Giving Tea a Bad Name

Recently, I’ve been very troubled by the Tea Party movement, and not just because they are sullying the name of my favorite drink. I mean—in general, I agreed with their basic notions (as I understand them) that the Federal government should only have the responsibilities assigned to it by the constitution, and that (again, in general) government should be much smaller. I certainly agree that there is much fraud, waste, and abuse (not to mention process churn) in any large enterprise such as the Government, and that some streamlining could occur. But yet…

I think part of the problem is that there are many ways to interpret the constituion, and I tend to interpret certain areas broadly. Thus, where I see Federal responsibilities others may not. I also feel that Government is needed to protect people from themselves, for as we have seen time and time again, people will succumb to baser desires like greed given the opportunity (don’t believe me: read the Bible—after all, much of the Bible is exhortation not to succumb, and the moral system it puts in place is a form of regulation against temptation). So for me, government regulation to protect the people is reasonable (and thus, for example, I have no problem with the healthcare plan). So perhaps these different interpretions are one reason I have trouble with the Tea Party folks.

But that still doesn’t explain it. I couldn’t figure out why there was so much desire to be obstructionist, and the venom was rising to a level unseen in previous administrations. In fact, I couldn’t figure out what it was until I read an article that Dr. Gene Spafford pointed me to: The Rage is Not About Health Care (an op-ed piece by Frank Rich). This article points out the fact that no such rage was visible in previous major government programs such as Social Security or Medicare… and the latter was even more of a government takeover of medicine that the 2010 Health Care initiative ever was. Rather, the vitriol is closer to that experienced during the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights act. The key premise of the article is highlighted in this paragraph:

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

I think the opinion piece is worth reading. You may not agree with its conclusion, but I think it has the potential to explain a lot. There’s more going on here, and I’m seeing attacks couched in language that I thought had disappeared ages ago.