As analysts and economists bewail the Republican Party’s utter incomprehension of the most fundamental macroeconomic principles, they seem completely oblivious to the historical precedent the Republican Party appears to be following. No doubt, the dock workers and laborers who donned costumes and tossed tea into the Boston Harbor all these many years ago were tired of paying for the British military occupation of their own country. And they were tired of the British taxing their second most favorite beverage. But, how many of those hoodlums were invited to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia fourteen years later?
None. That’s because one of the leading aims of the meeting in Philadelphia was to empower the federal government to tax citizens in all of the thirteen states, an aim none of the participants in the original tea party would have countenanced. In their view, a nation that restored the authority of the central government to tax the citizens of individual states would amount to nothing short of restoration of monarchy. And they said so explicitly.
It was the intransigence of these original tea partiers that provoked the Constitutional Convention. For, as Virginia’s Edmund Randolph put it when introducing his outline of the new Constitution:
The Confederation produced no security against foreign invasion; Congress not being permitted to prevent a war, nor to support it by their own authority. Of this [Randolph] cited many examples; most of which tended to show theft they could not cause infractions of treaties, or of the law of nations, to be punished; that particular states might, by their conduct, provoke war without control; and that, neither militia nor drafts being fit for defence on such occasions, enlistments only could be successful, and these could not be executed without money (Elliot’s Debates, May 29, 1787).
Then as now the tea partiers would rather have seen the ship of state scuttled than secure its financial integrity.
But they were, in effect, locked out of the meeting, leaving the fiscally responsible delegates from each of the states free “to form a more perfect union” as the Preamble puts it.
So, where does that place today’s successors to the original Tea Party? At the very least, they display a remarkable (or not so remarkable) lack of understanding of the most basic Constitutional principles. They want us to scrap the Constitution and start over. In effect, they are asking for a Constitutional re-do. Which is fine. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights make allowances for this possibility.
Unlike 1787, however, the fiscally responsible members of each party have no authority to lock these hoodlums out of our meetings. Their popular support is too strong, their Congressional delegation too large. Which is why “we the people” must do what Congress cannot. First, we need to use whatever means we have—which means our Constitutionally protected freedoms (press, speech, association, religion)—to disempower these enemies of the Constitution. Corporate campaign donors need to deprive them of their source of revenue. Individual donors need to send their money elsewhere. Second, we need to use these same means to get the Tea Party out of Congress and out of the Republican Party.
Finally, the Republican Party itself needs to recommit itself to “public things,” to res publica, and to the wealth we hold in common (hence the Commonwealth). Or they should have the guts to publically disavow their claim to republican values and institutions and change their name, perhaps to the Tea Party. In either case, the Republican Party should make clear either that their delegation continues to support the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Government’s right and responsibility to manage—yes, manage—the finances of their nation or Republican office holders should clearly and unmistakably disavow the Constitution and (no longer able to swear to uphold the Constitution) they should step down from office.