Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Smoking Cessation as Political Protest

I bought my last pack of cigarettes today. That's a pretty bold statement for me to make. I've been buying cigarettes since the age of 12, peddling my Mongoose down to the 7-11 to buy a pack of Marlboros for my older and lazier brother. I didn't start smoking until I was 14, at the same time I started playing high school football. Football lasted two years, but the cigarettes have been with me ever since. Still, I feel supremely confident in making that statement, because I finally have a good enough reason to quit smoking: defying the expectations of my government.

See, my government expects me to keep on smoking, even after taxes on cigarettes increase by 62 cents to help pay for health insurance for "moderate-income" families. If I stop smoking, those kids don't get to see a doctor. In fact, if I don't keep smoking, I must be unpatriotic. Why would I want to hurt those children of parents with moderate income? It is my duty as a smoking-American to pay higher taxes and to keep smoking, in order to provide for a healthier tomorrow, or something along those lines.

Well screw that. The price I pay for health insurance through my employer just went up, and I can use the money I save on cigarettes to pay for my own family's doctor bills. I'm quitting smoking as a form of political protest, because I choose not to willingly give my money to a government program I do not support expanding. My government expects that I keep smoking, but I'm going to defy their expectations and protest higher taxes and progress towards universal health care at the same time. Yes, it'll be difficult, but every time I feel like buying a pack of cigarettes I'll just view my exercise of willpower as a silent "fuck you" to the Nanny State.

I've been looking for a way to express my disapproval at the current state of affairs. Well, defying the expectations of my government is still defying my government. Quitting smoking never felt so rebellious before.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dumbest Sign Yet

Dumbest sign I've seen at the Tea Parties?

No, he wouldn't. Who are we talking about "overthrowing"? The government? Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in the Federalist administration of Washington, but didn't call for the overthrow of the government. He served as Vice-President under a Federalist president (John Adams) and didn't call for the overthrow of the government. Jefferson may have thought that, even in a society with free elections, things could get bad enough that the government should be changed, but that was always the action of last resort. Don't put the cart before the horse.

All of the Jefferson fans so inordinately fond of quoting his "Tree of liberty/blood of tyrants" line really should realize that it's only one man's opinion (and a minority one at that), not American Gospel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Action, Not Ideas

First off, I want to thank Alex Knapp for responding to the last post. Alex has a few quibbles, and I don't think he's entirely off base.

First, the fact that the Tea Parties aren't advocating action. Instapundit had a quote yesterday that Moe Lane has repeated:

“If people are in despair it is up to them to refuse indulge in the passivity that is the only way Obama succeeds in remaking this country, and take action. Turning passive into active is a time honored treatment for depression.”

But there has to be more than standing around holding up signs, right? That can't be the action that others are advocating, because holding a sign won't change the world, solve our economic crisis, restore the free markets, or convince the One that redistribution of pie is a bad thing.

Then again, maybe it doesn't have to do those things. Back in the days of the original Tea Parties, there wasn't really any focus on getting Parliament to repeal the Tea Act. Oh, the colonists may have been happy to see Parliament take that step, but that wasn't what the protests were about. The acts of defiance, from dumping tea into Boston Harbor to telling the captain of the Polly in Philadelphia that he would be tarred and feathered if he attempted to unload his cargo, were simply resistance to these policies. It didn't matter what Parliament did, because the people weren't going to listen to Parliament on this issue to begin with. The Tea Parties were a reaction to a policy, but they didn't advocate a policy position; they simply said they were not going to accept the new policy.*

Think of it this way: no matter how much Sam Adams may have wanted it to be so, the men who took part in the Boston Tea Party weren't shouting passages of The Rights of the Colonists as they cracked open the crates on the three ships in Boston Harbor.

