Tea parties had merit, but short on alternatives

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Tax Day Tea Parties have come and gone.

What were they really about, again?

A so-called "collaborative, grassroots effort," the tax-day parties were designed to give Americans a chance to voice displeasure with the stimulus bill, the budget and general unhappiness with the state of affairs in Washington.

There's nothing wrong with voicing displeasure. And there are certainly legitimate concerns about expenditures by our government. But some things don't add up.

First of all, the original Boston Tea Party was about taxation without representation. When the British Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts, it retained the tea tax, mostly to show it could exert its power upon the colonies. In Boston, a group of colonists boarded a ship in Boston on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and destroyed the tea by throwing it into the harbor.

The Tea Parties of 2009 weren't as spontaneous nor as noble. The parties, hawked by conservatives, ignore the fact this country's tax rate hasn't risen in 16 years.

No, this seems more about anger about bailouts, a vague notion of "socialism," -- as if any sort of regulation or consumer protection is tantamount to joining the Communist bloc -- and about the fact that the country is being led by a "bankrupt liberal agenda," according to taxdayteaparties.com.

(Fact: the tax rate on the wealthiest of Americans is half of what it was under Richard Nixon.)

Remember that a message was sent to Washington in November: throw the Republicans out. A new party was installed in the White House, and Democrats continued to pad their majorities in both the House and Senate.

The new president, Barack Obama, has garnered mostly favorable reviews. A recent Gallup poll said 71 percent of Americans have at least a fair amount of confidence he will do the right thing for the economy.

Of the remaining 29 percent, it's easy to imagine where they might have been Wednesday night.

The parties had a grassroots feeling to it, but there was a large element of Astroturf, too.

Fox News not only chose to give major play to the parties, but they also helped organize them. It's one thing to cover a political demonstration; it's another thing to help organize one and encourage viewers to attend. Even in its most liberal moment, MSNBC never encouraged participation in an anti-war movement.

That Fox News is in bed with the GOP isn't news.

But it served as confirmation that conservatives were much more likely to attend a Tax Day Tea Party, while the rest of us were much more likely to go on with our lives, fairly content with the knowledge that a struggling economy is in steady hands. Say what you will about Obama, but he won't make the same mistake of constricting the dollar -- a grave miscalculation that accelerated the Great Depression.

This isn't to say there aren't legitimate concerns about spending. But letting banks and major corporations fail would simply be disastrous. Too many people, mostly the ones like you and me, would be hurt and the economy would be crippled.

Remember: Obama didn't get us in this mess. Fighting two wars on a credit card? Massive deregulation? Like it or not, that's what has us in this fix.

After all, taxes might be a pain to pay, but without them, we couldn't form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty.

If the tea-party organizers could stop and come up with an actual alternative plan, they would be worth listening to.

Until then, it's all just tea under the bridge.

Dean Fox is a copy editor for the Tribune.