Thumbs up for robust government |

Thumbs up for robust government


Jack Van Ens

On Memorial Day, we salute military who died to preserve our nation’s freedom.

It’s unlikely a foreign power will conquer the United States. However, if we surrender to historical amnesia, apathy and ignorance blind us to the justice and liberty our military dead fought to preserve.

The tea party says it honors and promotes justice and liberty.

Such tea party rhetoric lacks credence. It expands personal liberties but shrinks justice.

The tea party forgets a noble heritage the war dead fought to preserve. A robust federal government has played a key role in our nation’s formation.

Because the tea party refuses to peer through this lens, they suffer blurred vision. They’re blind to the federal governments’ accomplishments to promote a just society and individual liberties.

The Bible debunks the tea party’s errant enthusiasm as being “zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge” (Romans 10:2).

In hushed tones, tea partiers treat the Constitution with respect but push an agenda of states’ rights that’s based on the faulty Articles of Confederation.

Prior to 1787, this governing document weakened the colonies because it didn’t ensure a cooperative spirit and fiscal credibility.

Michael Gerson, once George W. Bush’s lead speechwriter, urged the tea party to accept the Constitution, which sets the stage for robust government.

In “Why the Tea Party Is Toxic for the GOP,” Gerson charged it disowns government that efficiently meets citizens’ needs.

Gerson insists, “The Constitution in contrast to the Articles of Confederation, granted broad powers to the federal government to impose taxes and spend funds to ‘provide for … the general welfare’ — at least if Alexander Hamilton and a number of Supreme Court rulings are too believed.

“Tea party populism … is at odds with Abraham Lincoln’s inclusive tone and his conviction that government policies could empower individuals. It (the tea party) is inconsistent with religious teaching on government responsibility to seek the common good and to care for the weak” (Washington Post, Aug. 25, 2010).

The tea party dishonors our nation’s military dead by spreading biased national history. Tea partiers tell how the founding fathers keyed upon personal liberties and soft-peddled public works projects. They falsely interpret Uncle Sam’s role in battling the 1930’s Great Depression as a push to control Wall Street by labor bosses, anti-business professors and socialist government workers.

Tea partiers dismiss the 1960s Great Society, using similar verbal bullying. Social programs like Medicare and Medicaid are questioned, civil liberties downplayed and voting rights overlooked.

The Great Society is a failed socialist experiment, they say.

George W. Bush’s fiscal policies causing the Great Recession are avoided. President Obama’s last-ditch federal spending efforts to save our nation from financial ruin are branded socialistic.

Professor G. Gresham Machen anticipated the tea party’s scorn for government when he taught New Testament studies at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1906-29.

Though his historic memory has been eclipsed, Machen’s conservative Christian economic views shaped the tea party’s anti-government rhetoric.

In the 1920s, The New York Times often published Machen’s letters to the editor, expressing his disdain for robust government. He favored local government over the state, the state government over federal power and the largely unregulated private sector wielding political power over all.

Although hot-button political issues raging in the 1920s differ from the tea party’s agenda, Machen’s distrust of robust government is theirs.

He delighted in God’s creation but didn’t support environmental laws proposed by the federal government.

Machen nixed the Child Labor Amendment in 1924, which forbade minors working 12-16 hours daily in unsafe factories.

In 1918, he rejected women’s suffrage, believing homemakers didn’t want or need it. Besides, this was an issue for the states to decide. Sound familiar?

Although issues differs today, both Machen’s and the tea party’s agenda sound the same trumpet that:

Government is suspect.

Justice to promote the common good is socialistic.

Individual liberty for white, financially secure citizens deserves protection.

And the poor lose out.

Did our veterans fight to secure tea party values such as these?

George Washington cherished the Roman Cato’s dictum of “What a pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.” Would he endorse disdain for government?

The British hung Nathan Hale as a Revolutionary War spy. Before the trap door sprung, Hale paraphrased Cato’s noble code. He is said to have uttered, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Veterans such as Hale died because they believed in a robust government, big enough to safeguard justice and small enough to preserve personal liberties.

The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (, 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.

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