Mobs aren't think tanks. Mobs are all action. We can't blame the mob for not having a better idea, because that's not the purpose of the mob. Maybe we can take Michael Patrick Leahy and J.P. Friere to task for not coming up with a policy that counters the stimulus/bailouts, but I don't think the responsibility is theirs alone. If blogging is the new pamphleteering, then every blogger has the potential to be this generation's Thomas Paine, John Adams, Joseph Warren, and so on. Coming up with ideas is our job... I'm just not sure how willing we are to offer those ideas when our own Army of Davids stands ready to tear us down with their slings and arrows.

*Interestingly enough, the Tea Act was repealed, but not until 1778. Yes, the British waited two years after we declared independence to repeal the hated tax on tea. Heckuva job, Freddie.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Everyone's A Critic

A friend of mind forwarded me this post by Alex Knapp, in which he expresses "no small amount of amusement" over the Tea Party and Going Galt movements. The reasons are simple:

The “Tea Parties”, of course, started springing up in response to Obama’s stimulus package, a package whose largest fiscal component is a tax cut that will largely benefit the people in the income brackets who make up the Tea Party movement. That I find funny.

The folks in the blogosphere largely cheerleading the Tea Parties are the same folks in the blogosphere who cheerleaded the war in Iraq. So apparently, government intervention to the tune of $650 Billion is okay to spend when it comes to an unnecessary war that in no way advances American interests, but not okay when it comes to building bridges, cutting taxes, helping state governments meet budget shortfalls, or making sure that Americans don’t get covered in lava. Gotcha.

(Disclosure: At the time, I did support the Iraq invasion, which in hindsight was stupid. I am also skeptical about the stimulus package as passed. But I wasn’t opposed to a stimulus package per se.)

Some of the biggest proponents of the “Going Galt” bandwagon in the blogosphere and at Pajamas Media are Glenn Reynolds and his wife, both of whom have jobs (Professor of Law at a public university; forensic psychiatrist) that are dependent on public, taxpayer-funded institutions.

Finally and most ironic of all, none of the folks who attend “tea parties” or who will “go Galt” (one of these days, when they scrounge up the cash) have apparently noticed that we haven’t had anything approaching a free-market system for decades now, but apparently only now that the political party they don’t like is in power have they bothered to notice.

Let's take these one step at a time. First, the "fact" that the Tea Party protestors are arguably protesting against their own economic self-interest. Alex finds that funny. I, on the other hand, think it hearkens back to the original Tea Party. Alex may or may not recall from American History that the Tea Act passed by Parliament was actually going to mean cheaper tea for the colonists... just as long as they accepted the right of Parliament to tax them without the colonists having representation. The working class men and women who not only dumped the tea into the harbor, but organized non-importation movements around the colonies were most certainly working against their own economic self-interest. Doing that doesn't always mean you're a moron. Sometimes it means you simply have principles.

Secondly, the people opposed to the bailouts are largely the same people who supported the Iraq war. So what? The guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Do we discount everything Jefferson had to say when it comes to freedom and liberty? Besides, everyone's entitled to their opinion, and even if you think they were wrong about Iraq, does that mean they're automatically wrong now?

The notion that men and women who work in a field that is publicly funded can't support in principle private employers "going Galt" is simply absurd. Also, perhaps Alex has forgotten about Pajamas Media? Last time I checked both Glenn and Helen are a part of that private company.

Lastly, Alex finds it amusing that only now are people waking up to the fact that we haven't had a free market system in quite some time. Yes, heaven forbid people are actually allowed to reach that realization. Perhaps Alex will forgive me for asking, but is there a point in which it's simply too late for people to realize this?

People are slow to change. Even Thomas Paine, writing The Crisis realized this. He wrote:

Whether the independence of the continent was declared too soon, or delayed too long, I will not now enter into as an argument; my own simple opinion is, that had it been eight months earlier, it would have been much better. We did not make a proper use of last winter, neither could we, while we were in a dependent state. However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own ; we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet.

Paine would have preferred independence declared in December of 1775 instead of July of 1776. Even while acknowledging that fact, he still put on a brave face and tried to rally the people to the cause of liberty. Alex Knapp, on the other hand, just wants to get his snark on.

