A couple of weeks ago, on Feb. 19 to be exact, an important anniversary passed virtually unnoticed. It was the five-year anniversary of the day on which ordinary working American began their political education when they rallied behind Rick Santelli’s cry for a modern-day Tea Party.
Certainly Santelli did not know what he unleashed when he accused the government of promoting bad behavior through the "Homeowners Affordability and Stability" act (gotta love the newsspeak-inspired names of legislation -- Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would be proud.) In reality he did not start the protest movement that would become the Tea Party, he merely named it. The concerns, the frustration, and the anger that eventually exploded on April 15, 2009, had been bubbling and churning below the surface since the previous September, when George W. Bush decreed some banks were "too big to fail" and we had to "abandon free market principles to save the free market system" (score another one for the Ministry of Truth.)
So Tax Day became a rallying point for a group of people who were tired of watching the fruits of their labor confiscated and redistributed to those who had been foolish or reckless or generally irresponsible with other peoples’ money. Their anger was not directed so much against other Americans or even the corporations that benefitted from Washington’s calculated largess but Washington itself. It had become clear that the principles that had guided the United States from its inception, the carefully-crafted balance of freedom and responsibility, had been usurped by a corrupt system where fiscal populism and crony capitalism ensured the survival of the political class and the rest of us could be damned.
So, naive bumpkins that they were, the members of the Tea Party movement went to work. They organized rallies, painted signs, lined up speakers, bought their "Don’t Tread on Me" flags and boned up on the Constitution. Then they rallied by the millions to show the politicians they were mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
They expected a fair hearing, though not without pushback from the politicians and their lackeys in the media. They were, after all, a threat to the status quo. They didn’t expect to be called Astroturf by a woman with so much plastic in her cheeks and forehead it could have covered the field at Yankee Stadium. They didn’t expect to be called vulgar names and be accused of racism and stupidity. And they sure didn’t expect to be on the receiving end of so much hatred and vitriol from their fellow citizens, for whose rights and freedom they were fighting.
That is when their real education began. They learned that Washington’s tentacles reach far and wide and deep. They are in academia, industry, for-profits and non-profits, state and local government. They hold our pension fund, our health insurance, and our safety nets. Far too many of us are somehow tied to and/or dependent on a federal government that needs us to need them. Our illusion of being a free people is just that -- an illusion. Such a dependent people can never be said to be free.
What is even more frightening is that the coming generations are already ensnared. The debt the Tea Party protested against has only grown larger over the past five years, to where it now stands at $17 trillion, a number is so large it triggers a collective eye glaze-over. Welcome to the world, baby American -- your share of our nation’s debt now stands at $55,000.
The Tea Party was right to be concerned and to point out how treacherous is the path on which we’re heading. But they are also human and they got tired. They got tired of being attacked, of being called names, of being sneered at by the disingenuous among us who hid their own stake in Washington’s continued fiscal folly. They got tired of having their common-sense message distorted and turned into something it was not.
Those that started the Tea Party have mostly retired from civic life. They are still active, but their struggle is quieter and more personal. They’re taking care of their families and businesses, getting their own houses in order. They are demonstrating alternatives to government dependence and trying to build new infrastructures within their communities that will hold up should the fiscal crises they anticipate comes to pass.
Some still hope they can change the system for the better. They call and write their representatives. They offer financial and moral support to candidates who understand government’s only true obligation is to ensure personal and economic freedom and a sound economic and debt-free future. Sometimes they run for office themselves.
There are stalwarts out there who keep up the good fight. They have never lost sight that this is a battle for future generations and the future of the American experiment. They have learned what and what not to expect. They expect to eventually be proven right. They certainly never expect an apology.
Audrey Pietrucha is a member of Vermonters for Liberty. She dedicates this column to those who continue to fight the good fight.