Why I did not attend a TEA Party

>> Friday, April 17, 2009

Hello all!

As I have mentioned in several different venues, including my last blog post, I chose not to attend any of the many TEA Parties held on April 15th despite the fact that I was sympathetic to their cause, at least the basic premise. In this post I would like to lay out my reasons for not participating.

My primary motivation for this post, beyond explaining my reasons, is to offer some thoughts on grassroots activity, protestation, and related issues for future efforts. I believe strong grassroots organization and activity can and should powerfully impact our future, so it is of vital importance that all - non-professional grassroots activists, professional activists, political strategists, and politicians alike - give the matter much careful consideration.

My reasons for not participating are as follow.

First: Taxes are an effect, not a cause.

Some form of taxation is necessary to uphold and stabilize good government. Taxes, even high taxes, are not wrong in-and-of-themselves if they are being used for the right things and are obtained lawfully by the consent of the people. The problem today is not necessarily the rate at which we are taxed, it is the cause(s) that necessitate high taxes; things like an unnecessarily large and inefficient bureaucratic government, wasteful spending, political corruption, damaging social engineering programs of a highly questionable constitutional nature and massive unconstitutional bailouts of non-government enterprises all contribute to the tax problem.

Second: in connection with the previous point, grassroots energy is a precious commodity.

TEA Party protests tend (emphasis on “tend”) to not focus on root causes or education, I believe, nor does their mobilization of grassroots energy lend itself to productivity or sustainability. Our focus should be on the root causes, first identifying them, educating ourselves' on the issues, educating others and mobilizing a focused, productive and sustainable opposition.

Grassroots energy is often difficult to find and sustain, and easily tends to be unproductive. Because the vast majority of grassroots activists have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources available, they should be deployed as effectively and strategically as possible and controlled to a great degree (i.e. focused and directed, not micro-managed) with a long term focus. Fundamental or root causes should always be their focus, not effects or mere lightening rod issues.

Third: It is easy to skew perception of protests such as the TEA Parties.

Perception is important because it largely influences people’s willingness or ability to fairly evaluate our message. If our perception is good people will be receptive to our message and respond positively. If our perception is bad people will respond negatively to our message. CNN, a liberal network hostile to the TEA Party message, understood this. They knew that if they could negatively portray the TEA Party movement, even if that portrayal was false, they could destroy or minimize its positive reception. So, unsurprisingly, they portrayed the TEA Parties as negatively as they could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly difficult to do so - there were more than enough seemingly angry and/or upset people who came across as merely being hot heads to provide fodder for negative coverage - and by presenting these seeming hot heads them as accurately representing the overall spirit of the TEA Parties as a whole it was easy for CNN (and others) to negatively influence perception of the movement.

Perception is something that is often beyond our control - no matter how good a job we do of presenting ourselves and our cause in the best possible light - so we can’t allow anticipated perception to dictate everything we do. Still, we should factor it in, and when an activity lends itself to an unnecessarily high degree of negative exposure and negative public perception we should be very wary of attaching ourselves to that cause or activity, particularly if our time, energy, and resources are limited and can be better used elsewhere. Ultimately, our personal involvement should always be very calculated, long term in focus, and controlled on the emotional level.

Fourth (and last): I am uncomfortable with the symbolic aspect of the TEA Parties.

Taxes have always been a lightening rod issue, prone to arouse the less admirable instincts of man.

The stereotype of angry protesters waving incendiary anti-tax and/or anti-government signs is not a stereotype without reason. Historically, taxes have proven to be a lightening rod for expression of dissatisfaction (usually justifiably) with government. Taxes are so universally disliked that it is very natural for them to be the object of expresses ones frustration, particularly when one faces a daunting array of complicated issues that need to be addressed. So I am leery of tax oriented protestations. They are strewn with pitfalls stemming from the fallen nature of man. The historical symbolism at play in the TEA Party protests only serves to exacerbate an already precarious balance and heighten my wariness.

Anger should never be a primary (perhaps even significant) catalyst in our political and social activism. Anger should never be uncontrolled or semi-uncontrolled. It distorts our reasoning and rightfully mars the nobleness of our cause, casting reasonable doubt on our causes rightness and worth. It is a self inflicted impugning of our character.

It is unwise and potentially debilitating to automatically refuse participation in any activity that could include people involved for the wrong reasons. We can’t dictate or control the motives of those we work with in all of our political and social activity. Sometimes we just have to accept the fact that perfection will not be achieved (understatement) and make the best of things. Still, I believe it is wise as a general rule to avoid participating in the events and campaigns most likely to be fueled by wrong motives.

