Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Obama and the ‘tea-ed off’ GOP

For a lot of people abroad who were following the events of last week in the United States on TV, this whole thing about the “tea parties” held around the country must have been baffling. In fact, with what some Americans themselves know about our history in this day and age, in which vast sectors of the population appear to have developed a virulent allergy to books and reading, it was probably just as puzzling an event to many of them as well. The fact is, however, that the original “Boston Tea Party”, was a brief but very major event in American history, since it constituted a catalytic episode in the run-up to the Revolution against British imperialist tyranny.

Caption: "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor", an 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier.

The ones who know precisely how important that “party” was, however, are the guys in the Republican Party’s dirty-tricks think tank who organized and promoted it. And don’t give me that bull about how it was a spontaneous outpouring of American anti-tax and anti-liberal sentiment, because I’m not buying it. You don’t get the kind of press this protest got – especially on “fair and balance” Fox news (come on, Murdock, gimme a break!) – if it’s a spontaneous grassroots thing, especially not when it all ostensibly came together “overnight”. And particularly not when they bring out the big guns in prime time to rally ‘round the cause.

Fox and (Dubya’s) Friends.

Take “registered independent” (as he reminds us, ad pukeum) Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, who “doth protest too much” when anyone accuses him of being a conservative lackey, but who, if he doesn’t already have a GOP elephant tattooed on his chest, should really get one, because he clearly got hit in butt with the White House door when ex-President Bush left office and is ticked off about it. Yes, Bill, we can tell. If not, his night-time “news” commentary show, The O’Reilly Factor, wouldn’t keep on defending the Bush Administration tooth and nail every evening, when it’s so obviously a new day in Washington. I means, geez louise, Bill! Get the heck over it! Dubya’s gone home. He’s through. And unless you’re going to stop toiling every single night with all of the rest of the far-right dinosaurs on your show (like your buddy and arch-conservative pit-bull Newt Gingrich) to prepare the groundwork for the next election four years down the road, then maybe you ought to quit insisting about how “independent” you are or how “fair and balanced” Fox is. How can you expect decent, fair-minded folks not to call you (to paraphrase one of your favorite epithets) a “rightwing loon” when you rant and rave like you do every night against the Obama Administration. Especially when the guy who writes your multi-million-dollar pay check each year (Fox President Roger Ailes) was a media consultant for Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush (the elder) – let’s face it, telling three US Presidents, all from the same party, how to meet the press, seems like a trend – before he was recruited from NBC’s cable division by Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdock to create Fox News.

And then there’s Sean Hannity who follows O’Reilly each night with practically the same format as his – bash everyone left of Adolph Hitler – but in this case, with no apologies for being a frothing-at-the-mouth far-right mad dog. Even the Fox News management seems to have thought that Hannity was too right to be “right” and for 12 years created a parody of fairness by running him alongside “Fox liberal” (and I use the term advisedly) Alan Colmes. Colmes’ job was basically to lose every argument and let Hannity bully and dump on him every night, but still, there was a limit to just how insanely far-right Hannity could get without someone saying, “Hey, wait a minute, Sean, get a grip!”

But even the almost comatosely mild Alan Colmes apparently decided a dozen seasons of playing the “straw man” to Sean Hannity’s ruthless attacks was more than enough and this year left the show, according to him, “to make a greater contribution” to the network. If his personal blog, Alan Colmes’ Liberaland, is anything to go by, Alan’s “greater contribution” isn’t going to scare Hannity in the ratings. Topping yesterday’s items was this lead, and I quote:

“Edgar Mitchell, who flew on the 1971 Apollo 14 mission to the moon, says there is extraterrestrial life, and that it’s being concealed by the United States government, among others.”

The story’s legitimate enough, though not original – it has already been on other TV channels as a human interest feature – but is just the sort of thing that promises to keep Colmes’ “contribution” as zanily “liberal” as possible and keep him or anybody else from undermining the apparent intention of Fox News to destabilize and, if possible, destroy the current administration of the United States.

