Don’t Tread on Me. Either.

Boston Tea Party

21st Century Tea Party

What could be more American than firing up the grill on Memorial Day, loading up on sparklers for the Fourth of July?

We’ll celebrate by filling our gobs with coleslaw and giving some snappy lip service about our founding fathers and servicemen, then nod in unison between swigs of beer. After all, we are a patriotic bunch. Ask any group of foreign visitors what is most striking about America and you will frequently hear that they notice all of the American flags, not just on government buildings but on private homes, vehicles, and clothing.

Americans are terrifically proud of our ancestors’ rebellion against the world’s most powerful nation in the 18th century. And our Great Experiment in Democracy has been, mostly, a resounding success, and one that continues to inspire the world over. Yes, even in light of our historical pockmarks, from the treatment of American Indians, to the enslavement of Africans, and to the internment of Japanese Americans.

In 2010, the Tea Party movement tapped into our nation’s patriotism and penchant for thrift-store costuming. Angry grandparents everywhere armed themselves with poster boards and Sharpies to decry the level of national spending and any suggestion of a tax increase. No doubt, they fancied themselves the modern equivalents of those rapscallions who dumped the crates of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773. Stand back, they said. We’re about open up a can of Freedom on your ass!  Then they trotted out the Gadsden Flag, featuring its bewitching Snake o’ Freedom that hisses, “Don’t Tread On Me.” Oh, snap!

But who is doing the treading? In 1773, the colonists weren’t objecting to the taxes; they were objecting to being taxed not by their colonial assemblies, but by the British Parliament. From those taxes, Parliament was paying the colonial governors and administrators, thereby keeping those administrators loyal to the crown and not to whom they were actually governing. Further, the colonists held no seat in Parliament. They had no one to speak for them. The British government took their tax money but gave them no voice in how that money was spent. “No taxation without representation.” Indeed.

Let’s compare that to today’s Tea Party. These people are getting all Joe Pesci over a proposed tax increase from 35 percent to 39 percent for households earning over $250,000. “It’s Socialism,” they caterwaul, as their eyes glisten over with misty-colored memories of Ronald Reagan running shirtless through the foamy surf, glistening from a suntan and just the right amount of Bryllcreem. Hold up, Mr. Middle Management in the feisty tricorn—the tax rate under St. Reagan was 50 percent in the years 1982-1986.  But hey, that doesn’t make him a Socialist. It’s not like that money was going to feed poor kids or anything. No, hell no. That money was going to keep us in big-ass shoulder pads, Aquanet (in the pink can) and a nuclear arsenal, the likes of which the world has never seen.

Reagan knew that big military expenditures needed significant tax revenue. It’s not like he went and started two wars and cut taxes by 4 percent at the same time. What’s important here is that the so-called job creators are able to live comfortably and not be inconvenienced by these wars, so that they can go about the business of creating jobs — never mind that most of those jobs are overseas.

During the 2008 election, Joe Biden was lampooned for saying that the wealthiest Americans should show their patriotism by paying higher taxes than the 35 percent they are currently paying. Señor Tourettes is well known for his outrageous, yet earnest gaffes, but here he is spot-on. During World War II, both political parties understood that tax revenue was important to fund the war effort. The top marginal tax rate ranged from 81-94 percent for the duration of the war. Let’s take a moment and reflect on those numbers, shall we? Millionaires were paying 94 percent of their income in taxes in 1944 and 1945. Furthermore, President Eisenhower kept taxes at 91 percent for the wealthiest Americans throughout his two terms. Yet no one calls Ike a Marxist. Oh no, comrades. They actually minted his mug on money.

So what happened, America? How did we get to the point where blue-collar workers are frothing at the mouth over a 39 percent tax rate for people who make ten times their annual income? How is that we have been embroiled in two wars for ten years and yet most Americans haven’t been asked to sacrifice anything? Where’s the War Bond Drive, the Victory Gardens, the feeling that we’re in this together? When our soldiers are doing five, six, or seven tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, why is it wrong to ask millionaires to have some skin in the game?

The GOP likes to talk values, so let’s talk values. What does it say about a country that delays or cuts corners on treatment for 9/11 First Responders (the Zadroga Bill stalled for years by Republican Congressmen)? What does it say about a country that forsakes its commitments to active duty soldiers and veterans (Republicans voted against: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, a pay raise for the troops, extending the G.I. Bill for children of fallen soldiers, and a tax incentive for businesses hiring veterans)? What does it say about a country that cuts back on the hiring of teachers and firemen in order to save the wealthiest 2 percent some money (Senate GOP blocks Obama’s Jobs Bill)?

The true measure of a people, of a nation, is how it cares for its own. Flag waving isn’t patriotism. Sacrifice is.

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  1. Buck Jones says:

    Loved this – but you haven’t answered your own question – How did we get to the point where blue-collar workers are frothing at the mouth over a 39 percent tax rate for people who make ten times their annual income?

    I’ve been asking myself the same question, for the past ten years (one reason why I bought the highly acclaimed, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” a long time ago, but the answer still escapes me.

    I don’t think it’s because these folks are any stupider than their ancestors, and there’s plenty of information out there for even a passive news receiver (the “late night shows” monologues being, I suspect, the source of many low information voters, aside from SportsCenter and Howard Stern.

    I don’t have any answer – but it’s a riddle I’ve been trying to solve for years.

