According to some estimates, there could be as many as two thousand grassroots tea parties nationwide over the next week. I have already spoken for one of the parties and I am scheduled to speak at another one later this week. But as I listen to the media coverage and read some of the promotional material, I find myself wondering if everyone really understands the real message behind the tea parties.
The message isn’t really about taxes even though the thought of all the accumulated taxes I will pay in the coming years is frightening. When I think about taxes I agree with Will Rogers who said, “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” I guess Will Rogers had never heard of the “death tax” which can actually make death worse if you happen to die with a significant amount of wealth.
No…taxes are certainly going up which means the value of the dollar in my pocket is going down but I am not pouring time and energy into the tea parties because of taxes. Nor am I inclined to protest over government spending. While it is true total government spending for the 2009-2010 budget year will eclipse the total amount of money earned by every single wage earner during the same time period, it isn’t government spending that has inspired this impressive grass roots movement. For years, the federal government has been giving drunken sailors a bad name when it comes to spending so we have become accustomed government spending.
The reason for all the tea parties is the same reason that inspired the first tea party in 1773. It’s freedom…freedom from the tyranny of a government that uses taxation, spending, and now bailouts in order to exert control over its citizens. A passion for freedom is what led just over 200 colonialists to disguise themselves as Indians (for the politically correct that would “native Americans”) and storm three British ships on Boston harbor, throwing case after case of British tea into the water. It was the Townsend Acts, a series of unfair taxes placed on the colonies by the British Parliament, which eventually led to the Boston Tea Party. At first, the British appeared to cave in to the demands of the patriots who refused to be taxed without representation. They lifted most of the taxes leaving only a greatly reduced tax on tea.
You would think the colonialists would have been happy to have most of their taxes revoked and grateful to be getting such a great deal on the tea. But they understood that if they accepted the tea tax they would be acknowledging Parliaments’ right to exercise control over them. They rejected the tax because they understood the underlying principle was the loss of their freedom to manage their own affairs. They were now willing to “pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to defend the dream of liberty.
During the debate over whether or not they were willing to go to war with the most powerful nation on earth Benjamin Franklin reminded his fellow patriots, “As we must account for every idle word, we must account for every idle silence.” Silence in the face of the loss of liberty was not an option then and it cannot be an option now. We must agree with Thomas Jefferson who said, “Liberty is to the collective body, what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man; without liberty, no happiness can be enjoyed by society.”
The loss of freedom rarely comes as a result of war or some other cataclysmic event. It usually comes rather quietly over time as the foundation of freedom is replaced by centralized control. For example, Hitler knew in order to complete his takeover of Germany he had to neutralize the church. Jonah Goldberg, in his book Liberal Fascism, quotes a representative of the German Social Democratic Party who developed the strategy for replacing the church in Germany with what he called the counter church:
“The counter church was being built like a new railway bridge. When you build a new bridge, you can’t just tear down the old one willy-nilly. Traffic and commerce will be snarled. The public will protest. Instead, you need to slowly but surely replace the bridge over time. Swap out an old bolt for a new one. Quietly switch the ancient beams for fresh ones, and one day you will have a completely different structure and barley anyone will have noticed.”
The same is true for a free society. If you try to take away freedom all at once you will cause a riot and you will be unsuccessful. But if you move slowly, and gradually replace Capitalism with Socialism, most people won’t notice until it is too late.
Several weeks ago, the Red River in Fargo, North Dakota threatened to flood the entire town. Citizens poured out of their homes and began working together to fill the thousands upon thousands of sand bags that would be necessary to protect the town from being literally swept away by the rising tide. The people placed the sand bags along the river because they understood that the river was the problem. They didn’t stack the bags around the courthouse or the town square. They went to the source to protect their homes, their land, and yes, even their lives.
There is a flood flowing out of Washington, D.C. But the rising tide we face as a nation is not taxes but tyranny as an out of control government seeks to gain control over our lives through oppressive taxation and opulent spending. We have a chance to stack the sandbags of freedom against the tide if we come out of our complacency and demand, through the ballot box, that our government returns to fiscal responsibility.
So, please pass the tea…and lets take back our liberty!