamental disagreements, so echoing their ideals is of limited use. But the Heartland authors press on.

The Tea Party patriots remind us that the Founders' Declaration of Independence refused to accept 'taxation without representation,' British Parliamentary supremacy, and the rulings of King George III that violated civil and economic liberties. They call forth memories of events that led up to the Declaration, in particular of the citizens who threw British tea into Boston
harbor as a protest against new taxes.

It's one of history's oddities that an anti-tax movement has named itself for an event that had relatively little to do with taxation. The Boston Tea Party took place when it did because a new British policy that lowered the price of imported tea was felt to give an unfair advantage to the British East India Company over colonial smugglers who got their tea outside legal channels. The Tea Party was less a tax revolt than a protest against economic regulation -- in which case today's TPs can still take inspiration from it -- or the threat of monopoly in the tea trade. It's unclear to me whether the prospect of monopoly in any trade troubles the dreams of the WalMart shopping multitudes in and out of the TP movement. The bulk of the Patriot's Toolbox is, at first glance, a relatively sober discussion of the benefits and admitted risks of wholesale deregulation and privatization, so perhaps we should restrain ourselves from judging this collection of economists and academics by their shortcomings as historians.

"Although apparently abandoned by politicians and most of the media, the Founders' ideals still prevail in America," the institute claims. Leaving aside the still-questionable definition of Founding ideals, proof for the assertion is found in polls expressing a continued sense of "American exceptionalism." Americans remain exceptional in the world, the Toolbox claims, in their distrust of government, which they find wasteful, inefficient and unresponsive to "what people like me think." This reality, the editors insist, is obscured by misrepresentation of the Tea Partiers by the "liberal-biased traditional media," despite a claim made in the same paragraph that said media are rapidly losing influence.

I'll do Heartland the courtesy of reading at least a couple of their position papers and skimming the rest. While their ideological bias is self-evident, they at least refrained from wild charges of "socialism" in their introduction and assigned George W. Bush his fair share of blame for current problems. The Toolbox is of interest, not because it represents genuine Tea Party opinion as advertised, but because it shows an ongoing effort to shape the minds and options for Tea Partiers at their moment of supposed triumph.


Anonymous said...

That's funny, because at the very least Alexander Hamilton and James Madison believed in a strong federal government and, as the co-authors of the Constitution, made damn sure the government had the authority to set taxes.

Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, did believe in limited federal power, but also believed in regulating banks. He did not condone the idea of wealth being based on money, but rather on owning real property. These charlatans are either sadly misinformed about their own history, or more likely, simply lying to whip up reactionary fervor in the dirtclods.

Insofar as "taxation without representation" I believe, as usual, they simply concentrate on the word "taxation". We have representation. The recent elections prove that point solidly. We may not like what our representatives do, but that is our fault for electing those particular representatives and for not paying any attention to what they are doing until election time.

But if we take them at their word, does that mean that as "patriots" we have the right/duty/obligation to steal the merchandise from those we disagree with and "throw it into Boston Harbor"? I'd like to see that court case.

Basically, what they seem to be saying is typical of the extremist right-wingers who make up the bulk of the tea party: "Only those who agree with us, who think like us, who act like us are to be considered Americans and patriots" and that is a very dangerous viewpoint to take, as history shows us again and again.

Anonymous said...

To continue, they are, in effect, saying that anyone who espouses a liberal or leftist point of view are traitors. As far as I am concerned, the founding fathers are dead. We owe them a debt of gratitude for giving us our start, but we owe them nothing beyond that.

It is up to the voting population of this (or any other) democratic country to decide what our government should or should not do, what direction we should or should not take. Not up to those who are 200 years dead.

If they believe unregulated big business is "patriotic" then let them prove it by making the same level of sacrifice the poor and the working class have been asked to make since the beginning of this country. Until that happens, big business as NOT proven it's patriotism and we should NOT simply acquiesce to their wishes. Anyone who asks us to is of questionable patriotism.