“When is a party not a party?” asked the Hatter.
“When it’s a movement,” said the Hare.
Replied the Hatter, “Does a movement have to move or can it just sit still and pontificate?”
“ I don’t know what the Pontiffic ate,” Sarah joined in, “ but I know the difference between a soccer mom and a pit bull.”
“ Pass the jam,” said the Hare.
Confused? You should be, because the above is utter nonsense. Perhaps you anticipated disagreement. Perhaps agreement with conditions. But whether agreement or disagreement, I doubt that you expected confusion. Yet such is the world in which we now live.
“ What sort of people live about here?” Sarah asked.
“ In that direction lives a Hatter, and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like; they’re both mad.”
“ But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Sarah remarked.
“ Oh, you can’t help that,” said Newt, “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
In Newt’s world, and Sarah’s, mad means angry-mad, but in today’s American Wonderland, the equally prevalent mad is crazy-mad, just as in the original Wonderland of Lewis Carroll. But crazy-mad or angry-mad, it’s a distinction with little difference since both mads carry power in the here and now.
The ex-mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Sarah Palin, since being tapped by John McCain as his vice-presidential running mate in the 2008 presidential election, has raged across the stages and political platforms of America like a starved and un-muzzled sled dog. Her entry, or descent, to the innermost circle of the political inferno, is very like Alice’s tumble, a century-and-a-half ago, down the rabbit hole into Carroll’s Wonderland.
This analogy becomes even stronger when one considers the fact that one of the chapters in Carroll’s book is entitled, ‘A Mad Tea Party.’ Could there possibly be a more appropriate metaphor? Let us imagine Mayor-Governor Palin and Alice standing side by side. Both are female. Both have long hair. Both have five letters in their first name and both were supremely unprepared for what they found on their sudden journeys. The people, places, ideas, and logic they encountered confused, confounded, and frightened each. They were strangers in a strange land. Travelers, without luggage or maps, looking for some familiar face or sentiment but finding neither.
Of course there are differences. Alice was young and innocent. Sarah is older, far from innocent, and possessed of a voice that can shatter glass from a mile away. Alice, being a curious girl, often asked questions of the people and creatures she met along her way. Sarah didn’t know what questions to ask. Alice loved her cat Diana. Sarah might use Diana for target practice. While there are differences, suffice it to say that the parallels are compelling. Sarah and Alice wander through Wonderland in a dream while the world around them gets curiouser and curiouser.
Someone, not Sarah and not too long ago, was thinking about a name for the growing horde of angry-mad, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-everything Americans who were raging against the light. Folks like Sarah and her fellow- traveler Newt. I don’t know why the mob needed a name, but someone came up with the red, white, and blue, apple-pie name, The American Tea Party. Carroll would have been proud, though he might have called a spade a spade, not a heart, and dubbed it, more truly, The Mad Tea Party.
Without identifiable leaders, founding documents, or guiding principles, The American Tea Party, didn’t fit the standard definition of a political party, so someone attached a qualifier, ‘not actually a party, rather a political movement.’ This answered the Hatter’s query, “ when is a party is not a party?”
Now there was a brand, The American Tea Party; a tag-line, An American Political Movement; and a wonderland vision for America itself, which Sarah and Newt and their fellow-travelers claimed to have exclusive providence over.
A standard rule of marketing is that brands need sex appeal. Movements, however, need time and space because movements are often boring, hard-work, un-glamorous pursuits, like the Environmental Movement, Workers Rights, Ecofeminism, Hare Krishna, Flat Earth, Temperance and the Gold Standard.
Enter Sarah and the other champions of the American Tea Party. In order to elevate, substantiate, and sexify their brand, the champions promulgated the delusional back-story that the name, Tea Party, was derived from an early act of colonial sedition. To wit: in December of 1773, as a protest against the recently passed Tea Act, a group of American colonists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded a British East India company ship in Boston Harbor, and threw overboard 92,000 pounds of tea meant for the American market. This protest, later known as the Boston Tea Party, was not, as has been bandied about by contemporary co-opters, a protest against taxes as much as an “ up-yours, you-can’t-order-our-lives” protest. Taxes on tea had already been established with the passage of the Townsend Revenue Act of 1767 and modified in 1770.
