Constitutional Ignorance is Not a Right or Left Issue

Prepare to faint on the last fainting couch available:

The tea-party movement has no leader. But it does have a face: William Temple of Brunswick, Ga. For months, the amiable middle-aged activist has been criss-crossing America, appearing at tea-party events dressed in his trademark three-cornered hat and Revolutionary garb. When journalists interview him (which is often—his outfit draws them in like a magnet), he presents himself as a human bridge between the founders’ era and our own. “We fought the British over a 3 percent tea tax. We might as well bring the British back,” he told NPR during a recent protest outside the Capitol.

It’s a charming act, which makes the tea-party movement seem no more unnerving than the people who spend their weekends reenacting the Civil War. But the 18th-century getups mask something disturbing. After I spent the weekend at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., it has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It’s more John Birch than John Adams. 

Like all populists, tea partiers are suspicious of power and influence, and anyone who wields them. Their villain list includes the big banks; bailed-out corporations; James Cameron, whose Avatar is seen as a veiled denunciation of the U.S. military; Republican Party institutional figures they feel ignored by, such as chairman Michael Steele; colleges and universities (the more prestigious, the more evil); TheWashington Post; Anderson Cooper; and even FOX News pundits, such as Bill O’Reilly, who have heaped scorn on the tea-party movement’s more militant oddballs.

One of the most bizarre moments of the recent tea-party convention came when blogger Andrew Breitbart delivered a particularly vicious fulmination against the mainstream media, prompting everyone to get up, turn toward the media section at the back of the conference room, and scream, “USA! USA! USA!” But the tea partiers’ well-documented obsession with President Obama has hardly been diffused by their knack for finding new enemies.

The problem here is not the tea party idea itself, but, rather, the snide diffidence of the media, in general and the fundamental lack of any context, specific or otherwise. If you want to know what motivates people to say and do crazy things it is the idea that the only way they’ll be heard is to ham it up for a media that will duly report and never, ever put into context what the crazies of the left and right are saying and doing. The tone expressed here drips with condescension. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a machine that could remove the snark from the Internet. I’d turn that thing on and let it run for a year.

Do not condescend to people who are angry at their government; do not sneer at them. Four years ago, liberals were up in arms against the Bush Administration. Now, the opposite fringe is up in arms against the Obama Administration. Anyone with a brain can tell you there isn’t much difference between how Bush and Obama have done things or are doing things. I have news for you—at any given time, in the long, proud history of this country, there have always been a number of Americans with a corncob up their ass about something. I don’t care if that offends—it is the honest to gospel truth.

Never, in the history of this country, has there ever been a time when there wasn’t some fanatical minority of some indeterminately small number of very vocal people screeching to high heaven about the collapse of our institutions and the breakdown of the rule of law and the absolute tyranny of a government out of control. To be a Jeffersonian living under John Adams was to be shrill and suspicious of that rascal Alexander Hamilton. To live under the incompetent stewardship of James Madison was to wonder whether or not the military could even protect America from itself, let alone a few thousand British regulars and a scattering of warring Indian tribes. It’s all there. Avail yourself of some shrill history.

For example, is it okay for a state to secede from the Union?

Of course not.

Then why is it in the media? Why is there talk of Vermont, Texas or Alaska seceding from the Union?


I mean, read Lincoln’s thoughts on the matter. Read a biography of Abraham Lincoln and then tell me this isn’t the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. It’s a limited government, except when someone loses their mind about what that whole “limited” thing means. Take up arms against this government if you wish; we have a way to turn that feature into a spectacle. Itching for the confrontation? Don’t.

The framers of the Constitution wisely gave us the means by which to hold the tyranny of the majority—or the minority—in check. Those things haven’t changed. It’s not like we haven’t been through these things before. What’s different is that the ignorance of the American people, personified by an indulgent, lazy, sneering media, is celebrated.

Bring me the stupid, says Joe Sixpack. The details are too hard.

I want health care reform—just don’t make it so I have to think about it. Sure, I want a job—just don’t spend any money making sure I have an industry to work in. Keep my taxes low, but when no one comes to plow out my street after there’s already four feet of snow on the ground, give me a tax cut so I can buy a snow blower that won’t work. I’m America—it’s sexy to be stupid and I don’t know anything because I have no reference points.

If I did, someone would be offended by my accurate grasp of history.

Everything is cool beans, kids. Go back to shoveling snow. And, relax. The Republic is going to be fine. And if that’s too condescending for you, then check your head, Cletus. If you love this country, you’ll figure out that what I’m telling you fits the meme.