Tea party’s biggest concern isn’t Obama’s agenda
Beyond the tea party's antigovernment slogans lies white angst over lost political power.
Recently, I was fishing for trophy trout in this northeast corner of Georgia. When fellow anglers learned I live near Washington, the derisive remarks and sneering about “the government” started rolling like trout to a mayfly hatch.Skip to next paragraph
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The rants of the upscale fly fishermen echoed those of the “tea partyers.”
“The government is out of control,” one fisherman said. “I’m so angry. The existing administration is taking us toward socialism, like France.” I asked him how he felt about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Proudly, he told me he collected checks from all three and they paid for his regular trips to the Mayo Clinic.
He’s a Florida businessman who builds condominiums, yet he tried to persuade me he was on the way to the poorhouse and that he was one of those “little guys” worthy of the government’s help. “Obama’s stimulus package is doing nothing for Main Street,” he complained.
Amid his grumbling about “big government not helping the little people,” I asked him why, with a house in Paris, a bigger house in Florida, and his ability to pay more than $350 a day to fish a private trout stream in Georgia, did he qualify as “one of America’s little people?”
“I’m really not,” he replied, somewhat chagrined.
His admission shows that the tea party movement’s issues are somewhat more complex than 30-second TV news clips suggest. Tea party protests are about much more than “big government, socialism, and taxes.”
Deep grievances have deep roots in American history. In 1791, the US Congress passed a tax on liquor. Three years later, Pennsylvania farmers, objecting to the tax, staged the Whiskey Rebellion. No doubt they, like today’s tea partyers, believed “Washington” was not in tune with the American people. But Washington didn’t budge – the first US president sent a militia to arrest the ringleaders.
Before and after the Civil War, the American South has ever been a hotbed of rebellion against the federal government.
In the early 1830s, South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun argued that the individual states possessed the power of “nullification,” to cancel any laws passed by Congress they deemed unconstitutional. Calhoun’s doctrine was first employed against a federal tariff that South Carolinians didn’t want to pay. Later the South would expand this concept to try to secede from the Union to perpetuate slavery.
Today, that nullification-style sentiment is alive and well at tea party rallies. Speakers rail against a “government out of control” under President Obama. They talk of repealing “ObamaCare” and cheer on a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.