Of Tea Parties and Politics

The Tree of Liberty. Don’t Tread on Me.

The left today sees these as threatening. They only see the tree of liberty in the context of Jefferson’s quote about the blood of patriots. They see the NRA connections of the right combined with that quote and trees in abundance on poster as tantamount to assault, i.e., a direct armed threat in the legal sense. However that is not really tenable.

When one puts this symbolism in a historical context the threat to the established Democratic party rule is purely electoral. Look at the results of a little historical research. In David Hackett Fisher’s book Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas one finds copious examples of liberty trees, bells, snakes and the like … which are to be now found in the tea party posters. They are not hinting at violence but instead are unconsciously (and likely consciously in some cases) tapping the collective visual signs and symbols of our American heritage. While these symbols trace to the revolutionary period, which understandably makes the party in power nervous. They are not exclusively from that period, nor were (historically) used to tie back to that era. That it is to say they are no long primarily tied to revolution and overthrow but are in fact national symbols tied to freedom and liberty. To restate, they are primarily American symbols of freedom and liberty.

If Democrats today are nervous at the thought of liberty and freedom, that is a depressing and unfortunate turn of events. That 30% of this country is so enamoured of statist solutions that ideas of liberty and personal independence scares them.

The November 12th tea party is an political opportunity for those who might capitalize on it. The size of the gatherings alone indicate a large groundswell support. The Democratic party has been long tied to bigger and more intrusive government. The GOP has paid lip service and one might argue recently paid heavily at the polls for their hypocrisy in that matter regarding smaller government. Democrats have argued that people pay lip service themselves to liberty but “really want” the comfortable entitlements that they promote. Yet the tea party movement and the GOP electoral defeats in 2008 might indicate that this is not the case. There are a goodly number of people that really want less from the Feds. It remains to be seen if any number GOP candidates with both seize this opportunity in campaign rhetoric and more importantly follow through once in office.

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14 comments

  1. Boonton says:

    The left today sees these as threatening. They only see the tree of liberty in the context of Jefferson’s quote about the blood of patriots. They see the NRA connections of the right combined with that quote and trees in abundance on poster as tantamount to assault, i.e., a direct armed threat in the legal sense

    The ‘left’ here seems to consist of a single blogger that Mark quoted last night. A blogger whose been doing some actual leg work going out to Tea Party rallies and photographing some of the more interesting signs out there.

    So once again the pattern here is:

    1. Single person on ‘the left’ says or writes something and it magically becomes the view of the entire left.

    2. For the right dozens and dozens of such incidents are not sufficient to merit a charge that such symbolism or rhetoric has become the right’s stance (assuming of course that the symbolism is not exactly the best PR for the right).

    3. Leaving aside the assumption that a single blogger speaks for the entire left, Mark ignores her main point that Tim McVeigh was wearing a ‘tree of liberty’ t-shirt when arrested and among some elements on the right the tree has become what appears to be a fantasy of violence or the fantasy of justification for violence (i.e. the country has been ‘taken from us’)

    Symbols are hardly fixed in meaning. In WWII the ‘V’ symbol represented victory over the Axis powers. Not 30 years later it became a pacifist symbol for opposition to war in Vietnam.

    During the late 60’s and 70’s, Tom Wolf identified ‘radical chic’ on the left. This was:

    the pretentious adoption of radical causes by celebrities, socialites, and high society. The concept has been described as “an exercise in double-tracking one’s public image: on the one hand, defining oneself through committed allegiance to a radical cause, but on the other, vitally, demonstrating this allegiance because it is the fashionable, au courant way to be seen in moneyed, name-conscious Society.”[1] Unlike dedicated activists, revolutionaries, or dissenters, those who engage in radical chic remain frivolous political agitators. They are ideologically invested in their cause of choice only insofar as it advances their social standing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_chic

    No one ever said that chic had to be reserved for upper class elites. “Frivolous political agitators” seems an apt term to describe most of the Tea Parties, but it is also fair to ask if the ‘Tree of Liberty’ symbolism is really simply pulling from Revolutionary symbolism or if it is ‘McVeigh chic’ on the right.

  2. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    The ‘left’ here seems to consist of a single blogger that Mark quoted last night. A blogger whose been doing some actual leg work going out to Tea Party rallies and photographing some of the more interesting signs out there

    Hmm, then I guess I have to ignore JA’s remarks on that same post. I don’t recall but I think you yourself were not thinking his remarks out of line. I do think it’s odd that you praise “the actual leg work” of one blogger, but dismiss reports from right bloggers (I quoted a “friend” on site last night and Tom at Redhunter too has pictures and quotes if you look).

