Strong not small government
The author of "Liberal ideals fail to explain," featured in The Daily Targum on Feb. 8 responded to my criticisms of the Tea Party movement. In my article, I pointed out that the rights to life, liberty and property that members of the Tea Party cherish require a competent, well-funded and strong government for their enforcement. Therefore, the Tea Party's generalized demonization of a strong government was misguided. So in the author's tirade, two counterarguments made against my point merit a rebuttal:
"Tea Partiers are not looking to revolt; they simply want government to tighten their belts, much like most people during a time of economic downturn."
To begin with, I never said that members of the Tea Party movement were anarchists; rather, I criticized their generalizations as misguided and uninformed against "big government." As I said, the very rights they cherish depend on a competent, well-funded, and strong government. Upon further examination though, the claim that many members of the Tea Party movement are anarchists is legitimate. It is true that many Tea Partiers seek only to remove both Democrats and Republicans from office rather than to revolt.
But the Tea Party is no cohesive movement and has no central leadership or message, and many Tea Partiers are calling for a rebellion against a popularly elected federal government. They disagree with the outcome of the democratic process, which they label as socialist tyranny. They do this because they are being fed false information from the likes of Glenn Beck and WorldNetDaily.com, who claim that President Barack Obama is determined to instate himself as the dictator of the United States and currently working on plans to have the U.S. Army send all those who oppose his devious plans to internment camps. Web sites such as ResistNet.com call on "fellow Patriots" to "grab their guns" in preparation for this impending doomsday. Other affiliated groups such as Arm in Arm aim to "organize neighborhoods for possible civil strife by stockpiling food and survival gear and forming armed neighborhood groups," according to The New York Times. The Oath Keepers recruit military and law enforcing officers and ask them to disobey orders that the group deems unconstitutional.
Many local Tea Party organizations have been circulating lies that rationalize violence and have established partnerships with militia groups that will engage in violence when they feel that their values are under threat. Contrary to the author's assertions, it is quite clear that many within the Tea Party see revolt against a popularly elected government as a legitimate means to attaining their goals.
"The role of government is justified when it comes to national security and enforcing property rights. What Tea Partiers argue against are excessive spending, entitlement programs and an invasion of personal properties."
The author is partly right here — members of the Tea Party who are not ignorantly consuming lies and calling for secession and armed rebellion merely would like the government to focus on certain policy objective such as, national security and property rights, rather than others such as transfer programs. But make no mistake by assuming that spending on national security and property rights is less excessive than spending on transfer programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, universal health care, funding for higher education opportunities and welfare programs like food stamps. National security and the protection of property through a well-funded criminal justice system require billions of dollars every year.
One must also ask the author why spending on this type of program is justified while others are not. Why is it justified to protect property through spending on the military, the criminal justice system and through tax breaks in order to ensure that citizens with property have the opportunity to prosper? Why is it not justified to allow citizens who lack property and live in poverty the same kind of opportunities through federally funded programs that allow the poor to gain job skills, purchase food and send their children to decent educational and health facilities? Or what about programs that allow the elderly to live comfortably in old age, that allow those from lesser means to attain a higher education and that afford all citizens more access to the health care they need?
When Tea Partiers ignorantly deem one type of government program as unjustifiable, we must point out the government programs that they support are equally expensive. Once we do this, we realize that those Tea Partiers who are not calling for a violent rebellion are calling for a government that will secure the special interests of some, and ignore the desperate cries of many.
"The encroachment on life and property … mentioned in Bosnia and Rwanda were not the result of a government that ‘stood idly by' — these were genocides conducted by the government."
Government is by the people and for the people. It takes action to fulfill the desires of a majority, which has formed because it has reached a consensus about an issue.
The requirements of consensus building ensure that the needs of most members of a society are met. A democratic government can become unresponsive and abusive when the majority wants it to be unresponsive and abusive. This is what happened when the Serbians authorized their democratic government to persecute the people of Bosnia and Kosovo, and in the United States, when whites authorized their democratically elected government to deny blacks civil rights. A majority can use the instrumentalities of government to ignore needs and abuse its opponents in a democracy.
This is exactly what members of the Tea Party are trying to do. Speaking in general terms, the Tea Party is currently on a mission to subvert our government to protect the special interests of some while ignoring the urgent needs of many.
Ben West is a Rutgers College senior majoring in political science. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.