Monday, April 13, 2009

Boycott the Tea Parties

The purpose of this post is not to criticize those who will be participating in the various "Tea Parties" around the nation tomorrow. It is more to defend myself against critics of my own non-participation.

I hope that the Tea Parties will all be non-violent protests; simply peaceful parades, marches, or assemblies with various colorful and clever posters. I've held a poster in hundreds of protests, and marched hundreds of miles to protest various injustices. Deep down I wondered about the effectiveness of them all, and often participated for more "social" or communitarian reasons (e.g., hang out with friends). I'm still working out my own theory of protests and political action.

Here is the cover of a new magazine supportive of the "tea party" movement:

Which group would Jesus be with:
• the corporate executives who use the government to steal from widows and orphans, or
• the "tea party" protesters, armed with baseball bats, pitchforks, and vandals' torches?

I would say "neither."

Bashing heads and burning property are not Christian options. I hope there's none of that anywhere tomorrow. I also hope the rest of this post is more positive.

Here are three strategic questions I ask about the Tea Parties:
  1. Doesn't the Tea Party movement truly represent the essence of America, the spirit of 1776?
  2. Then why is it the majority of Americans do not join the "Tea Party" protesters?
  3. Will the Tea Parties result in less government theft through taxation?

What is the "essence of America?"

I like to say "Liberty Under God." But it could be "violence employed to secure wealth." Americans don't like to think of themselves as people who are willing to use violence to get the stuff they want, but that's been the history of this country since the American Revolution.

Imagine a young man about 23 years old. As an agent of the British Empire, he wears a red coat. He believes that the colonies face a situation of "anarchy" and chaos. For generations, the British government has maintained law and order, and he has been told that this stability is threatened by lawless hoards who vandalize tax-paying merchants while dressed as Indians. Based on reports of a large cache of arms in Lexington and threats of armed revolution, he has been sent away from his family in Liverpool to help maintain order in the colonies.

Oh dear. This nice young man has just had a large part of his face and shoulders blown away by the musket fire of an outraged tax-resister. This colonist (and others like him) apparently believed that this young soldier evinced "a design to reduce them under absolute despotism." As the officer lies dying in a pool of his own blood, the revolutionary "minute-man" rejoices in his victory over this red-coat's objective of the "establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states."

Is this a loving (1 Corinthians 13:5-7) or righteous (John 7:24; Exodus 23:2; Prov. 24:21) judgment of this young human being? Was this soldier a "tyrant," a budding Adolph Hitler, or a "good Christian family man"?

I've argued that the American Revolution was unChristian and unBiblical here:

But I agree that taxation is tyrannical and tyrannies must be abolished.

Comparing tax burdens is illuminating. In 1775 the tax on the tea was three pence per pound. Today we pay ten times more on every gallon of gas. The total tax burden imposed on the colonies by Britain was about 2%. If you pay a penny in federal income tax today, then the federal government is taking over half of everything you earn. If muskets were justified in 1776, they are long overdue today.

Why aren't the Tea Parties advocating muskets? It would truly be all-American.

I guess I'm not a true American.

But I agree with the Tea Party contention that taxes are too high. And if Sam Adams and John Hancock were here today, they would certainly agree.

And that makes me part of the "fringe."

Second question: Why is the Tea Party movement perceived as "fringe?" Why aren't nearly all Americans participating?

And let's be clear: most Americans are not participating.

The New York Times is reporting a Gallup poll that says more Americans think taxes are "about right" than think they are "too high." Astonishingly, 3% say taxes are "too low." (Did they understand the question?) The Times article, "Hold the Tea: Americans Fine With Taxes," concludes,

As the remaining U.S. tax filers prepare to send their income-tax returns before the April 15 deadline, Gallup finds Americans’ views of their federal income taxes about as positive as at any point in the last 60 years. This may reflect the income-tax cut that was part of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, as well as a continuing sense of patriotism with the country fighting two wars.

Because of withholding, most Americans have no feelings about taxes because it's done impersonally before they even get their paycheck. Because of envy, most Americans like the idea of "taxing the rich," and assume that their own Congressman is going to GET more goodies for them than they are going to have to PAY in taxes. And because of statism, Americans love it ("patriotism") when our military bombs someone "back to the stone age."

When violence (taxation, war) can be justified on pragmatic or emotional/sentimental grounds, a "Tea Party" is not going to have much persuasive effect. Especially if the participants are carrying bats and bombs, there's no pure principle. Both sides resort to violence to get what they want.

The only solid and lasting principle is the "non-aggression" principle: no initiation of force. Taxation is the ethical and moral equivalent of extortion or robbery. Taxation is threatening to lock someone in a federal prison with a psychopath to be sodomized if they don't fork over the dough. The Tea Parties don't seem to carry this principled opposition to all taxation, to the very concept of taxation, just a cost-benefit analysis: "I'm OK with that violence as long as I don't have to pay too much or if the benefits outweigh the pangs of conscience."

The final question becomes: How do we persuade someone -- especially a tax-collector or someone who supports government extortion of the people -- to change their moral calculus? How do you convince someone that taking money from someone under threats of violence is immoral?

Not by a "Tea Party," I believe.

People who work for the IRS are human beings. Protests treat these individuals as abstractions. They are threatening, not reasoning; offensive, not persuasive.

If your next-door neighbor is a prostitute, will your protests in her front yard -- waving signs, shouting slogans -- persuade her to get a new job? It probably won't work with an IRS agent, either.

It's easy to put a clever slogan on a poster, but what would you say if I were to buy dinner for you and an IRS agent? Can you visualize the dinner conversation? Can you anticipate what the IRS agent would say in defense of his tax-collection efforts? Do you have a ready response?

Inviting an IRS agent to a tea party in your home seems more likely to persuade than showing up at the IRS agent's home with your protest signs.

But perhaps the real function of Tea Parties is not persuasion, but community-building.

Then let's have fun at the Tea Party, but let's also plan out a long-range strategy to educate the majority of Americans, and to persaude the bureaucrats to resign.

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