    • Stephanie Wilkins says:

      I’m not sure of the answer to the question though I have my suspicions. I think the GOP does a much better job of brand management than the Dems do, and they are more frequently on the offensive with their cries of unpatriotic commie” bullshit. The Democrats just seem to roll over and take it too, which is maddening. Also I think the GOP distracts with all of these social issues: war on religion and war on marriage to get religious conservatives riled up. But honestly I believe that at the heart of it, many middle class Republican voters have this perception that welfare moms are shoveling their tax dollars into the trunks of their gold plated Caddies and driving off into the sunset with their crack babies. There is such anger about how hard they work as opposed to these other people they feel are milking the system. I suppose they don’t see how multi-millionaires like Mitt Romney with his effective tax rate of 13.9% are milking the system, or they don’t care because Romney is “earning” his money. And of course, it’s the multi-millionaires that are controlling the message and directing the focus to cutting spending rather than raise taxes at all.

    • majBUZZ says:

      People underestimate the power of modern propaganda.

  2. Stephanie Wilkins says:

    And here is a summary of the 2010 report card given to Congress from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. thehill.com/homenews/house/124931-veterans-group-gives-congress-low-marks- You’ll note that preponderance of “D” grades went to Republicans and the lion’s share of “A” grades went to Democrats. The 2008 report card wasn’t much better for Republicans either.

  3. Buck Jones says:

    My uncle and aunt recently visited me here in Paris, and although they come from Omaha, they don’t breathe through their mouths. He’s a retired attorney, and she a retired school teacher. Upper middle class by Omaha standards. Very Republican. His take on it is that he pays his taxes, but doesn’t get anything for it (really? I didn’t go there, but believe me, I was tallying up a list for him on all of the mortgage interest deductions, interstate highways, and Medicare he won’t be getting anytime soon from that dang government). He also resents the fact that the unemployed continue to get unemployment insurance, even up to 99 weeks (!) … because, you know, unemployment pays so well, and there are so many jobs out there right now in the economy. So my take on it from this extremely small sample set is that the older white male (Republican) voter resents the fact that others are “making out like bandits” – your welfare queen analogy – while he works and pays his taxes. Even though if one were to push him logically – I can’t, he’s family – his argument would dissolve . Plus he gets validated by the AM radio blowhards. I guess if it’s any consolation, his demographic is going to be gone in a few years.

    • Melissa Price says:

      You’re uncle’s feelings are probably on the extreme side but unfortunately, are the opinions of most Nebraskans. I too happen to be a resident of Nebraska but on the opposite side of the state. The reason that Nebraskans and I am assuming some other people feel the way he does is because while we have the issues that our nation faces including the unemployment rate, Nebraska as a state has a 4% unemployment rate and a balanced state budget. The part that many of the upper/middle class fail to notice is that in a community such as mine, while 96% of people may be employed . . .over 50% of them are living in poverty. So it gives us these rose colored glasses saying “The unemployment rate is low there must be jobs.” while our elected officials pat themselves on the back saying their economic development tax breaks must be working. Never mind the “welfare queens” are likely part of the 96% employed populous, and the jobs created by economic development either pay minimum wage or there is no one to work them because they require skills that our populous doesn’t have. But that’s okay everything is fine here, we won’t talk about underemployment, employment mismatch, or rural brain drain just keep quoting that state unemployment rate.

      • Buck Jones says:

        Actually he did quote the unemployment rate when we were talking about the state of the Nebraska economy. The problem, or the challenge if you’d prefer, of the “working poor” is not unique to Nebraska but across the US – people with high school degrees only, or at best some college – can’t really expect to live a middle-class lifestyle unfortunately. When I think back to my grandparents, who had only high school diplomas but lived happy, middle-class lives, I realize that those days are gone. But too often the low information voter is told that those days can come back, if not for the influx of illegal immigration (really? so US born citizens are going to go out and start picking fruit, working in chicken slaughter factories, etc…?), or if not for the US government meddling with pesky regulations and taxes, blah-blah.

        I guess my lesson from my brief conversation with my uncle is that he doesn’t really know what it’s like out there for most people. It’s not that he’s not empathetic, but that he doesn’t interact with other social classes, much less different races. He lives a comfortable life and what he sees and reads of the state of the economy (vis a vis Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity) reinforces his own prejudices and world-view.

        • Appleblossom says:

          Those days are not gone-they just need to be brought back. Most of the US is going into jobs that literally cannot be outsourced. To ensure that those jobs, just like the factory jobs of yore, pay enough to ensure a middle class lifestyle you need to have an up-swelling of support for it-and give workers a chance to form fusions (in other words, time to rebrand the unions.)

  4. Laurie Wolfe says:

    Terrific piece, Steph! Wonderfully written – and so spot-on.

  5. Roy Pietrinferni says:

    Fantastic article AND commentary

  6. Sam says:

    Amen amen amen. Excellent!

  7. Erin says:

    Love the article. The idea that this country is being divided by those that wrap themselves in the American flag claiming their ideology is more patriotic is nauseating and does nothing to advance the well-being of this country. It’s just more noise and something for the tabloid journalists (ala Fox News) to report on. The original Boston Tea Party stood up to the monied powers and brought fourth a new country for the people, by the people. Today’s Tea Party is being run by the monied powers and does nothing but pit Americans against Americans. Very sad.

  8. Christina D'Angelo says:

    Before we (Glittersnipe) reset the date on this piece to republish it, this piece had 948 Facebook shares and 52 Tweets.

  9. Anne Turner says:

    I love this. Well worth reading again.

  10. M.D. says:

    Why can’t the stupid Tea Baggers just read this? Oh, wait, I know: They can’t read. This is so funny and smart (and it’s my second time reading it). Keep on truckin’, Glittersnipe!

  11. brucemajors says:

    This is fake Stalinoid memory hole history for middlebrow bots. The American revolution was a radical libertarian revolution, which is why they did not have a king, and why the Articles of Confederation were near anarchism. And why the Bill of Rights are all limitations on government power. This scribblers account doesn’t explain any of those facts. The classic history that your public school cannon fodder have never read is Bernard Bailyn’s classic “The ideological origins of the Ameircan Revolution.”

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