    So, those same symbols used from the beginning of the 1800s through today, just suddenly are taken to mean new and sinister meanings. I know symbols aren’t fixed in meaning. In fact the point of the book Liberty and Freedom is to track the meaning through 3 centuries of colonial and American experience.

    “Frivolous political agitators” seems an apt term to describe most of the Tea Parties, but it is also fair to ask if the ‘Tree of Liberty’ symbolism is really simply pulling from Revolutionary symbolism or if it is ‘McVeigh chic’ on the right.

    Wow. Is that really how you see it? I think that is really blinded by partisan rancor and completely off base.

  3. Boonton says:

    Hmm, then I guess I have to ignore JA’s remarks on that same post.

    JA’s comment that you solicited from him by raising the example?

    I do think it’s odd that you praise “the actual leg work” of one blogger, but dismiss reports from right bloggers …

    I don’t dismiss their reports and pics. We are talking about the difference between an objective versus subjective judgement. “I saw a Hitler sign” or “I saw one Hitler sign and ten non-Hitler signs” are pretty objective statements. Unless the person is engaged in outright deception I am pretty trusting of such statements. “I saw a Hitler sign but it didn’t represent the spirit of the event” is a much more subjective statement.

    Wow. Is that really how you see it? I think that is really blinded by partisan rancor and completely off base.

    Why is it unfair to ask the question? We got plenty of examples of the “Hitler/Mao/Stalin” type signs, plenty of examples of signs that appear racially inspired in addition to the fringe movement that has made a fetish out of McVeigh chic whenever a Democrat is in the White House. Add to that the fact that many of the chief spokesmen for this event have adopted the “Hitler/Mao/Stalin” rhetoric (see my list of quotes from the other thread). How many water coolers are you going to make me hang out at? Every time I do it seems you come down to tell me ‘no not that one, it’s not representative’. Yet you seem to find a single random, low traffic blog representative?

  4. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    JA’s comment that you solicited from him by raising the example?

    Huh?

    We got plenty of examples of the “Hitler/Mao/Stalin” type signs, plenty of examples of signs that appear racially inspired

    And every reason to believe those signs were a fringe minority.

    Yet you seem to find a single random, low traffic blog representative?

    Are you going post-modern on me? Here you disregard one report because “its a high traffic blogger” and then this one because “its a low traffic blogger”. What gives? You ignore on-site high traffic and low traffic blog reports some sort of basis of traffic? Are you some sort of goldilocks/3-bears blog appraiser?

    Look you quote a piece suggesting this is all oppositional group dynamics … and then have nothing to offer but your own oppositional group dynamical reflexive remarks.

    Look we had a demonstration of 50k or 300k or 1.5 million (BBC!?) tea-party demonstrators. No violence. All when apparently politely and by some reports even self-policed the majority of their rubbish. Yet, these well behaved demonstrators are at the same time gun toting mouth frothing revolutionary racist monsters … you’d think cognitive dissonance would trigger at some point.

  5. How do you interpret “It’s time to water the tree of liberty?” particularly when juxtaposed with an openly-carried handgun (six inches from the sign.)

  6. Mark says:

    JA,
    I think he’s making a statement, not a threat. This is their web site.

    I should point out that the majority of the tea party people (apparently) according to source/polls/cricket-races that I’ve seen aren’t affiliated with the GOP, whom they see as too tied up with big government like the Democrats. As I noted, this is a political opportunity for the GOP, it remains to see if they want to take it.

    I have to say, given that have come to a conclusion that subsidiarity and reducing the power of the central government will be essential if we are to retain our liberty, our way of life, and to avoid totalitarian repression here in American … that my arguments likely would find more traction with that group than progressives judging by your reception of my ideas.

  7. I think he’s making a statement, not a threat. This is their web site.

    !!

    Never underestimate the power of denial, I guess.

    But really??!

    I have to say, given that have come to a conclusion that subsidiarity and reducing the power of the central government will be essential if we are to retain our liberty, our way of life, and to avoid totalitarian repression here in American … that my arguments likely would find more traction with that group than progressives judging by your reception of my ideas.

    Lumping together a lot of different things there:

    Liberty — as long as government is local, I can’t think of any liberties you believe should be protected from the government. You believe that at least local governments should be allowed to afford special rights to straight people, to outlaw abortion, and to discriminate on the basis of religion, if I remember correctly.

