Thursday, April 23, 2009

Not the Boston Tea Party

Q: How many teapartiers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. If the federal government would just leave it alone it would screw itself in.

The first Boston Tea Party was a protest against taxation by Britain on the colonists in America. These taxes were imposed without giving the colonists any representation--no say in the taxation process back in England. In a protest against tea taxes, in particular, some of our American ancestors boarded a tea-laden British ship in Boston Harbor and threw boxes of the beverage leaves overboard. In a fairly transparent effort to disguise themselves and shift blame onto native Americans they dressed up as Indians, complete with war paint. It was an heroic effort which we Americans fondly remember, although, of course, it actually took a war to free us of British rule.

The recent tea party events in various parts of the country claim to be descendents of this noble endeavor. Although they were in part protests against proposed taxation of the upper echelons by the Obama administration, the demonstrators cannot justifiably claim they have no representation. They have Congresspeople and Senators who are elected to do just that. If one is unhappy with this representation then one works to have people who do as they like elected. One can loudly complain but the power is in the ballot box.

The tea parties were also protests against recent presidential and Congressional efforts to stimulate the failing economy. Similar costly stimulus efforts as well as borrowed trillions for the war in Iraq by the Bush administration were mostly ignored. These protests were pointedly against the current president and Democrat-controlled congress.

Tea partiers have little historical memory. There was a Great Depression which began in 1929 and lasted into World War II. The president at the outset of the depression was a Republican named Herbert Hoover. His economic policy was the same as that propounded by the recent tea partiers--no bailouts of the economic sector, no stimulus programs and many cutbacks in government spending. The result was a rapidly disintegrating American economy and ultimately about 1/3 of the workforce unemployed. Tent cities erected by those who had lost their homes were called "Hoovervilles," in honor of the president of the same name.

Conservatives often argue that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who followed Hoover as president, and Roosevelt's "New Deal" were not really effective in mitigating the depression. That point can be debated, but it is certain that he did better than Hoover, who nobody can claim was successful. Yet Hoover's is the course the modern tea partiers want to follow.

The tea partiers can protest peacefully to their hearts' content. That is their right as Americans. It is also not yet certain that the massive stimulus packages by both the Bush and Obama administrations will help as much as many economists and average Americans hope they will. But one might expect that the partiers would pay a little more attention to American history as they attempt to reenact it.

At least nobody dressed up as phony Native Americans this time.