Yesterday, the 112th United States Congress commenced. Depending on your political leanings, this is either a point of elation or trepidation. Or possibly the continuation of apathy. No matter what, the spirit of this session of our great country’s legislative body will be tempered by the spirit of the “Tea Party”.
Now, I am a relatively proud product of the Chicago Democratic Machine. Evidence of this includes that I have proudly cast an average of 4 votes per Illinois election since I turned 18. (Okay, that is not true. I have been a registered Indiana voter since I was eligible to vote, so I only voted 2 times per election in Illinois.)
Despite what would appear to set up a raging animosity, I do understand the draw of the Tea Party. They tap into a very deep-rooted American belief/feeling of independence and freedom to the nth degree. As belies their name, it encompasses some of the most prominent thoughts and feelings of those original patriots who revolted against England. As someone who treasures his personal independence, doesn’t fully trust authority (or the government, all parties included), and nurtures a secret stubborn side, I sympathize with that and understand where it comes from (Libertarians, too). (Get ready, here comes the big “but…”)
But, my one problem with the whole thing is that we have been down this road before. We originally tried that style of government and it didn’t work. Articles of Confederation, anyone? People seem to forget that this country almost perished before it began, under a giant mountain of debt (the federal government was not allowed to collect tax money from the states if they didn’t want to contribute), with no source of income (states protected their own interests when it came to commerce, which was typically at the expense of neighboring states leading everyone to lose) and with domestic and foreign predators ready to pounce (which we could not protect ourselves from because the state militias were controlled by the bickering states and Revolutionary soldiers had not been paid for a LONG time, leading to the domestic threat mentioned above.)
Now, I am not suggesting that we are heading for this exact scenario if the Tea Party takes over. Rather, I am hoping to point out that despite many, many imperfections, the federal government serves a lot of very beneficial and underrated functions. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do like a centralized, organized military that is paid for by my taxes, I like regulation of interstate commerce, I am glad that I don’t have to negotiate with foreign powers myself (nor does the State of Indiana), and the list goes on and on.
This leads into my other political beef du jour. While it seems like we are the only generation of Americans to have highly charged and partisan politics, this too has been going on from the beginning. From the day the delegates started stepping foot into Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention, this central argument of the American political experience was begun. The line in the sand was drawn the day the delegates decided to throw the Articles of Confederation out the window and make something new. Who should have more power, states or the federal government? Should the Constitution be interpreted literally or should we look at it as a living document? Anger and partisanship was there right from the beginning. Delegates left in anger and original patriots that were not delegates at the Convention (such as Patrick Henry and Sam Adams) raged and fought against the giant encroachment of a federal government (which they just spend years revolting against) onto the states.
It is this push and pull which to me has always and will always define the American political experience. This tension, while appearing to be counterproductive and great for selling newspapers, actually helps to push us forward, while also preventing us from getting too far away from our independent, revolutionary roots. Light needs dark, good needs evil, sweet needs sour.
So sit back, buckle in and enjoy the ride for this political year. There will be ups, there will be downs, but no matter what, America will win.
(This post was inspired while reading “Plain, Honest Men” by Richard Beeman this summer. If you are looking for a interesting take on the creation of the Constitution which is also guaranteed to not put you to sleep despite being a history related book, this is the book for you. Special thanks to my brother Brian, who initially introduced me to the book!)