Tea Party wins in November may not result in major changes in government policy.
The Tea Party movement that grew out of the rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in February, 2009 was at first, assumed to be referenced to the historical Boston Tea Party of 1773. Later someone notice that the word “tea” could be an acronym for the slogan “Taxed Enough Already”, and this catchphrase was quickly adopted by many local tea parties as their “official” slogan, particularly among those intent on consolidating the tea parties into a cohesive political movement and voting block.
The rallying cry of “Taxed Enough Already” is better suited to the purpose of today’s tea parties than is the reference to the Boston Tea Party. Contrary to popular belief, the Boston Tea Party was not about taxes, per se, but about the overreaching authority of the British Parliament. Ironically the Boston Tea Party was also an unintended consequence of the bailout of a major British company by Parliament.
The British Parliament had been forced to repeal the unpopular Stamp Act because of opposition from the colonists against the imposition of internal taxes without colonial representation in Parliament. Still in desperate need of additional taxes from the colonies to support its expansionist endeavors, Parliament passed the Townshend Act, placing a duty on paint, paper, glass, lead and tea imported by the Colonies. This was an external tax and presumably should have been acceptable with the Colonies. This Act was repealed in 1770 due to complaints from English manufacturers about declining sales, keeping only the tax on tea as a “face-saving” measure.
Exercising typical American ingenuity and independence, the Colonists simply started drinking tea purchased from other sources and smuggled into the Colonies. This, combined with other forces pushed the British East India Company to the verge of Bankruptcy. To avoid bankruptcy, the company appealed to the Crown for financial help and in response Parliament passed the Tea Act. One of the purposes of the Tea Act, in addition to raising tax revenue, was to reestablish the colonial market for English tea by undercutting the price of smuggled tea being sold by local merchants.
As a result of the Tea Act, at the time of the Boston Tea Party, local residents would have been able to buy the taxed tea from the British East India Company cheaper than they could buy the untaxed tea then being sold by local merchants. This fact discounts the notion that the Boston Tea Party was just about taxes. The real motivation for the Tea Party seems to have been a rebellion against Parliament’s attempt to control Colonist’s behavior through taxation. More than anything else it was a protest against overreaching laws of a central government usurping the prerogatives of the colonies and local legislative bodies.
That is where the connection between the Boston Tea Party and today’s tea parties breaks down. The tea party movement today is mostly about government’s over spending and the resulting tax burden it places on taxpayers and their descendants. That is also why any Republican gains led by tea party supported candidates is not necessarily going to result in a smaller government or a major change in the way government does business.
A large number of tea party members, perhaps even a majority, self-describe themselves as “fiscal conservatives”. Many are also followers of the libertarian philosophy, describing themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”. Those holding this position are better described as “progressive conservatives”. For those new to the term, “progressive conservative” refers to those who call for a smaller government and lower taxes while at the same time believing government should provide the answers to many, if not all, of our social and economic problems.
Many conservatives call on the federal government to make reforms in education, health care, energy policy, and similar programs without ever questioning the government’s involvement in these issues to begin with. You can’t have it both ways. You cannot be in favor of large government bureaucracies controlling programs like education, energy, health care, food safety, and transportation, while providing large grants to states, communities and individuals for energy conservation, home buying, alternative fuel sources, college education, local infrastructure, and local services, and at the same time, expect smaller government and lower taxes.
It is this dichotomy of expectations that exists among large numbers of conservatives and members of the tea party movement that threatens to modify the movement’s influence over future government policies. The one ray of hope for the future is the fact that growing numbers of tea party members have discovered a new interest in the Constitution and our founding principles. This needs to be encouraged and supported at ever opportunity.
I am an avid supporter of the tea party movement and attend rallies whenever I can—I prefer to call them “patriot rallies”. I believe the tea party movement to be the most important political movement in my lifetime (75 yrs. and counting). My hope is that as knowledge and support for the Constitution and our founding principles continues to grow among the tea parties the effect can eventually be instrumental in returning America back to the Constitutional Republic it was intended to be.