Let’s call the “tea party” and “going Galt” nonsense what it is: unprincipled partisan hackery. If these were truly principled protests, they’d have been around all through the Bush and Republican-controlled Congress years, too.

All well and good, except for the fact that Knapp misses the blindingly obvious point: there was no economic crisis that was met with this kind of response during the Bush and Republican-controlled Congress years. What we're seeing here is a response to a crisis, not the status quo.

It's awfully easy to criticize the Tea Party movement (I've done it myself). But if you're going to criticize people for seeing the light later than you, or for expressing their opposition in a partisan fashion, while you believe that in principle they are right, then you'd be better off offering constructive criticism instead of the all-too-easy sarcasm and snide remarks that pass for real debate these days. Then again, Knapp is the same author who apparently thinks most of civilization has been barking up the wrong tree, philosophically speaking. It may be that he's one of the many bloggers these days who seem incapable of writing in praise of another's ideas, and instead expends all his energy tearing things down (unless, of course, he's talking about Joss Whedon, who seems to be the William Shakespeare of the 21st Century libertarians).

It's easy to tear down, or to provide synchophantic praise. What's rare these days is the courage to offer up a new idea, because you know it's going to simply get ripped apart rather than seriously examined. It's a shame that someone like Knapp prefers intellectual laziness over serious thought and inquiry.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Modest Proposal

When does one of the bright bulbs in Congress decide that baseball players who have a) previously admitted steroid use or b) get busted using steroids will have every dollar they make over $250,000 a year taxed at 90%? After all, Congress has already said that the sport is the business of the federal government, so why shouldn't they punish these cheaters financially?

Filling the Vessel

Checking my Gmail this morning, I saw that today's quote of the day was from Plutarch: The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

Now there's a thought to stir the hearts of bloggers everywhere. Unfortunately, I'm more of a vessel-filler than a firestarter. With that in mind, did you know that even Plutarch, writing thousands of years ago, was warning others about getting too far in over our heads? Here's more Plutarch:

Plato in the Laws forbids people to take any water from a neighbour's land unless they have dug on their own land down to a layer of potter's clay, as it is called, and found that the place will not produce a flow of water; for the potter's clay, being by nature oily and solid, holds back the water that reaches it and does not let it through; but, he says, those shall have a share of others' water who cannot get any of their own, for the law gives relief to those in want. Ought there not, then, to be a law about money also, that people shall not borrow from others for resort to other people's springs who have not first examined their resources at home and brought together, as from little trickles, what is useful and necessary to themselves? But now, because of their luxury and effeminacy or their extravagance, they make no use of what is their own, though they possess it, but take from others at a high rate of interest, though they have no need of doing so. There is strong evidence of this: loans are not made to people in need, but to those who wish to acquire some superfluity for themselves.

Even in Plutarch's day there were too many people living a Lexus lifestyle on a Kia income. It's probable that many of our own Founders were aware of Plutarch's comments on loaning (and accepting) money; after all, he was one of the most popular authors for the Founding generation. Benjamin Franklin grew up in a house with two books: the Bible and Plutarch's Lives. Plutarch echoes in Franklin's The Way to Wealth, in statements like, "These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing."

It's not just that we've strayed from the American way of frugality and self-reliance. Many of us (and culturally speaking, society at large) choose to ignore wisdom that is thousands of years old. Sure, we can send a man to the moon and send information around the world in an instant, but we can't convince people that it's a bad idea to live beyond our means? In fact, the more we build incredible and amazing consumer products that many of us can't really afford, the worse off we get.

For the most technologically advanced civilization the world has ever known, we really are a bunch of idiots.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Question

I haven't gone away, just have been doing more thinking than writing over the past week. That's not actually a bad thing... I never intended for this blog to be constantly updated, but I found myself getting into that habit.

