Trying To Understand The Tea Party I

This ad seems to imply that the Founding Fathers were opposed to all taxation, as opposed to taxation imposed by an alien power without any representation. Is this now the official view of Tea-Party Nation? One would have thought that the principle was no taxation without representation, not no taxation at all.

I confess to staying baffled by this whole movement. I spent many years wailing about spending under Bush, and the Tea Party was largely silent. I'd like to see serious cuts in entitlements, means-testing of social security benefits, and sharp reductions in military spending ... to avoid the default that could one day come when we least expect it. The Tea Party has proposed no such entitlement cuts - let alone defense. Because taxation is historically low, and because we're never realistically going to tackle the debt without more revenues, I also favor some tax increases - on carbon, and on consumption. The Tea Party is opposed to any new taxation. So at that point, I don't know what to do. I don't know how to respond. Do I share a generalized frustration with a government that takes away half my earnings every year? Yes. Does an intervention to ease a huge market collapse drive me nuts? Sorry, but: no. Neither does a modest attempt to provide some subsidies to help millions get access to affordable healthcare at a time of extreme economic insecurity. Call me a Marxist, I guess. But I have yet to see anything in Obama's first eighteen months to convince me of a need for conservative rage.

J.M. Bernstein comes to my rescue with the help of, among others, yes, Hegel (and an intelligent understanding of same).

His thesis is that the tea-partiers know they need government - i.e. social security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, access to basic healthcare - and that need has been brutally revealed these past two years. We all know this somewhere deep down - but in some, this knowledge is too much to handle:

This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other the anonymous blob called simply “government” has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.  And just as in love, the one-sided reminder of dependence is experienced as an injury.

All the rhetoric of self-sufficiency, all the grand talk of wanting to be left alone is just the hollow insistence of the bereft lover that she can and will survive without her beloved. However, in political life, unlike love, there are no second marriages; we have only the one partner, and although we can rework our relationship, nothing can remove the actuality of dependence.  That is permanent.

In politics, the idea of divorce is the idea of revolution.  The Tea Party rhetoric of taking back the country is no accident: since they repudiate the conditions of dependency that have made their and our lives possible, they can only imagine freedom as a new beginning, starting from scratch.

This, of course, is not conservatism, but its nemesis. And what happens when even that start-from-scratch utopia fails? I guess we may soon find out.

(Illustration: Mixed media portrait sculpture of Robespierre by artist George S. Stuart, Ojai, CA in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ventura County, Ventura, CA.)