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10 April, 2011

Costume Party

Tea Party gatherings tend to have individuals dressed up in what they believe to be the style of the Founding Fathers. A fair number of the Civil War and other re-enactor buffs I've met (people who take extreme care to research and reproduce details of costumery representing the old days when life was grand and slavery was legal) tend to be very conservative, so it would not surprise me if there is enough overlap between these folks to produce some accurately attired individuals.

But a genuine wardrobe speaks little about what's in it. The guys dressed up like Washington and Jefferson misunderstand their political idols as much as they misrepresent their god and savior.

The rowdys doing the legwork for the founding fathers liked to play dress-up, too. The Tea Partiers of 18th Century Boston dressed up like Indians. Some people see in this a statement of American-ness, appropriation of Native garb to differentiate the colonists from their overlords. My own more cynical view is that they just wanted disguises, being brave as long as they couldn't be identified. If the Brits actually thought Indians had done it, and retaliated against them, so much the better, but nobody truly expected them to believe that a previously unnoticed band of urban Indians was on the warpath. The tea dumpers just didn't want to be recognized during their vandalism spree. Kinda chicken, if you ask me.

The modern Tea Party attachment to the style of the American Revolution does not, so far as I know, include dressing up like Indians. Even the upper crust Virginian or Bostonian costumes, however, are just as obviously disguises, misdirection. 

Case in point: treatment of the District of Columbia as a colony by the heavily Tea-steeped new Republican House of Representatives. Would the Boston partiers, much as they may have wanted to avoid arrest, have been so chicken-shit as to tolerate taxation without representation? No, the whole reason for the action was to protest taxes levied without the colonies having a voice in Parliament. Yet Republicans have shown time and again that they do not want DC, with its majority of African Americans and Democratic voters, to have a voting member of the House, much less the Senate.

This Friday's budget deal also demonstrates that this new House will not hesitate to increase federal interference, even when it flies directly in the face of what local people want. Democrats managed to keep certain nation-wide policy riders out, but Boehner and his ilk managed to include a couple of restrictions on DC. Namely, a ban on using money for abortions and other women's health activities, and imposing a voucher system allowing people to direct public school funding toward private school tuition. This is tax money that was raised locally, which Republicans now insist that those black DC residents don't know how to use in their own community. This is only the latest in a series of insults to the democratic ideal of self-determination, from messing with gun control and birth control to overriding voter referenda. 

So when I hear some Tea Party activist rail against an intrusive federal government or wave that "Don't Tread on Me" flag, I think: bullshit. They can dress up like patriots, but their actions demonstrate disdain for freedom and democracy.

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