For people who profess to admire democracy, there is considerable spleen and not much appreciation expressed toward the Tea Party movement that has transformed the face of American politics for most of the past two years. But as remarkable, and successful, as the Tea Partiers are, they are only the latest manifestation of citizen uprisings.
The most famous instance — and deservedly so — of citizens rising up to oppose oppressive or wrong-headed government policies was, of course, the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
Parliament had actually lowered taxes on the colonists, but the legislation in which that occurred included the infamous phrase affirming the right of the British government to "legislate in all cases whatsoever." That not-so-clever dodge was all that alert Americans needed to hold the tea party that saw men dressed as Indians dump tons of tea into Boston harbor.
No less momentous was the citizen uprising following the passage of the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act, authored by Democrat Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois, which permitted slavery to move into the Kansas Territory in defiance of a 35-year-old policy of keeping slavery out of the old Louisiana Purchase.
Not all such movements have been successful. The modern conservative movement received its greatest impetus in response to the New Frontier of President John F. Kennedy. Millions of persons became alarmed over JFK's effort to increase the powers of the federal government and to appease the Communist enemy abroad. But an assassin's bullet not only took the young president's life but crushed the conservative uprising which liberal commentators unfairly linked to the national tragedy.
But that movement refused to go away despite a massive defeat for its candidate, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, in 1964. In fact, the most effective speaker in that campaign went on to mount his own campaign, first for the governorship of California, and ultimately for the presidency. Tempered and educated by16 years in the political wilderness, conservatives in the Republican Party enabled Ronald Reagan to end 40 years of Democratic domination of Congress in 1980.
The growth of big government then was not reversed but it was set back for years as cuts in tax rates fueled the greatest period of prosperity in American history and prudent and tough foreign and defense policies culminated in the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Reagan's victorious coalition consisted of advocates of free market policies, people of faith concerned about the moral decline of the country, and defense hawks who advocated peace through strength rather than appeasement. One part of the coalition in 1988 backed the presidential ambitions of Pat Robertson, which, while failing, brought in many new people.
What these movements have in common is the vast influx of citizens into politics whose enthusiasm typically outruns their experience. There are growing pains that go with them, for inexperience must be overcome if success is to be attained. But government in a free government should never become the preserve of elites with a perpetual stranglehold on power.
Recently, Rush Limbaugh criticized those who profess to support the limited government, free market goals of the Tea Party movement but are "embarrassed" by their candidates in the election next month. While not denying that a new cast of leaders is under pressure to perform well while bucking the political class, I agree with Rush when he says that the need now is to remove the Democratic Party from power.
The country is being massively bankrupted by statist Democrats who never met a government program they didn't like (unless it actually provided for the common defense), and it needs to be free of them if it is to have a life for our children and grandchildren like it had for their forebears.
It is better to be governed by the wise than by the unwise, of course. But to quote the runaway slave Jim, who said to Huckleberry Finn as they sailed on the Mississippi River, the "Duke" and the "King" that they encountered on shore were "just frauds, Huck, dey's frauds."
Those who control Congress and the White House today are not wise, but foolish. Only massive conceit can account for the determination to spend trillions of dollars that we do not have to bring about a revival of our commerce and trade that has not occurred. As William Buckley once said, it is better to be governed by the first 400 people in the Boston telephone book than the Harvard faculty.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.