An exaggeration? Suffice it to say that after cheerleading for the “tea parties” for days on end, Sean Hannity last night interviewed former Vice President Richard Cheney and the clear theme of his questioning was “just how dangerous is Barack Obama to the security of the United States and the world?” Cheney, the most dangerous vice president in history, as current Vice President Joe Biden once referred to him, was only too happy to comply in the orchestrated, nightly character assassination that Fox has sought to carry out since Day One of the Obama Presidency. The virulence of Hannity’s attacks is the kind formerly reserved by rightwing commentators only for figures like Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, openly considered enemies of the United States. But it should be remembered that the person he is attacking in this way now is the overwhelmingly elected Chief of State of his own country, and his intention is obvious: to undermine the presidency of the United States of America. If the shoe were on the other foot, and the person under such virulent attack were George W. Bush instead of Barack Obama, both Hannity and O’Reilly would surely be asking their audiences if the perpetrator weren’t, perhaps, a terrorist and deserving of waterboarding to find out whom he is working for.

But, okay, let’s all pretend we don’t know who’s behind the “tea parties” – like many tried to pretend they didn’t know Nixon was behind the Watergate break-in scandal that ended up costing him his presidency – and just agree that whoever organized them, their purpose was to send out a message of rebellion, with a pseudo-patriotic bent.

The Original Festivities.

The original Boston Tea Party took place in 1773, three years before the 13 original New England colonies declared their independence from Britain and engaged the crown in full-scale war. Details are somewhat sketchy as to the event itself, but not so regarding the context. What it boils down to is that friends of the Court who formed part of the British East India Company – a concern that was long at the forefront of British expansionism – lost some of the tax breaks that it had been receiving under former agreements for the tea they brought into England from abroad. The East India Company did not supply tea directly to the American colonies, but sold it at auction in England to tea merchants who then exported it to the colonies, adding their commissions to the cost. However, when the crown imposed its thirst for greater revenues on the East India Company’s tea trade, it was the American colonists who took the hit for the higher costs that the East India monopoly passed on to the tea merchants.

To add insult to injury, the colonists could buy their tea much more cheaply from Dutch traders, for instance, but the East India monopoly began to lose vast sums of money to these traders from other countries. To get around this, the solution arrived at by the British government, with a nod from King George, was the Tea Act of 1773. This law gave the East India Company a full refund of a 25% tax it paid on the tea it imported into England, while permitting the monopoly, for the first time, to export tea directly to the colonies. This allowed it to cut out the cost of middle men and to better compete with Dutch traders. But to further cripple the competition, the only merchants that could handle tea in the colonies were now crown-appointed colonial merchants in major American ports, with any purchases they made elsewhere becoming tantamount to smuggling. The main fly in the ointment, however, was a tax known as the Townshend Tax that was only paid on tea shipped to the colonies. It was a direct imperial tax on the settlers and was considered discriminatory by the colonists. Those who favored the tax in Britain argued that it was used to defray the cost of salaries paid to British officials in the colonies. If the tax were repealed the risk was that payment of colonial officials would eventually become the responsibility of the colonists themselves and the fear was that the imperial officials’ loyalty would eventually lie with the British Americans who paid them, rather than with the crown. So the controversial tax on tea stood.

The colonists of Massachusetts protested that they had a right to only pay taxes levied by their elected colonial representatives – and this was backed by earlier agreements hammered out with the crown – since, in England itself, they were not adequately and directly represented and, therefore, whatever was dictated in this way was basically tyranny. Furthermore, it seemed to them that they were the butt of a cruel irony since the Townshend Tax paid colonial officials whose very job it was to protect the interests of the crown in detriment to those of the colonists themselves.

And they were not alone in their protests. By the time of the uprising in Massachusetts, demonstrators in three other colonies had already managed to prevent British merchant ships from unloading taxed tea in their ports. But the crown had apparently decided to make a stand in Boston Harbor and Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson was under pressure to keep the protest from succeeding in the influential Massachusetts Colony. Despite his subjects’ fervent requests – and, eventually, heated demands, with angry rallies in Boston where protesters numbered in the thousands – that the tea be turned away from the harbor, the governor refused to be a part of the self-styled embargo and the tea landed on Boston’s wharf, backed and enforced by the governorship.