Something I've been pondering: in the American Revolution, there were a lot of ancillary issues that weren't settled at the time, the most notable being the issue of slavery. Abolition wasn't an unheard of philosophy at the time, but it was still a fringe issue. The same could be said for women's rights at the time. It was a side issue that never managed to get tied in to the larger issue of independence (no matter how hypocritical that might be). The central issue that brought so many disparate people together was, eventually anyway, independence.

Conversely, I wonder what our central issue is today, and what other related issues are going to prove to be side issues without enough traction or support to gain mainstream acceptance. Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Facts Are Stubborn Things

There's some hand-wringing (or worse) among conservatives now that Tony West has been named to head the Civil Divison of the Justice Department.

It's true that West defended American Taliban John Walker Lindh. As columnist James Lileks puts it:

Tony Ward is the President’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Division. If you want to know how far we are past 9/11, there’s your answer: John Walker Lindh’s defense attorney is going to work for Justice. I’m not saying he wouldn’t do a perfectly competent job.

It just seems like one of those things that might have stuck out, once upon a time.

It's fine that it sticks out, but it's not a reason to automatically tar and feather the guy. It may be a sign of character. Don't forget, John Adams was one of the defense attorneys for the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre, yet he wasn't seen as a bad guy. He was a principled man. Now, maybe Mr. West is not a man of principle, but you can't make that case based solely on who he chose as a client.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Open Letter to A Disillusioned Obama Voter

Dear L-----,

Thanks for our conversation the other night. I know it took a lot for you to admit that you're disillusioned with Obama, and I know that your disillusionment doesn't mean you've automatically become a Coulter-reading, Savage-listening, NewsMax-subscribing conservative. Still, you sat in a traffic jam for 4 1/2 hours to hear Obama speak. You still have the bumper sticker on the back of your car. You wanted to see Obama win, and you were thrilled that he was elected. I know how hard it is, just a few weeks into his term, to watch this man make decisions that, in your words, defy common sense. I hate to say it, but you should be proud of yourself. Do you know how long I kept defending Republicans who didn't deserve it just because I thought they were just a little bit better than the other guy? It's a funny thing... when you quit requiring principle in your politicians, you stop getting it. That seems to be one of the few things bi-partisan in Washington.

It's sad to say, but not having faith in your government is also a pretty bi-partisan thing right now. The silver lining of that is that you're not alone. There are lots of disillusioned people in this country, of every political stripe. That's why I really do want you to go to one of the Tea Party Protests with me. See, I don't want it to be just a Republican thing, or a conservative thing. You and I both know that what really bothers us is the fact that, beneath our partisan differences, there are ideals that aren't left or right, but simply American. One of them is, "you can't spend yourself out of debt." You know it, I know it, the people know it, but apparently our politicians don't seem to get it yet.

Yes, it was horrible when Republicans let spending bloat under "compassionate conservativism". It's equally as horrible when Democrats do it under "economic stimulus measures". It's not going to work, and we know that. I heard you loud and clear when you told me the other night that this is just common sense, but that no one wants to listen. That's why you should go to the Tea Party event. You've called your Senators and emailed your Congressman. You've let them know how you feel, but (if you're like me anyway) that doesn't feel like it's enough. This isn't your usual legislation or issue. This is nation-changing, and it's not the change you were hoping for.

I know how hard you and T--------- have worked to bring yourself out of debt, and I know how angry it makes you to now finally be at a comfortable level only to be told that you've somehow made it "too far". It's ridiculous that we're going to tax the productive class in order to continue subsidizing those who financed their illusion of wealth on easy credit terms. Even worse, we get to give our money to the greedy moneylenders who knew damn well that they were eventually going to come crashing down on our heads. You have every right to be angry, no matter who you voted for. You did everything right, and you're going to be the one who pays. When did responsibility turn into a liability?

