Tax re­volt started U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The Tea Party move­ment is a healthy re­minder that the United States be­gan as a tax re­volt. From the 1765 Stamp Act Congress, when the Amer­i­can Colonists first called their rep­re­sen­ta­tives to­gether to de­clare their “un­doubted rights [. . .] that no taxes be im­posed on them, but with their own con­sent,” to the Bos­ton Tea Party eight years later, when the Sons of Lib­erty dumped a shipload of tea into the har­bor rather than ac­cept Bri­tain’s right to tax that nor­mally sooth­ing com­mod­ity, the Found­ing Fathers mil­i­tantly de­nied that “all the fruits of [the Colonists’] labour and in­dus­try may be taken from [them] when­ever an avari­cious gov­er­nor and a ra­pa­cious coun­cil may in­cline to de­mand them,” as fu­ture chief jus­tice John Jay put it in 1775.

Af­ter all, they rea­soned as they took up arms against their king, gov­ern­ment ex­ists to pro­tect “cer­tain in­her­ent rights [. . .] namely, the en­joy­ment of life and lib­erty, with the means of ac­quir­ing and pos­sess­ing prop­erty, and pur­su­ing and ob­tain­ing hap­pi­ness and safety,” as Ge­orge Ma­son summed up Lock­ean or­tho­doxy in Vir­ginia’s Bill of Rights. The Founders had no quar­rel with ci­ti­zen-sanc­tioned tax­a­tion, but in shap­ing their new gov­ern­ment, they never for­got, as fu­ture pres­i­dent James Madi­son wrote, that “the ap­por­tion­ment of taxes on the var­i­ous de­scrip­tions of prop­erty is an act which seems to re­quire the most ex­act im­par­tial­ity, yet there is per­haps no leg­isla­tive act in which greater op­por­tu­nity and temp­ta­tion are given to a pre­dom­i­nant party to tram­ple on the rules of jus­tice.” To fore­stall that dan­ger — specif­i­cally, the dan­ger that the prop­erty­less ma­jor­ity would tyran­i­cally tax away the prop­erty of the mi­nor­ity — they con­structed their beau­ti­ful gov­ern­men­tal frame­work of lim­ited and enu­mer­ated pow­ers, with its checks and bal­ances for ex­tra re­straint. Madi­son and his fel­low Founders un­der­stood, long be­fore Lord Ac­ton, that “all men hav­ing power ought to be dis­trusted to a cer­tain de­gree” — and nowhere more so than in the mat­ter of taxes.

So, it was ex­hil­a­rat­ing to hear CNBC fi­nan­cial re­porter Rick San­telli in­voke th­ese great do­ings of two cen­turies ago in his fa­mous Fe­bru­ary 2009 out­burst that gave birth to the Tea Party move­ment. Two days ear­lier, newly in­au­gu­rated Pres­i­dent Obama had signed his $787 bil­lion stim­u­lus act, which tax­pay­ers ul­ti­mately must fi­nance and which went in part to keep bloated state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments from hav­ing to fire the un­nec­es­sary “swarms of of­fi­cers” that “ha­rass our peo­ple, and eat out their sub­stance,” as the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence de­scribed King Ge­orge’s tax-fi­nanced Colo­nial of­fi­cials. The next day, Mr. Obama pro­posed a $75 bil­lion mort­gage-mod­i­fi­ca­tion pro­gram to save sink­ing bor­row­ers from fore­clo­sure.

Why doesn’t the pres­i­dent have a ref­er­en­dum “to see if we re­ally want to sub­si­dize the losers’ mortgages?” Mr. San­telli de­manded. Dis­com­fited by the roar of anti-bailout boo­ing from the floor, Mr. San­telli’s New York an­chor­man war­ily ob­served, “Th­ese peo­ple are like putty in your hands.”

“No, they’re not,” Mr. San­telli coun­tered. “This is Amer­ica. Cuba used to have man­sions and a rel­a­tively de­cent econ­omy. They moved from the in­di­vid­ual to the col­lec­tive; now they’re driv­ing ‘54 Chevys — maybe the last great car to come out of Detroit. We’re think­ing of hav­ing a Chicago Tea Party in July. I’m go­ing to start or­ga­niz­ing [. . .] I tell you what, if you read our Found­ing Fathers, like Franklin and Jef­fer­son — what we’re do­ing right now is mak­ing them roll over in their graves.”

In what other coun­try could a TV re­porter, without miss­ing a beat, in­voke his na­tion’s found­ing ideas — and on top of that, give rise al­most in­stantly to hun­dreds of Tea Party groups with tens of thou­sands of mem­bers ground­ing their op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­dis­tri­bu­tion­ist pro­gram on a sim­i­lar ap­peal to the Founders?

What uni­fies the many Tea Partiers in­ter­viewed on the PJTV Web site — mostly mid­dle­class, con­ser­va­tive whites, of­ten older than 60, with a strong sprin­kling of mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, small-busi­ness own­ers, in­de­pen­dent vot­ers and young peo­ple among them — is their fear that the pres­i­dent’s var­i­ous Great Re­ces­sion bailouts, along with his gov­ern­ment takeover of health care, will change Amer­ica from the lim­ited-gov­ern­ment, in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic, free-en­ter­prise regime that the Founders cre­ated to a statist, big-gov­ern­ment regime that will curb lib­erty in the name of re­dis­tri­bu­tion­ist “fair­ness” and will bur­den their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren with im­pov­er­ish­ing pub­lic debt. Sum­ming up a uni­ver­sal Tea Party sen­ti­ment, Freere­pub­lic.com founder Jim Robin­son said at a Ge­or­gia rally, “I would like to see this coun­try go back to the Con­sti­tu­tion — get rid of all this so­cial­ism.” Main- stream jour­nal­ists have pounced on this idea. What big-gov­ern­ment pro­grams would he like to elim­i­nate, in­ter­viewer Char­lie Rose de­manded of for­mer House ma­jor­ity leader Dick Armey, a Tea Party ally. Medi­care? So­cial Se­cu­rity? Gotcha!

Like any grass-roots re­volt, start­ing with the Colo­nial Com­mit­tees of Cor­re­spon­dence, the Tea Party move­ment be­gins with a re­sound­ing “No!” As one sign com­ment­ing on the pres­i­dent’s health care takeover phrased it, “Ram it down our throats, and we’ll shove it up your” and here fol­lowed a pic­ture of a buck­ing Demo­cratic don­key. The “no” is re­mark­ably sweep­ing, too. Splut­tered a well-coiffed, well-man­nered lady of re­tire­ment age in Texas, “We have been very an­gry — I love Pres­i­dent [Ge­orge W.] Bush, but he kept spending money, money, money.” Pas­sion­ate, fast-ex­pand­ing and armed with all the lat­est elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy that Mr. Obama de­ployed so bril­liantly in his cam­paign — Face­book, Twit­ter, Meetup.com and so on — the Tea Partiers surely will in­flu­ence can­di­date selections and elec­toral races this year and in 2012. The ques­tion is, how fully will they em­brace the rad­i­cal­ism of their own rad­i­cally Amer­i­can creed?

My­ron Mag­net is City Jour­nal’s ed­i­tor-at-large and was its ed­i­tor from 1994 through 2006. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared at city-jour­nal.org.

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