Hutchinson was obviously out of touch with the depth of sentiment among the colonists he governed regarding actions taken by a Parliament on the other side of the ocean in which they had no direct representation and it was his stubborn refusal to listen to reason that led to the direct action taken by a group of what today would probably be called “terrorists” and “leftwing loons” – especially by “conservatives” of the ilk of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and former Speaker of the House Gingrich.

Details of this action, as I say, are sketchy but it seems that somewhere between 30 and 130 men (…um, what shall we call them? Militant activists? Far-left extremists? Freedom fighters? Enemy terrorists? Far-left loons? Patriots? Pinheads? You call it, O’Reilly…), some disguised as Indians to avoid identification, climbed aboard the ships under cover of night, broke open the crates on board and dumped the taxed tea into the waters of the Boston Harbor.

British demands that the rebel colony pay for the damages were rejected, resulting in a British embargo on trade with Massachusetts until reparation was made. It was indeed a controversial point, and even some people who would later be considered major American patriots, such as Benjamin Franklin, thought such a vandalistic act was going too far and that reparation should be made. But the stand-off between the colonies and the crown over this and other increasingly coercive acts on the part of the British government eventually led to the first shots of the Revolution’s being fired just two years later.

Tea Parties Today.

So what does this have to do with last week’s “tea parties” organized and orchestrated across the United States? In point of fact, nothing. Indeed, it is important here – since the GOP has insisted on making the comparison by shamelessly using an act of rebellion against imperialist tyranny with a tax package passed by the elected Congress of the United States in a desperate effort to clean up the ungodly mess that an eight-year Republican administration left behind – to figure out who’s who in this farcical tableau.

What every schoolchild recalls about the Boston Tea Party is that it was about “taxation without representation”. But what no one knows without in-depth study of the event, is that the accent was on representation. The tax was no more than a symbol of imperial tyranny. What the colonists were seeking by refusing to pay the Townshend tax was self-determination and what the British crown was seeking by insisting on imposing it was authoritarian control over its American subjects. The protests of last week that shamelessly sought to link the Obama Administration’s policies to this historical event were about perceived high taxes. That was never the issue in the Boston Tea Party. In fact, with the passage of the Tea Act, certain taxes were repealed and the price of tea in the colonies went down to such a degree that it became competitive with smuggled Dutch tea. The Townshend tax on the colonists was only 3%. So the protest and direct action were not because of taxation as such, but because of the principle involved. What the colonists rejected was London’s tyrannical decision to impose a tax in which they had no say and from which they derived no benefits. What they were opposing was despotic interference in their internal affairs. The tax was merely a symbol of their enslavement to and exploitation by the crown.

Last week’s protest has nothing to do with anything except the GOP’s whining about losing the election last November and being so soundly trounced by Barack Obama. Typically, rather than seeking to cooperate and help find a consensual solution to a grave crisis that is affecting the nation, the ultra-conservative political machine is busy seeking ways of taking advantage of the situation in order to undermine the authority of the Democratic Administration and further deepen the perception of crisis and chaos, with the aim of weakening the president’s position at every turn and ensuring that he will be replaced by a Republican at the end of his four years. It is an attitude that is unworthy and unpatriotic, but, unfortunately, not unexpected in a group of self-interested, far-right radicals who refuse to admit that the problem, like the bailout itself, started with them and that it is now President Obama’s job to try and fix the overwhelming mess they left behind.

1 comment:

Coco said...

ad pukeum!!! love it!
Dan, I really enjoy reading your posts. Angry but with sense of humor... my kind of posts.
kisses from BA

p.s. sorry for my id Coco, I was practising how to create a blog and now I'm Coco for Google. I don't know how to change it yet, but it's me, Guillermina, your colleague from BA!!