We need your voice out there, L------. It doesn't mean you've joined the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. It doesn't mean you're going to declare Independence. It doesn't mean you want this nation to fail, or that you want Rush Limbaugh to run for president in 2012. You embracing this simply helps to ensure that this remains an American cause, and undefinable much beyond that most basic of labels. I want you to be a part of this because you and I are so different, yet on this one issue we find ourselves on standing on common ground. It's not our friendship that binds us, or the fact that we're neighbors. It's much deeper than that, stretching down to the bedrock principles that have guided us so well over the centuries. Those are the principles for which you need to stand and be counted, and I hope when the time comes you'll be standing beside

Your most humble servant,


The Death of Evangelical Christianity?

A fairly interesting article by Michael Spencer on the coming "evangelical collapse". This, of course, comes a day after news that there are far fewer Christians in this country than there were 20 years ago.

I confess, I go to church so rarely that I half-expect to burst into flames every time I do enter the sanctuary. Still, the fact that there are fewer Christians around doesn't make me happy. This nation was settled and established by and for people of a strong public and private virtue, and whether or not you agree that it has to be faith-based, there's not much arguing over the fact that our public virtue has been difficult to find.

The sad thing is that many Americans, on both sides, are unable to have an actual conversation about virtue. Liberals will claim your out to establish an American Taliban, while conservatives will complain about the government enacting any social policy that goes against their moral and ethical beliefs.

Are there any founders out there that have some worthy advice for us? I've identified a few, and I'm working on a piece that should be up later this week. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Not the 300 I Was Hoping For

Biggest "Tea Party" protest to date? About 2,000 in Greenville, South Carolina. That was a great turnout for a burgeoning movement.

But there's a counter-movement as well... the Keep America Entitled crowd is also demonstrating, and 50,000 of them turned out in New York today. The estimated number of New Yorkers at the Big Apple's Tea Party protest? 300.

To borrow a line from Smokey and the Bandit... we've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Massacre Day

Today is the 239th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. This horrible tragedy, in which British soldiers killed five men and wounded six others, brought hostilities in Boston from a slow burn to an open flame. That fire would burn steady for the next five years, until it erupted in a blaze that spread throughout Massachusetts and across the colonies. The fires of an actual fight for freedom and not just an appeal to the Government for liberty were first stoked by the Massacre.

In many ways, the Massacre allowed the colonists to maintain the moral high ground, despite the fact that only two of the soldiers were convicted, and their punishment was extremely light. In the eyes of the public, the British had drawn first blood, and now the colonists were acting in self-defense against their agressor. It's an argument that Thomas Paine used in Common Sense, the tract that would turn the fire of freedom into the white hot blaze of support for independence in the early days of 1776. In the larger political and philosophical battle, the patriots also didn't see themselves as the agressor, but insyead saw themselves asserting their rights as Englishmen. The Crown and most members of Parliament simply saw it differently. They viewed the colonies as asserting a right that simply didn't exist. After all, the colonies had been under British control for 150 years at that point, and this idea of representation had never come up before, despite the fact that the colonists had been paying taxes all along. They didn't get what was so different about a direct tax for purposes of revenue as opposed to the regulation of trade. A tax is a tax is a tax.

That was the British argument; the taxes were not encroachments on a right, but were instead just a new policy based on an existing principle. The British thought they were simply doing what had to be done to maintain the policies that made the Empire strong.

The Americans, ultimately, decided that their rights as individuals were more important than their place in the British Empire. They started us on the long road to the equal opportunity to exercise our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They made it possible for us to create a more perfect union, which also gave us the opportunity to fail at that task.

The patriots of Boston never doubted the success of their cause. In 1774, John Hancock gave the address at the gathering to commemorate the anniversary of the Massacre. He closed his speech this way:

I have the most animating confidence that the present noble struggle for liberty will terminate gloriously for America. And let us play the man for our God, and for the cities of our God; while we are using the means in our power, let us humbly commit our righteous cause to the great Lord of the Universe, who loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity. And having secured the approbation of our hearts, by a faithful and unwearied discharge of our duty to our country, let us joyfully leave our concerns in the hands of him who raiseth up and pulleth down the empires and kingdoms of the world as he pleases; and with cheerful submission to his sovereign will, devoutly say: "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the field shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet we will rejoice in the Lord, we will joy in the God of our salvation."