I by no means believe that all people involved with the TEA Party movement were involved for the wrong reasons. Remember, I am speaking not only of TEA Parties but also of activism generally. I believe the majority of those involved with the TEA Parties were involved for the right reasons and conducted themselves in a manner befitting the rightness of their cause. But, I also believe enough people were involved for the wrong reasons to dramatically damage the integrity of the TEA Parties in the eyes of the general public, especially with an incredibly biased MSM leaping on every available opportunity to negatively portray them.

At the end of the day, I think the net effect of the TEA Parties could be negligibly good, but more likely to be damaging to the TEA Party cause in the long term. Positively, they mobilized and energized a very significant number of people, some of whom may continue to stay involved in the future or increase their current participation. They demonstrated that there is a strong grassroots opposition to the policies our new government is seeking to implement and (in some cases) has already implemented, and they presented an opportunity to spread a constructive conservative message. Negatively, they diverted precious grassroots energy away from more fundamental issues, promoted among the grassroots a focus on effect instead of cause, were easily mischaracterized by the MSM, and fed a spirit of anger and frustration that is ultimately more damaging than it is helpful. Only time will tell what good the TEA Parties have done or will do.

If I had to take the over/under (over being positive, under being negative) on the effect of the TEA Parties I would take the under, which is why I didn’t participate. Still, I understand and recognize that there were good reasons to participate and respect the decision of those who did participate.

I know that was a long post, but I believe it accurately, though perhaps clumsily, presents my reasons for not participating in the TEA Parties. Keep in mind that many of the above thoughts and points were not aimed specifically at the TEA Party movement but were more broadly oriented thoughts on grassroots activism and political protestation in general.

As usual, I welcome any added thoughts, agreements, disagreements, corrections, etc. I am acutely aware of my own shortcomings in knowledge and philosophic development and coherency, so I am sure that virtually anyone reading this post has something beneficial to add.

God bless and veritas supra omnis!


Ben April 18, 2009 at 1:07 PM  

Good thoughts, Mark. I do think you should have left out your "First" paragraph. High taxes *are* inherently wrong, for lots of reasons, one of which is that they assume that our elected officials are capable of determining what "the right things" on which to spend them are. Further, arguing that "some form of taxation" is required to run a government implies that there are arguments that there should be zero taxes, which is a strawman. Also, the TEA parties really probably had more to do with the taxes that will come due in order to pay for the spending that's being done now than it does the current level of taxation.

I also think your point about "the symbolism" of the TEA parties and the anger involved is somewhat overdone - anger over real injustice is called for at times. How you express the anger is the key to effecting change. That leads into your other point, which I think is the main point: the kind of popular energy and will on display is an almost tragic waste because it's so diffuse and undirected.

Mark Hutchins April 20, 2009 at 6:21 PM  


Thanks for the comment and the good thoughts it contained. :-) I'll try to keep this short, for your sake if not mine. ;-)

In response to your last paragraph: I was afraid that I seemed to overplay that point by spending too much time one it, but keep in mind that, as I said, my thoughts about the danger of mixing anger and protestation (as well as the symbolism aspect) were not aimed specifically at the TEA Party's but were actually aimed at a larger sphere of political grassroots activism that is often fueled by anger.

I think you and I agree that anger is not inherently wrong. Sometimes anger is in fact appropriate, but (and I am sure you agree since you didn't say anything to the contrary) it should never control us, we should always control it and, following the same line of reasoning further, it's important that it does not color our reasoning or define our actions. If it does either then it will do more harm then good both to our character and our cause. I would also interject that there is a difference between "good" and successful". Sometimes people encourage anger or ignore it when they shouldn't because can help push results; but that still doesn't make it "good".

I would disagree with your statement, "High taxes *are* inherently wrong, for lots of reasons, one of which is that they assume that our elected officials are capable of determining what “the right things” on which to spend them are."

To that I would offer up these things:

"High taxes" is a relative term; relative to what you believe they should be, what they have been, etc. So, when I say "high taxes" I mean taxes rates that are higher than the rates necessary for the government to fulfill the duties it has been put in place to perform.

If we the people of the United States have granted certain powers to the Federal and State governments with which to discharge a limited and defined set of duties, and give them the power and right to raise such revenue by means of taxation (some form of it) then I take no issue with paying the necessary taxes even if they are raised to a relatively “high” rate, so long as it is out of real necessity (during a time of prolonger war, for instance) and within the scope of the powers given to them in the Constitution. I only take issue when the government exceeds their powers (problem number one) and then raises taxes (problem number two) to generate the revenue necessary to support their unlawful expansion and seizure of power.

So, I don't have a problem with high taxes so long as those taxes have been agreed to (the right to tax, that is) and those being taxed are able to elect those that will be running the government and affecting the rate of taxation.

As to your “straw man” point in the first paragraph, that is well made and well received, though I'm not sure that it bears much on the rest of the post. :-)

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