Explaining the Tea Party

It’s obvious that the Tea Partiers are driven by anger at the “irresponsibility of Congress” as my Colby College English professor Ed Witham put it (many times) in the mid-to-late 1970s.  At first it appeared that this was all about fiscal responsibility, but let’s be honest—budgets don’t generate much passion.  The truth was revealed in a Wall Street Journal piece that received little notice;  you have to be a subscriber to read it, but the gist of the article is that tea partiers feel that government has overturned the “laws of karma” or morality:

“Now jump ahead to today’s ongoing financial and economic crisis. Again, those guilty of corruption and irresponsibility have escaped the consequences of their wrongdoing, rescued first by President Bush and then by President Obama. Bailouts and bonuses sent unimaginable sums of the taxpayers’ money to the very people who brought calamity upon the rest of us. Where is punishment for the wicked?

As the tea partiers see it, the positive side of karma has been weakened, too. The Protestant work ethic (karma’s Christian cousin) holds that hard work is a duty and will bring commensurate rewards. Yet here, too, liberals have long been uncomfortable with karma, because even when you create equal opportunity, differences in talent and effort result in unequal outcomes. These inequalities must then be reduced by progressive taxation, affirmative action and other heavy-handed government intervention. Such social engineering violates our liberty, but most of us accept limitations on our liberty when we agree with the goals and motives behind the rules, such as during air travel. For the tea partiers, federal activism has become a moral insult. They believe that, over time, the government has made a concerted effort to subvert the law of karma.”

That’s not exactly a plea for fiscal responsibility, but it heads in the same general direction.  And there’s growing anxiety, particularly among mothers, about piling IOUs on the backs of little children.  That’s  an emotional issue, and we’re going to have to tap into some deep veins of emotion if we’re going to create new rules for our legislators that force them to do their jobs.

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  1. Richard Larschan says:

    Ed Witham as fiscal conservative? What am i missing? The last conversation Ed and I had was about his burial plans, in which he posited they weren’t necessary because if his body lay around long enough he was sure someone would take care of it. Though that’s not what actually happened, Ed’s Yankee practicality always gave way to his do-gooder instincts as a crusty Old Lefty. And while I share your concerns about government waste and corruption, I’m afraid it’s the cost of seeing that the 47% for whom Mitt Romney feels such disdain don’t become such a great critical mass that even a small percentage of their most disaffected start venting their alienation in the form of machine gun fire and explosives. Sharing the wealth shouldn’t be a problem when there’s still plenty left over afterwards.

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