He wasn't the only one. In 1775, just weeks before he was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Dr. Joseph Warren said in his Massacre Day address, The man who meanly will submit to wear a shackle, contemns the noblest gift of heaven, and impiously affronts the God that made him free.

These were people who knew they had God on their side, and that regardless of whether they won or lost, they had a moral right to fight. At that point they weren't seeking independence, just equal rights under the law. They weren't afraid to speak their mind, and in fact continued to make their case, both legally and philosophically. They were careful not to be the aggressor, though things got a little out of hand when patriots took a couple of undermanned British forts by force, though without violence. In the eyes of the patriot population (anywhere from a third to nearly half the population, and much higher in Massachusetts than in other colonies), it was important that the British were unquestionably the more aggressive of the two sides. The colonists, after all, just wanted to be left alone, or if taxed, a seat at the table. They weren't predators, but rattlesnakes ready to defend their territory.

The Gadsden Flag is one of the more memorable flags of the patriot cause, and it featured that rattlesnake. I couldn't help but think of that flag when I heard about the Hoboken Tax Protest held last night. Here's a slightly updated version.

It'd make a great poster for any Tea Party protests this weekend. You can pay tribute to your forefathers and your fellow angry Americans! There's also a smaller version to display on your blog.

Benjamin Franklin was the first patriot to use the rattlesnake as a symbol. His reasoning was this:

I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretentions of quarrelling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenceless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defence, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?

Well... was he?

Liberal is the New Tory

Obama and his ilk aren't really providing hope and change. In fact, they're just providing a lot more of the same old, same old (enough same old, same old to bankrupt us as a matter of fact). All of the bloated social programs will be inflating further. The economic handcuffs on small businesses and innovators will get tighter. Sure, there'll be new policies, but all of them are based on the idea that the American people need to keep sucking at the government teat, instead of the ideal that we can and should be responsible for ourselves.

The real revolutionaries these days are the conservatives. We're the ones who want something we don't have. We are the rebels of responsibility. We believe in a federal government that doesn't try to be all things to all people. We believe there are still matters of conscience and spheres of influence where the government need not interfere. Yes, we want a government that listens to us, but we also want something of ourselves. We want to be a country where are worthy of exercising independence. We believe that actions have consequences, that bad behavior shouldn't be rewarded, and that frugality is a better alternative to living beyond your means. We don't want to see people on the street, but we don't want to subsidize someone living in a nicer house than we own or rent. Like it or not, these are pretty revolutionary ideas these days. So, if conservatives are the new revolutionaries, that can only mean one thing. Liberal is the new Tory. crossposted from The New Pamphleteers.

Rediscovering the Revolution: The Philadelphia Tea Protest

Author's note: This is the first in a series of posts highlighting some of the forgotten stories of the American Revolution.

Everyone knows the story of the Boston Tea Party; how 50 (or as many as 200) men disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and cracked open the crates of tea on board three ships in Boston Harbor. They dumped the tea into the waters as a sign of protest against taxation without representation, and Parliament responded by sending massive numbers of troops to quell the growing rebellion in the city.

What many people don’t realize is that Boston wasn’t the only town to protest the Tea Act. In fact, every major port city in the colonies had their own unique protests, most of which have long been forgotten. At the time, however, Boston’s Tea Party was just one of the many responses to the hated legislation.

We celebrate Boston’s Tea Party, but what if it was Philadelphia’s response that we remembered instead? In November of 1773, a little less than a month before the Boston Tea Party took place, a broadside appeared all over Philadelphia, warning the captain of the tea-bearing ship “Polly” not to attempt to dock and unload his cargo. While the language of the late 18th century can be verbose and hard to read for some people, this broadside, authored by the “Committee for Tarring and Feathering”, is crystal clear, even to denizens of the 21st century.

