President Obama said yesterday, “The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown.” This is indeed the interesting question: Is politics motivating the Republicans, or ideology? I realize that Obama meant to ask whether the government would be shut down. But humor me while I interpret the sentence the other way: Politics versus ideology.
Most of what the Grand Old Party has done in the last two years can much better be explained by politics than ideology. For example, only politics can explain a systematic strategy of opposing whatever the White House favors, even when this requires changing one’s vote — for example on the fiscal commission bill that Senators like John McCain had previously been sponsors of. Only politics can explain the long-time refusal of so-called fiscal conservatives to name the specific spending programs they want to cut.
Evidently the four-word slogan “No Taxation Without Representation” is too complicated to fit on some people’s bumper stickers. They have chopped off the last two words. They don’t want taxation period.
The “Tea Partiers” revere the Constitution. But some might lack the knowledge of early American history that they claim. In honor of George Washington’s birthday, February 22, I would like to recall a bit of that history.
The Boston Tea Party is not in fact the most appropriate historical precedent for the grass roots protests that have received so much attention over the last year. The famous slogan motivating the patriots in Boston Harbor in 1773 was “No Taxation Without Representation.” But democratic representation was achieved with the American Revolution. The Whisky Rebellion of 1794 is a much closer parallel for today’s protestors. Or the earlier Shays’ Rebellion of 1787, the episode of anarchy to which many Americans reacted by seeking a federal constitution. The pitchfork-carriers in these rebellions were protesting against taxation with representation. They did not want to pay the taxes necessary to fund the government services they enjoyed — which at that time meant servicing the debt from the Revolutionary War. (Sound familiar?) President George Washington, not the rebels, was defending the Constitution against its first severe test, when he personally put down the Whiskey Rebellion with force.
April 1 is Census Day. Evidently Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann have been encouraging Americans to boycott the census — to refuse to fill out the whole form. This protest follows from their small government ideology.
I am not always sure what they, or Republicans, or Tea Party participants mean by small government. They say they want a government that intervenes less in the economic sphere. Perhaps they don’t like the idea that the census numbers are used, among other things, to determine the allocation of federal spending across states, because they don’t think it is the business of the government to redistribute income. That is “socialism.” Even “Stalinism.”