In my conversations with members of the current radical conservative-libertarian movement, I have found them to be into a fairy tale, fantasy view of American history. Most of them wave the U.S. Constitution around, quote Thomas Paine (see below), and parrot Ron Paul’s attack on Social Security, Medicare, the Federal Reserve, and government in general. However, they have obviously not done the hard work of reading historical documents such as the Federalist Papers, credible histories, and case law.
A couple of students staffing a Tea Party table in the KU Union the other day told me they were libertarians. They were distributing copies of the Constitution, Ron Paul’s books, and a few other artifacts of the movement. I asked them to explain their platform. It consisted of “shrinking government” and “going back on the gold standard.” They weren’t exactly certain about how they would shrink government and the “gold standard plank” speaks for itself.
The mainstream media in general has not challenged these people. In fact, quite the opposite: this movement has been presented as “the people are angry,” without any indication of which people; without much, if any, indication of the completely absurd, irrational, and wacky nature of ideas pushed at Tea Party/Tea Bagger rallies; and, without any indication of who is funding this movement. Hence, I suggest that progressives write letters to editors and challenge the historical nonsense that the news media has ignored and has, thereby, validated. The following is a letter that I have submitted to the Lawrence Journal World:
Thomas Paine & the Tea Party Movement
I find it interesting that the following Thomas Paine quote appears on what is obviously a professionally and commercially prepared icon of Tea Party rallies: “The tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants from time to time.” Given that this movement opposes large government programs such as Social Security, I wonder what Thomas Paine would think about the use of his name on behalf Ron Paul, Glen Beck and others who would like to end “entitlement programs.” In his pamphlet entitled Agrarian Justice, Paine proposed a social security system that would have been funded through an inheritance tax on property.
Although he favored a more pure form of democracy than the constitution of the framers, Thomas Paine believed that government should provide for the general welfare of the people in many ways that today’s conservative/libertarians would find unacceptable. Also, it is rather strange that the Tea Partiers that I have encountered have an emotionally charged, almost religious attachment to the U.S. Constitution, the “framers,” and Thomas Paine – all at the same time.
Thomas Paine’s ideas about government mortified most “framers” and members of the elites responsible for ratification in the states. John Adams disdained him. Having considerable fear of Paine’s ideas, Madison, Hamilton, and Jay (authors of the Federalist Papers) presented an argument for a Federalist-Republican framework designed to check the power of the masses. Such a constitution was indeed ratified. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that Thomas Paine would think that the election of Barack Obama could be remotely related to what he meant by tyranny. Nor, I believe, would he think it intelligent, wise, or democratic to show up at rallies with a gun and a menacing sign on which is a “sound bite” attributed to him but taken out of context.