My column from this week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered:
Earlier this week when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin helped kick off a series of Tea Party Express rallies leading up to the election, I couldn’t help but think back to my East Coast vacation earlier this month.
No, I didn’t immediately think of the gaudy-looking lighthouse restaurant with the “Ron Paul for President” sign in the window, though that soon crossed my mind, too. My first thought was of the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile walking trail that leads you to 16 nationally significant historic sites in Boston.
The Boston Tea Party is believed to have happened at old Griffin’s Wharf, which no longer exists because of a large-scale landfill project more than a century ago. A historical marker indicates where the wharf once was, but as you might expect, looking at a plaque isn’t quite as awe-inspiring as actually seeing the place as it was in 1773 and being able to – with a little imagination – visualize crates of tea being thrown off ships into the harbor.
Regardless, for someone like me who loves history and politics and has been to the East Coast only a handful of times, I’m still fascinated by simply visiting where events occured to form the cradle of our democracy. And my recent visit to Boston got me thinking about how the current tea party movement stacks up against the Boston Tea Party protest.
At its simplest, the comparison surely can be made. In 1773, future Americans were fed up with the ruling government, boarded ships and dumped all the tea in the water below. In 2010, a sizable number of Americans are fed up with the government, so they want to board Congress and dump all the incumbent politicians into the unemployment pool.
Both movements grew, too. Just as today’s tea party movement continues to grow, the Boston Tea Party spurred disgruntled future Americans to dump tea in other New England locales, including Maine, New York and North Carolina.
Taking the comparison a step further, it would seem that the connection between the two movements weakens. I assume most tea party supporters don’t favor literally overthrowing the government, as the Boston Tea Partiers obviously did.
And, while the current tea party movement surely will achieve a sense of victory next month – very few presidents survive their first midterm election with the same level of Congressional support they began with – nobody will be erecting memorials at key places in the 21st century tea party’s history. (“Look over here, Johnny. This is where Sarah Palin joked about seeing November from her house and sent the Tea Party Express on its way to victory.”)
Frankly, I expect the tea party movement to last about as long as Ross Perot’s Reform Party movement – which is to say, not very long in the grand scheme of things. Like the Reform Party before it, the tea party is burning hot but soon will burn out. This is not a criticism of the tea party, just an historically-based observation.
In any case, the tea party will leave its mark on our political history, at least for our lifetime. And when people want a true taste of dissident tea, they always can visit Boston.