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On the Real Tea Party: Essay for April 13, 2012

Do you remember April 2009? Tax Day to be exact. That is when the Tea Party first emerged as a force to be reckoned with. T-E-A: Taxed Enough Already. Clearly the message was one about the profligate government spending paralleling an excess of government intrusion in our lives. The Obamacare debate was beginning. Cap and Trade was raging. TARP was in full swing. The Stimulus was being enacted.

Across the land sprung up spontaneous protests. T-E-A protests. Protests urging Congressmen to have Town Hall style meeting with constituents. Americans from the mainstream had determined that the government had become unresponsive to their pleas. This movement was not representative of a party. In fact, there may be more people unaffiliated with party than with. It was philosophical as to the scope of government, to the torrent of government spending and debt and to the spirit of American individualism.

That movement in April 2009 caught a head of steam that propelled it into and beyond the November 2010 elections. Political titans fell and a new legion of citizen-legislators rose to take their place. That almost all of the new Congressmen elected were Republicans is misleading. These candidates were running against the political class and the members of that political class that most needed changing happened to be Democrats.

It is now April 2012, a full three years since the first volleys were exchanged in the rebellion to retake control of our government for the people. Some grassroots organizations still exist with fiscal conservatism and wariness of big government intervention as their hallmarks. Other organizations, such as the Tea Party Express, went national with obvious electoral agendas. Still others have taken a turn towards advocating a socially conservative agenda. Somehow they all claim the title of Tea Party advocates.

And they are all correct. There is a very large umbrella under which can fit people of varying beliefs all tied together with one single thread: government is not paying attention to our demands to make it smaller and more responsive to our collective voices.

There has been a lot of chatter on the social media pages regarding who truly speaks for the heart and soul of the Tea party. The answer is simple: nobody does. Therein lays its beauty and its power. When opponents attempt to grab hold of the Tea Party it is as if they are grabbing a piece of a cloud. The Tea Party is ephemeral. It speaks for everyone by allowing the many who gather under its large umbrella a platform to voice their opinions as our history has allowed us and permitted us to so do.

Whatever confusion that diversity of opinion amongst Tea Party groups may create is largely irrelevant. To be sure, the movement will not attract those of a liberal persuasion. Those 30 to 40 percent will seek to cast their ballots elsewhere. No matter how the media portrays the movement, it will not alter their perceptions of the Tea Party one iota. The remainder constitutes the target audience for a more responsible government on many levels. What better ways to connect with people whose priorities are staggered from yours than by offering them a choice?

This Sunday afternoon on Boston Common will gather a Patriots Day Rally. Their website poll reflects the economy and government ethics as the top two vote getting issues. Their speaker line up reflects those issues, to be sure, as well as Libertarians, pastors and rabbis. The rally will likely start on those topics and include commentary by social conservatives, as well.

There is another Tea Party Rally in Worcester that same day. This one is more focused upon the Taxed-Enough-Already theme that sparked the upheaval three years ago. Their website identifies Real American Values of Capitalism, Individual Rights and Freedom for All. Their speakers that day will no doubt reflect upon those American values.

So what is a person to do? Which Tea Party rally is best? Who represents the real Tea Party? It is a silly question. Our individual sense of liberty and freedom of choice tell us that the best course of action is to select the one that best reflects our personal expectation of the pursuit of happiness.

The Tea Party succeeds because it cannot be conveniently categorized. It succeeds because it is not monolithic in nature. It is the epitome of liberty and freedom of expression. It is a modern day Town Hall meeting where every citizen has a voice and is given a forum to speak.

Let the major political parties cultivate their image. This is a party with a small “p.” Everyone is invited but nobody has to attend. Don’t worry about any bad press. It is part of the equation. We won’t win the media war. The only war we have to win is in November. Perhaps we can reschedule any internal battles about the heart and soul of the Tea Party until after our victory celebrations.

Press on.

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On Defining Moments: Video Essay for March 29, 2012

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On Defining Moments: Essay for March 29, 2012

In our nation’s history, there have been numerous defining moments. They are times characterized by incredible amounts of courage and foresight, principle and action. The root of all defining moments for these United States of America took place on July 4, 1776, in Congress assembled, when the founders signed a declaration with the most empowering words the world had ever, and still has ever, known.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Thirteen years later, many of these same founders developed a constitution that precisely delineated how this government was to derive those powers from the governed. They created three distinct branches of government to provide the checks and balances necessary to dampen any intemperate actions of the executive and legislative branches. They did so by applying the scrutiny of the judiciary through a laborious process that ultimately rests with the Supreme Court of the United States.

And so our country now finds itself at a defining moment in its history. We have concluded the oral argument phase regarding the Constitutionality of several provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. What is at stake here reaches far beyond a debate about health care or medical treatment. It is not a disagreement between the rich and poor in America. It is not about where our morality lies.
What is at stake here is a single word: Liberty. Can our government compel its citizens to do something against their will under penalty of tax? The Declaration of Independence lists no fewer than 27 grievances against the British Crown, including this one, “For imposing taxes on us without our consent.”