The Tea Act, therefore, was not a tax or even a typical law or statute; rather, it was the granting of a monopoly to the British East India Company for the sale of tea to the American colonies. Think skullduggery and financial bail-out. The British East India Company, because of weak economies in India and Europe, as well as annual contractual obligations of £400,000 to the British government, had, over the years, accumulated a staggering debt.
Parliament, wanting to shore up a major source of revenue to its coffers, voted to solve its problem by granting a sales monopoly to one of its largest debtors. Given the fact that the company’s customers destroyed its inventory, one would have to say that the plan was a failure. But clearly the concept of “too big to fail” did not originate in twenty-first century America.
Poor strategies and ill-conceived objectives have been a hallmark of the Tea Party from its origination. Theoretical, because, as previously stated, there are no organizing papers, no mission statement, no founders, no recognized birthdate and no manger to call a birth place.
The Tea Party movement is comprised of hundreds of organizations on the grassroots level, each with its own size, influence, and priorities. The movement is highly factionalized, with no clear leadership or centralized structure. In fact, different groups affiliated with the movement adopt disparate stances with respect to any given issue.
This dog’s breakfast of a political movement can best be understood as a fourth-of-July parade led by a band of fife and drum playing sons-of-liberty with no drum major and a musical score characterized by confusion, disorganization, and madness.
But to give the devil his due, any movement which can capture the imagination of millions of Americans must have something to recommend it. As Twain said about the aforementioned devil, “ a being who has for untold centuries maintained the imposing position of spiritual head of four-fifths of the human race and political head of the whole of it, must be granted the possession of executive abilities of the loftiest order.”
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Sarah. While she was elected mayor of a small, small town and Governor of a large, large state, she never got the hang of sane administration. And then there is the uncomfortable question of resigning the Governorship in order to appear regularly on Fox News.
Talking, that’s the talent most politicians need and Sarah has it in spades, or to continue the analogy, in hearts. Even the mob realizes that someone has to translate its passion into votes and petitions. After all, anger-madness without direction births futility, and futility, unresolved, births more anger. The movement has begun to devour itself.
To its credit, the Tea Party has not lacked auditioners for drum major/majorette. Sarah was first. Following her was Michelle Bachman, the Red Queen; Newt Gingrich, the Knave of Hearts; Rick Perry, the DoDo; Mitt, Herman, Jon, Ron, Pennsylvania Rick and an entire deck of wannabes. The whole gang has claimed Tea Party credentials, but since there are dozens of local tea parties and each feels that it has the right of certification, bragging about a Tea Party endorsement is like bragging about having ten toes.
The Republican Presidential auditioners rallied the mob with slogans like, “ The founding fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” or “ Any child born prematurely, according to the president, can be killed,” or “ I have no problem with homosexuality, but I have a problem with homosexual acts” and finally, to prove the primacy of Tea Party madness, “ There isn’t one study that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.”
So what does any of this have to do with throwing 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor, eliminating taxes, minimizing government, and certifying America as a Christian nation? Nothing. And nothing has become the accomplishment of The American Tea Party.
“Take some more tea,” said Senator Cruz.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” said Sarah, “ So I can’t take more.”
“ You mean you can’t take less,” said Newt, “ It’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
“ Nobody asked your opinion,” said Sarah.
It has a familiar ring, doesn’t it? Sarah, Newt, Rick, and all the other cards in the Tea Party deck promote ideas as nonsensical as those of the Cheshire Cat and the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar. Guns, without qualification, for any Dormouse, DoDo, or Knave that wants one. Federal laws telling a woman how, where, and when she has sovereignty over her own body. A Party led only by white rabbits. A judiciary that screams, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”
What is this if not confusion? How they hate. How they rant and rave and wave their arms about. A party indeed. Their recipe for a prosperous America calls for ingredients to which most Americans are allergic– a cup of suspicion, a tablespoon of intolerance, and a quart of arrogance squeezed from the belief that all compromise is wrong for a person with principles.
Such a meal can only attract and thus produce a society driven apart by hatred, mistrust, and intolerance. Compromise is the sedative of society and always has been, but poor Sarah still rages through life uncompromising, uncomprehending, and, one trusts, unelectable.