To Capt. Ayres, of the ship ‘Polly’, on a voyage from London to Philadelphia,


We are informed that you have, imprudently, taken charge of a quantity of tea, which has been sent out by the India Company under the auspices of the Ministry, as a trial of American virtue and resolution.

Now, as your cargo, on your arrival here, will most assuredly bring you into hot water, and as you are perhaps a stranger to these parts, we have concluded to advise you of the present situation of affairs in Philadelphia--- that, taking Time by the forelock, you may stop short in your dangerous errand--- secure your ship against the rafts of combustible material which may be set on fire and turned loose against her, and more than all this, that you may preserve your own person from the pitch and feathers that are prepared for you.

In the first place, we must tell you that the Pennsylvanians are, to a man, passionately fond of Freedom, the birthright of Americans, and at all events are determined to enjoy it.

That they fiercely believe no power on the face of the Earth has a right to tax them without their consent.

That in their opinion, the tea in your custody is designed by the Ministry to enforce such a tax, which they will undoubtedly oppose, and in so doing, give you every possible obstruction.

We are nominated to a very disagreeable, but necessary service--- To our care are committed all offenders against the rights of America, and hapless is he, whose evil destiny has doomed him to suffer at our hands.

You are sent out on a diabolical service, and if you are so foolish and obstinate as to complete your voyage, by bringing your ship to anchor in this port, you may run such a gauntlet as will induce you, in your last moments, most heartily to curse those who have made you a dupe of their avarice and ambition.

What think you, Captain, of a halter around your neck--- ten gallons of liquid tar decanted on your pate--- with the feathers of a dozen wild geese laid over that to enliven your appearance?

Only think seriously of this--- and fly to the place from whence you came--- fly without hesitation--- without the formality of a protest--- and above all, Captain Ayres, let us advise you to fly without wild geese feathers.

Your friends to serve,

The Committee of Tarring and Feathering

Not surprisingly, Captain Ayres unloaded his tea. He never felt the cold wind on his naked body as his clothes were ripped away by an angry crowd. He never felt the scalding tar pour over his tender skin, nor did he endure the humiliation of then being covered in feathers until he was unrecognizable. He never sat through the hours of scrubbing with harsh soap to remove the sticky tar. He never had to see his flesh peel away with the tar and feathers, never had to fight off the infection that often set in afterwards. He never had to do these things because he had the sense to see the citizens of Philadelphia meant business.

Ayres sailed as far as Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was met by a few of Philadelphia’s city leaders. He agreed to go with them to a meeting at Philadelphia’s State House (now Independence Hall). There, on December 27th, he likely watched in amazement, or perhaps fear, as a crowd estimated at 8,000 (in a city of about 20,000 people) gathered to pass a series of resolves regarding him, his cargo, and his ship.

1- Resolved, that the tea on board the ship Polly, Captain Ayres should not be landed.
2- That Captain Ayres shall neither enter nor report his vessel at the Customs-House.
3- That Captain Ayres shall carry the tea back immediately.
4- That Captain Ayres shall immediately send a pilot on board his vessel, with orders to take charge of her and proceed to Reedy Island next high water.
5- That the captain shall be allowed to stay in town till tomorrow to provide necessaries for his voyage.
6- That he shall then be obliged to leave town and proceed to his vessel, and make the best of his way out of our river and bay.
7- That a committee of four gentlemen be appointed to see these resolves into action.

According to 19th century Philadelphia historian Thompson Wescott, in just two hours the Polly had been re-provisioned, turned around, and was sailing back to England. Not a single ounce of the 697 crates of tea made it on shore in Philadelphia.

