What might the leaves reveal at the bottom of our teacup if we actually followed the small-government principles of those disgruntled Americans known as the tea party? Beloved by a media that uncritically reports any claim the party makes regardless of its absurdity, we've heard its silly conspiracy theories. But these are a mere distraction from far more important matters.
Nearly identical to Republicans, our tea partiers do not represent any single political party but rather a hodgepodge of competing groups populated by disaffected Americans fractiously vying for the spotlight or political office. To call them the tea party is not only inaccurate, but also misleading. No doubt they have some valid complaints, like their rightful condemnation of corporate-government incest, but their attack on our government is dangerously misguided.
In spite of the occasionally illiterate or racist placards hoisted proudly by some tea partiers, a few of their ideas actually sound good and appeal to a romantic patriotism that can feel inspiring and empowering. What American wouldn't want to follow in the steps of the Founding Fathers and their desire to throw off the yoke of the truly tyrannous King George III? But to compare President Obama to George III, not to mention Stalin and Hitler, are ridiculous exaggerations.
I imagine that people who have experienced genuine tyranny in other countries just laugh at the vehement claims of repression made by some tea party members. For example, I'm as much a supporter of the Second Amendment as any National Rifle Association member, but when gun-toting protesters can show up at presidential rallies and seriously claim their gun rights are being taken away, I wonder whether their certifiable paranoia shouldn't exempt them from the right to bear arms. Try that trick in China and see what happens — it might clarify the issue.
The most strident complaint of the tea party members is their trite acronymic “Taxed Enough Already” mantra. The reality is that their tax burden is far lower than that paid by our greatest generation in their youth. We didn't hear them whining about taxes, or screaming sedition against President Eisenhower who believed that a balanced budget should come before tax breaks.
While there have been some minor criticisms from members about military spending, their central focus has generally been to attack programs such as health care and education. Considering their righteous concern for future generations and deficit spending, why don't they focus more of their rage on contractor-inspired waste at the Pentagon, the recipient of about half of every tax dollar collected from those who actually pay their taxes? Could they be blinded by a hysterical fear of so-called socialist spending on health care and education?
America already has enough firepower to destroy half the planet, and we outspend and outgun the next 10 nations combined, so why aren't our tea party patriots holding their deficit protest rallies down at the Pentagon? Hint: community organizers make an easier target than a heavily armed institution.
Modern weapons of mass destruction pose a significant problem for the anti-government zealotry. Tea partiers yearn for a simpler day when, in a letter to Supreme Court Associate Justice William Johnson, Thomas Jefferson could write that man is a “rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of justice,” who could be “restrained from wrong and protected … by moderate powers.” But the world has changed radically since then — a fact we ignore at our peril. It may be pleasant to fantasize about returning to the days when there was less need for a robust central government, but our world is not the same as Jefferson's simple world of 1823 — nuclear proliferation changes everything.
In his series of reflective essays, “Brave New World Revisited,” Aldous Huxley writes that “there are certain historical, economic, demographic and technological conditions which make it very hard for Jefferson's rational animals … to exercise their reason, claim their rights and act justly within a democratically organized society.”
In our modern, globalized, weaponized world, a robust central government is a necessity if we want to survive and thrive. And without reviewing the history of corporate criminality and incompetence, a brief review of our most recent laissez-faire economic catastrophe and the BP oil disaster suggests that something more than moderate powers are required for a healthy and prosperous country.
But maybe I'm being unfair to our tea party patriots. Maybe the idea of achieving smaller government by eliminating taxes, Social Security, the Department of Education and funding for the arts is actually a workable solution.
Who needs big government to help private industry build and maintain our public roads, bridges and dams, maintain our water supplies, our power grid or our computer network? Surely we can count on outsourcing these trivial tasks to more efficient and competent private sector businesses like Northrop Grumman or Halliburton. As for public-sector services such as police, fire and rescue, I'm sure that Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, would be happy to step in and do as well as it did in Iraq. And while we're at it, Xe Services can replace our armed forces and monitor the world for weapons of mass destruction. Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin could replace the Department of Education.
Food production and food-safety inspections could be effectively performed by businesses such as Monsanto and Cargill. As for managing our economy, we could give those poor Lehman Brothers some work again, and I'm sure Bernie Madoff would be happy to watch over our retirement accounts and monitor our gas pumps and other measuring devices to make sure the numbers are accurate. What a relief it would be to get that terrible tyrant of so-called big government off our backs so we could breathe freely again and live in abundance and peace — just like they do in Somalia.
Lee Carleton is assistant director of the writing center at the University of Richmond and a graduate student in media, art and text at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.