We Are the Tea Party

John Mark Reynolds | The Torrey Honors Institute | Thursday, September 23, 2010

We Are the Tea Party

September 24, 2010

Americans have never been fond of taxes: ask the British. Parliament passed a tiny tax on tea and touched off a titanic tax rebellion. Americans may like some government social programs, but they don't like paying for them. Ronald Reagan once summed up our attitude by saying: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree."

Americans are not unique in this attitude. High taxes inspired legends of Robin Hood, a man who robbed from the government to give to the poor. The New Testament summed up the attitude of the ancient populace when it lumped together "tax collectors and sinners." Jesus tried to save both groups from their evil ways.

Americans are right to be suspicious of big government. Big anything, government or business, often tramples on the values and lives of the "little people" that get in the way. Big government has a particularly bad track record, because it combines huge financial resources with police power.  Many suspect that big business often uses big government to squash competition from smaller businesses through regulatory growth.

Both political parties have members exhibiting a sordid desire to enrich their friends and allies from tax money. This graft is particularly odious when collected in the name of national defense or to help the poor. In the days of Robin Hood, government taxed to enrich the lives of the leaders, today it is the same but done in the name of the poor.

These modern day hoods rob from the rich and the rest of us to give to their cronies. Bipartisan support for Wall Street bailouts sickens Americans who see the economic pirates who brought on the recession rewarded for their private larceny with further public loot. One party natters about small government while increasing the size of government. The other party bawls about the poor while increasing the number of poor in America and bailing out bankers. Both political parties are unpopular, because the leadership of both parties has been tainted by these crimes.

Current leadership in the Republican Party may not get this yet, but the primary voters are busy finding new leadership. The "old guard" earned our distrust and so the folks are getting rid of them. The "old boys" of the Grand Old Party have partied on our dime and have left our nation in a grand mess.

The GOP leadership has felt electoral pain in the primaries, but new Republicans will be in place in November. The Democratic Party has put off their suffering, having been able to hide from angry voters, but that will likely come to an end in November.

A common mistake is to think the Tea Party goers and movement are "conservative," but this is not true. They are not the product of the official conservative movement. Many conservative feel betrayed by their leaders who tell them one thing at home, but say something else in Washington. They are busy creating new leaders to replace old institutions that exist only to raise money to go on existing.

The Tea Party crowd will be religious and have traditional values, because most Americans are religious and have traditional values. Small government and strong private morality have always gone together in America. Just because an act is legal, does not make it beneficial or right. The Tea Party folk know their own temptation to ask for handouts or to misuse power, but thanks to leaders like Glenn Beck their focus has been on small government and strong families.

The Tea Partiers have taken a political Hippocratic Oath: asking government to do no harm to their private lives.

If old generals refight the last war, old pundits relive the last campaign. Both the generals and the pundits are in awe of their own hard won experience and fail to see the change around them. The stale category "religious right" must be retired. America is overwhelmingly religious and most of us don't fit neat ideological categories: especially ones designed for the last political generation.

Americans want to be good, but see an educational system that assaults their values, a graft ridden government, and a toxic popular culture. We know that we are responsible in great part for these problems. We have tolerated cads, crooks or weathercocks if they were cads, crooks or weathercocks in our party.

No nation pretending either Newt Gingrich or Barney Frank is a statesman should be complacent.

American knows that turning to our schools will not help. Graduates of our best universities looted our economy for their own profit and have looted our tax money. Our best schools may produce brilliant workers who make nifty products, but they are failing to produce men and women of character.

The Tea Party knows that this too is a failure of "we the people." We have allowed our tax dollars to support bloated educational institutions that have often lost sight of their mission. Instead of strengthening our republic, they undermine its values. Tea Party goers know that calls for a "new morality" on the Left would lead to persecution of their home churches, if those churches do not conform. Tea Party goers realize that calls for a "new morality" on the Right would lead to a worship of "market values" that would ignore the human rights of the weak, the handicapped, and the unlucky.

Too often folk feel their choice has been limited to the values of Trotsky or Scrooge.

More than a few Tea Partiers in states like Ohio gave President Obama a chance. They believed, or hoped, his "new politics" were real and they guessed that John McCain was no real maverick. Sadly, they have seen him govern too often in the "Chicago way." If we unwisely hoped for a messiah, we got Rahm Emmanuel. President Obama is turning out to be just another politician and we don't have any more patience for a suit of clothes in the establishment.

Most Americans still believe in the Judeo-Christian values of a right to life, liberty, and human happiness. They know that human happiness comes when people can flourish: mentally, physically, and spiritually. Government can provide the atmosphere for such flourishing, but government cannot create the flourishing person by itself. Only strong families, religious groups, and culture with a supportive government can do so.

When government grows too large, it saps the strength of other parts of society.

High government spending and the taxes needed to pay for them are a moral issue. In the modern world, higher taxes are often sold to us by encouraging us to covet what our more fortunate neighbor has. If we take his stuff, then we will get free stuff. My home state of West Virginia has spent decades discovering that government help doesn't help or lead to clean governance.

When we borrow, we enslave the future to our decisions. Future generations will not bless us if we shackle them in the chains of our indulgence. The Tea Party wants to leave their children with choices and not a bill for their party.

The Tea Party is very imperfect as all populist movements are. Failure in leadership in both parties will tend to turn up new rogues and charlatans to fill the gap. Perhaps, however, there is reason for hope. When the two political parties failed in the 1850's, we found, by God's good grace, Abraham Lincoln. When the two political parties failed in the 1950's, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led the people in a moral response to that failure.

Now we face another moral crisis from a failed leadership class and we can only hope the Tea Partiers will find a Lincoln or a King. In the meantime, the old ruling class will continue to demonize "we the people," because they fear the loss of their privileges and power.

The Tea Partiers should and will go on ignoring the advice of the nobility that has served us so badly.

This article originally appeared at the Washington Post's On Faith page. Click here to read the continuing conversation.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.