Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: Tea party’s trick-or-treat politics
Vail, CO, Colorado
Tea party activists show up at patriot rallies dressed as the founding fathers. Most honor Thomas Jefferson because he advocated a small federal government.
Bedecked in three-corner hats, knee-high stockings, frilly neckpieces and wigs, tea partiers appear as quaint as the thin arguments they propose.
They tell us government bailouts cost too much and expanded health care coverage sinks Uncle Sam’s financial ship.
Tea party activists have convinced 6 out of 10 Americans that government wields too much power. Almost half of Americans polled approve of this statement: “The federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedom of ordinary citizens.”
Tea partiers brew a pot of nonsense about Jefferson. They are wrong in assuming he consistently stood for smaller government.
The Bible warns about gullible, sincere folk “who turn away from listening to the truth, and wander into myths” (II Timothy 4:4). A myth tea partiers invent says Jefferson never wavered from believing limited government is best for our republic.
In principle, Jefferson opposed giving too much power to the presidency.
Once elected to this office in 1800, however, he acted the part of a strong executive who usurped prerogatives held by citizens and elected officials. He wielded enormous power when advancing policies for western expansion.
Fearing that Napoleon might waffle about selling the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson sent James Monroe to Paris to complete the deal. He joined Edward Livingston, the chief U.S. negotiator. On July 3, 1803, our nation roared with approval at news that Napoleon had approved the purchase.
Jefferson had reservations about how he usurped power from Congress in cinching this deal. The Constitution didn’t give the president authority to unilaterally cut a deal for the Louisiana Purchase. The Senate had to ratify any agreement before the president OK’d the purchase.
Even strong senatorial states’ right supporters willingly allowed Jefferson to act like a benevolent despot.
The Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase after Jefferson concurred with the French and American representatives in Paris signed off on it.
Jefferson ignored the division of power in the federal government, with branches that mutually checked each other. Waving Congress’s rights, he appointed executive, legislative and judicial officials to govern land acquired in the purchase. They were accountable to him, not Congress.
In theory, Jefferson favored small government, except when it didn’t further his major goals. He strong-armed his ways, enlarging our national territory in 1803.
The tea party tricks us, repeating the mantra that small government is the best government. They favor smallish government, void of social safety nets and stimulus programs.
What they mask is that the tea party wants to bulk up their favorite governmental arms. They, too, allow government to grow like noxious weeds. tea partiers place the military budget on steroids, streamline regulations so Wall Street cronies get record bonuses, and pump up Homeland Security pork.
Even conservative pundit Kathleen Parker admits financial ruin when the tea party’s small government takes over.
“I’m not one to advance class warfare,” apologetically writes Parker, “and most Americans still want to preserve a market system that leaves open that possibility that they, too, can work hard and achieve wealth.
But it’s clear from ‘Inside Job’ (a recently released movie Matt Damon narrates) that the game has been rigged so that only a few were in positions to get rich at the expense of the middle class, not just here but globally.”
What tea partiers mask is that small government without fiscal regulations makes for big cheaters. This is the trick they offer as a treat.
Tea partiers don’t mention how Jefferson amassed power when our nation expanded to the West. Like him, they oppose federal power until it’s put in their own hands. Then they stop talking about small government because the fiscal hobbyhorses they ride grow during their watch. This is the natural effect power has on those who hold it.
Don’t tea partiers sound like Halloween revelers yelling “boo” against big government? They like to trick us into believing they’d always get government out of the way. This promise is as wispy as reports of ghosts on Halloween.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.