Can you imagine 40% of the city of Philadelphia showing up at City Hall this weekend and telling the mayor and governor that if they take a dime of stimulus money there are gallons of hot tar and the feathers of a dozen wild geese waiting for them? Every legislator who voted in favor of that stimulus bill, every governor and mayor who’s lining up to accept that money, and every multi-millionaire accepting bailout money while continuing to pay for high-priced getaways and expensive renovations of corporate buildings on the taxpayer dime should drop to their knees tonight and thank God above that it’s the Boston Tea Party we remember, and not the Philadelphia Tea Protest.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Three Things That Could Kill The Tea Party Movement

What are the biggest dangers facing the Tea Party movement, now that the first round of protests is over? I’ve identified three areas that concern me greatly, and if these three things come to pass, I’m afraid we won’t have much of a chance at success.

1- The Tea Party movement becomes synonymous with Republicans.

This really isn’t a Republican thing, or even a conservative thing. This is a movement for those who are Americans before they are a member of a political party or followers of a political ideology. The Founding generation managed to coalesce a wide-ranging group of Americans… from Calvinist merchants in the north to Deist planters in the south and every kind of patriot in between. Wealth wasn’t a requirement to be a leader in the movement. Artisans and mechanics (the Joe Six Packs of their day) not only took part in the patriot cause, they helped lead it. Among the delegates Massachusetts sent to the First Continental Congress were the chronically poor Sam Adams and the relatively wealthy Thomas Cushing. Radicals like Adams and Thomas Paine had just as much influence in their own way as did conservatives like George Washington and John Dickinson.

The bigger the tent the better. We need to point out that we’re not just opposed to the stimulus bill, but many of us are opposed to corporate welfare and bailouts to big business as well. This isn’t about protecting Republicans or winning elections. This is about saving the nation. There’s room for every American, of every political persuasion, as long as they’re concerned about the fate of our republic. The one thing that supporters of the Tea Party movement have in common is our love of country. We’re the patriots, not political partisans.

2- The movement relies too heavily on the Internet

The Internet needs to be the starting point for organizing, but it can’t be where we put the most emphasis. If we can use Facebook and Twitter to get 1000 people to a protest, we should be able to use those sites to get those 1000 people to 10 meetings once a week. Get a room at your local library, meet at a bar or restaurant. Have a house party. Meet wherever, but meet. Get to know your allies face to face. There is no substitute for the genuine camaraderie that develops only from personal contact with one another.

In the days of the original Boston Tea Party, the Liberty Tree (or in some towns, the Liberty Pole) was often covered in political broadsides and slogans, but it never replaced the face to face contacts at taverns like the Green Dragon or the Bunch of Grapes in Boston, Montanye’s Tavern in New York, Durkee’s Tavern in Norwich, Connecticut, and dozens of other meeting places around the colonies. Today, the Internet is our Liberty Pole, not our meeting house. It’s a great place for thoughts to be laid out, but (as any quick glance at a comment section will prove), it’s a horrible place for an actual discussion.

3- The movement becomes too organized from the top down.

Our political class isn’t suffering from a lack of glory hounds these days, and some of them are already trying to artificially proclaim themselves as leaders of the Tea Party Movement.

Yes, I know I’ve said that a unified message needs to be developed, but that doesn’t happen because a political consultant or a big name blogger decides they're going to be in charge. It happens when those meetings of 100 people discuss, debate, and reach accord on what it is that they’re protesting, as well as what they’re advocating. Joseph Warren may have written the first draft of the Suffolk Resolves, but students of history will note that his name appears nowhere in the Resolves themselves. Let our opponents have their cult of personality. We’re defending principle, not creating a new political celebrity.

If you want a local leader, elect one! Maybe your group will decide to elect several people to take the lead. Maybe you’ll divvy up the responsibilities by forming committees to handle various tasks. The point is, this is your movement. You own it, each and every one of you. Please, don’t delegate or abdicate responsibility when what we need is more personal responsibility.

This could be the start of something big and new, or it could turn into the same pre-packaged “grassroots” campaign that’s become so common over the past few years. I hope and pray that it will be the former, because the latter possibility is too depressing to seriously consider.