It is thought that the Supreme Court of the United States will announce their decision shortly before their summer break in July, almost 236 years to the day the Declaration of Independence was signed that first codified the concept of consent of the governed. It was the first time in history that the rights of the governed limited the acts of government.

Liberty is indeed at stake in this debate. Also at stake is the integrity of the Supreme Court. To the untrained ear, the passion and persuasion of the legal and Constitutional arguments among the protagonists is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a showcase of our Republic. I am certain the whole world is watching but we citizens of America, we descendents of these brave founders, must admire the process that has taken this bitter and hotly contested legislation to a point of resolution.

So what will the Supreme Court decide? I do not know with certainty. I have no crystal ball. But I do have a feeling that despite ideological and political proclivities, despite hull crushing pressure from constituencies across this country, despite the unrelenting media spotlight that will descend upon this Supreme Court, justice will prevail.

I believe the decision will surprise any who think that Presidential appointments anneal a Justice to the party of the appointing President. The line of questioning has been balanced and encouraging to me; so much so, in fact, that I do not foresee a 5-4 decision of an ideologically split court. While I have my own opinion of the outcome I am no Constitutional scholar. We leave that to these professionals, these 9 Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, to determine. I believe they have a sense of the gravity of the moment as well. I believe they see the obvious conflict between the power of the government and the necessary consent of the governed.

Said Thomas Paine in December of 1776:

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

In three months we shall learn the outcome of two years of litigation, frustration and intimidation. We shall learn whether we will emerge from this chapter in our history with a renewed sense of liberty or a heightened sense of despair.

The ball is in their court: the Supreme Court. And I have faith in them.

Press on.

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On Our Iraqi Departure: Video Essay for December 17, 2011

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On Our Iraqi Departure: Essay for December 17, 2011

It began almost 9 years ago the American experience in Iraq. Our country was still in great pain and shock from the attacks of 911. Our focus became that of finding Weapons of Mass Destruction. Did Saddam Hussein, remember him, have WMD’s? The President said he did, so did Colin Powell, our Secretary of State. Washington, having averted an attack by airplane, was under attack by mail. Anthrax nearly shut down Washington. Try sending a letter to Congress even today and you will be surprised how long it takes to get through security.

To say that our lives have inexorably changed since 911 and our war in Iraq is a gross understatement. In fact, our lives may never return to the same level of blissful ignorance we enjoyed before that fateful day. That is a pity. Our innocence is gone as a country. We have been bloodied and there is blood on our hands, as well. Retribution is an ugly thing. Loss of innocence is an ugly thing, too.

We do not commemorate the end of the War in Iraq so much as we celebrate the return of the last of the American troops this month. Who knows if peace will ever come to Iraq? I certainly hope that it does and that the sacrifice of so many Americans meant what it was intended to mean. Time will tell but if the Arab Spring showed us anything it was that an infant democracy will yield to Muslim autocracy.

Let’s consider some of the obvious costs of the war: four thousand five hundred dead Americans; 35,000 wounded Americans; 800 billion opportunities to invest an American dollar somewhere else; one and a half million American youth whose lives were directly altered by combat. That’s right: 1 ½ million Americans passed through the war zone over 9 years. Their lives can never be the same. Many have returned home with mental scars and torment that will last a lifetime through no fault of their own. They simply did what their country asked them to do.

And for those who have not passed though the war zone itself, they too have paid a price. They have lost their innocence, their childhood, to images of war. My children are children of America at war with terrorists, with Afghanistan, with Iraq and with radical Islam. They are a generation who do not remember when the headlines and the airwaves were not dominated by war. They are a generation who has never known the simple joys of unfettered access. They have never known the liberty of walking a city street un-surveilled. Airport security has become a gauntlet whose unintended consequence is to instill a consistent level of unease with any peaceful experience.

Is there victory in Iraq for America and the dwindled coalition of the willing? Mission Accomplished? Maybe it is but no one is claiming it as vociferously as did President Bush aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. What I do know is that one and a half million Americans answered the call of their nation. They did their duty with honor. And to our credit as a nation we have responded to their sacrifice with appropriate respect and admiration.

We still remain in Afghanistan today with an equally uncertain end game. There is no discernable path to victory in the land of Hamid Karzai. And history teaches us that any victory in Afghanistan is a temporary state. We have put another half million troops through Afghanistan in our ten years there. And another 1857 American deaths, 549 of them in this year alone.
If our troops are fighting for our freedom and safety this begs the obvious question, “Is America any freer or any safer now than it was ten years ago?” I think wistfully about the good old days before the advent of modern international terrorism. One could argue about whether those days ever existed at all but I would suggest that we concluded the pre-modern age of international terrorism with the end of the Cold War and the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction. There were perhaps a few brief years of respite before Operation Desert Storm sparked the modern age of bombings aimed at the United States. Recall that the World Trade Center was first bombed in 1993.

Life certainly seemed simpler when you could delude yourself into thinking that nuclear attack was survivable as long as you could hide under your desk. As I’ve grown older, I guess I’ve lost my innocence, too.

Press on.

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