Tea Party or Whiskey Rebellion?
November, 2009--Over the summer of 2009, protestors with loaded firearms started showing up at town halls on healthcare reform, even at several hosted by the President of the United States. Other protestors carried signs that threatened, "We come unarmed...this time." These self-proclaimed "tea party patriots" claimed to be acting in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, and quoted Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots."
Many of these Americans weren't just protesting against government reform of healthcare. Many were protesting the government itself, saying that it had grabbed too much control since the election of Obama. (Where were these people during the eight years of George W. Bush?)
Obama was an imposter, many of them said, an "undocumented worker" whose presidency was illegal because supposedly he wasn't born in the United States. His birth certificate and two Honolulu newspaper birth notices were ignored. For that matter, so was the nearly 9,000,000 popular vote majority by which Americans had just elected him President of the United States.
"Tea Party Patriots" May Have the Beverage Wrong
In reality, today's protesters have little in common with the colonists who dumped British tea in Boston harbor in 1773 ostensibly to protest King George's taxation without representation. By arming in protest against a popularly elected U.S. government, they have more in common with the early Americans who launched the Whiskey Rebellion nineteen years later.
Whiskey was the main money crop on the frontier of western Pennsylvania. One in every six farmers there operated a still, and many took up arms to oppose the 7¢/gallon federal tax being levied on their whiskey. In 1794 they brought back an old symbol to signal their outrage and rally support.
Ironically, few were to benefit more from the whiskey tax's repeal than George Washington himself. After his presidency, his distillery made rye whiskey at Mount Vernon, and by 1799 it showed a profit of $7,500 for 11,000 gallons.)
Something Rotten in the State of Dissent
However, more than one politician is egging protestors on to take it to the next level. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) has urged her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" against the global warming bill, and to go to Washington to "see the whites of the eyes" of their Congressmen to fight the healthcare bill. With similar zeal, Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) told an interviewer, "I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry....This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical...I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems."
Ms. Bachmann and Ms. Angle are lucky that George Washington isn't around today. He'd probably lock them up.
On November 5, 2009, Rep. Bachmann held a "Kill the Bill" rally on the Capitol steps, in a failed attempt to defeat healthcare reform. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) said afterward that he saw nothing objectionable about the signs displayed at the rally, which showed the President as an African witch doctor and the Joker, pictures of assault rifles, "HUNTING SEASON FOR RINOS," "GET THE RED OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE," and a photo of naked corpses under the headline, "NATIONAL SOCIALIST HEALTH CARE: DACHAU GERMANY 1945."
With fat cats taking home million dollar bonuses with taxpayers' bailout money, there's plenty for any rational American to be angry about these days. But many of the self-proclaimed "Tea Baggers" are so angry that they fail to see how blatantly they are being manipulated by the fat cats themselves. They hoist "Kill the Bill" signs provided by the same insurance lobby-linked groups that bus them to the rallies, such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks.
Like a strange army that has banded together to defeat itself, today's protestors are fighting against healthcare reform that would, among other things, protect them from being unfairly dropped or left uninsured with a pre-existing medical condition. The law they're opposing could help save their life, yet they choose to demonize it and everyone in favor of it.
The Tea Party protestors' role as insurance company pawns was never more obvious than when they carried mass-produced "Bury Obamacare with Kennedy" signs at the September 12, 2009 D.C. rally, mere days after the burial of Senator Ted Kennedy, whose legislative accomplishments had benefited them more than any of the politicians' at their rallies.
Where Can This Ugliness Lead?
The mean scene recalled another Kennedy. When JFK traveled to Dallas in November of 1963, the atmosphere was just as charged. "In that third year of the Kennedy presidency," William Manchester wrote in Death of A President, "a kind of fever lay over Dallas country. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed, 'Impeach Earl Warren.' Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas...Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy's name was booed in classrooms; corporate junior executives were required to attend radical seminars."²
Stop The Insanity
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently warned that today's violent rhetoric reminded her of the charged atmosphere in San Francisco leading up to the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Republican leaders bristled at the reference; one even accused Pelosi of fomenting violence.
But the fact is that to date, not a single Republican leader has strongly called for more civil dialog.* That is ominous in a country where it's easier to buy a gun than a health plan. Are there no grown-ups on the right who might feel a duty to step up and help prevent another tragedy...one that no amount of tea, or whiskey, could help us recover from?
¹ Burton Kummerow, Christine O'Toole & R. Scott Stephenson, Edited by Laura S. Fisher, Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2008
² William Manchester, The Death of a President, Harper and Row, 1967
³ Sam Kashner, "A Clash of Camelots," Vanity Fair, October 2009
* After the November 5 rally, when protestors chanted "Nazi, Nazi" as Republican leaders stood on the Capitol steps, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) said the poster showing naked corpses under the headline, "NATIONAL SOCIALIST HEALTH CARE: DACHAU GERMANY 1945" was "inappropriate," and the Hitler references were "not...very helpful." In August, when Rush Limbaugh said that Hitler and Obama both "ruled by dictate," Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, did not respond publicly to calls from Jewish groups to condemn the remarks. (TalkingPointsMemo.com, November 6, 2009)