One of the most misguided political movements in American history was the so-called No Nothing party, which flourished in the 1840’s and 50’s. The goal behind this movement was to stop the immigration of Irish Catholics. But as the movement’s name indicated, to work from ignorance is not a good thing.
Similarly misguided is today’s tea party. This is not exactly a political party. Some members are political adrift. Others strengthen the right wing of the Republican party.
The impulse behind this movement was understandable enough: it was a revolt against the large-scale corruption of American government, at the federal, state and local levels. And the corruption, or self-aggrandizement, of many of our politicians is a huge problem Many entrench themselves in their government positions not for the electorate’s benefit but for their own. These self-benefits are in the forms of pensions, large paychecks, huge contributions and perks.
As a result, Congress today is in the pockets of the large corporations. Left with only minimal governmental regulation, corporate leaders have plundered both the environment and the economy. The middle class has close to disappeared. The large amount of wealth is now controlled by the very few.
The question is coming up more frequently as to why our government is so gentle with the rich. To the surprise of many, a number of millionaires have questioned why the wealthy are required to pay so little in taxes. Even a tycoon such as Warren Buffett has questioned the wisdom of these policies. And it is clear that President Obama, despite his campaign promises, will not do enough to change the situation.
Yet history is full of ironies, and the tea party has not escaped them. For the movement that started as a revolt against corruption in fact supports it. No wonder, then, that large corporations support the tea party, and political rightwingers have joined it!
For the tea party politicians have gone beyond opposition to governmental corruption. They now say that government should be minimal. They fail to distinguish between corrupt and upright public servants. They make no allowance for competence in government.
Reason and moderation were once involved in our political discourse. A knowledge of history was also considered necessary for a person participating in government. And reason, moderation and history all tell us that a vigorous government is necessary for the public good. As a constitutional democracy is needed to keep checks on government, so is government needed to keep checks on business. Only a return to regulation of business, and the increased taxation of multimillionaires, will correct our current economic distress.
Let us learn from the mistakes of the tea party, and move on.