    I think I win that one.

    “Our” way of life — I guess that depends on the “our” you’re talking about.

    Draw.

    to avoid totalitarian repression

    If by “repression” you mean having to pay taxes, you win. If you mean the freedom from being tortured, being imprisoned without charge, sexual freedoms, freedom of and from religion, etc., I win.

    I win.

  8. Mark says:

    JA,
    If by win you mean completely misunderstand and misstate my position. Yes, you win.

    Never underestimate the power of denial, I guess.

    But really??!

    I don’t think you should bring weapons to public rallies. But that being said, I also don’t think he had any intention of discharging it, much less shooting at somebody.

    If you mean the freedom from being tortured, being imprisoned without charge, sexual freedoms, freedom of and from religion, etc.

    Those are the freedoms I’m talking about. And I think we are going to lose them.

  9. I don’t think you should bring weapons to public rallies. But that being said, I also don’t think he had any intention of discharging it, much less shooting at somebody.

    We were talking about whether that “water the tree of liberty” business was a (not very) veiled threat or not.

    Those are the freedoms I’m talking about. And I think we are going to lose them.

    Because of… health care reform?

  10. Mark says:

    JA,

    We were talking about whether that “water the tree of liberty” business was a (not very) veiled threat or not.

    A threat of what sort?

    Because of… health care reform?

    No. Because of increased federal/central power desensitizing us and increasing our comfort with dependence. Our democratic sensibilities will wane and when they do, that will be all she wrote. Healthcare reform, inasmuch as it is centralization and an increase of dependence on institutional organs is not going to be the end. Just another (likely big) straw for the camels back. Another step in the wrong direction.

    You call it freedom for others to make choices, to have hard moral choices taken away from your plate. That isn’t freedom. It’s childhood.

  11. Boonton says:

    Look we had a demonstration of 50k or 300k or 1.5 million (BBC!?) tea-party demonstrators. No violence. All when apparently politely and by some reports even self-policed the majority of their rubbish. Yet, these well behaved demonstrators are at the same time gun toting mouth frothing revolutionary racist monsters … you’d think cognitive dissonance would trigger at some point.

    Yes its called radical chic. Just like the upper crust liberals of the early 70’s who could throw a private fund raiser for the Black Panthers to ‘take down capitalism’ on Friday and then meet with their trust fund advisors on Monday to make sure their estates are well managed and on Tuesday meet with their lawyers to make sure they get a fair cut of the profits from the movie they are about to produce etc.

    And every reason to believe those signs were a fringe minority.

    A minority maybe but fringe no….esp. when the representatives of this group are happy to keep dropping the Hitler/Mao/Stalin bomb.

    Look we had a demonstration of 50k or 300k or 1.5 million (BBC!?) tea-party demonstrators. No violence.

    I notice this keeps coming up a lot. So what?! You’re not supposed to be violent. Even the KKK can manage to do a demonstration without being violent. Why do you think your lack of violence somehow validates the protests? Is this where modern day conservatives set the bar, not being a thug?

    I don’t think you should bring weapons to public rallies. But that being said, I also don’t think he had any intention of discharging it, much less shooting at somebody.

    Hmmm the guy belongs to a Church whose pastor thinks praying for Obama’s death is a good thing. How do you know so well what this guys intentions are or were?

    Of course I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those Black Panthers showed up to the fundraiser with guns back in the 70’s. You assume good intentions on the part of the man because you’re immersed in what is essentially a farce. You don’t expect trouble from him anymore than you expect the actor performing Hamlet to rush off the stage and strike you down with his sword. Some people, like Sullivan, have tried to take the Parties seriously and engage them with serious questions but so far the evidence points to a frivolous movement rather than a serious one.

  12. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    A minority maybe but fringe no….esp. when the representatives of this group are happy to keep dropping the Hitler/Mao/Stalin bomb.

    No you’re going off the deep end. The tea party protesters have no mainstream representatives. They don’t identify with the GOP.

    Some people, like Sullivan, have tried to take the Parties seriously and engage them with serious questions but so far the evidence points to a frivolous movement rather than a serious one.

    I don’t know what “frivolous” means in this context.

  13. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    Why do you think your lack of violence somehow validates the protests? Is this where modern day conservatives set the bar, not being a thug?

    Hmmm, as I recollect the majority of the actual thuggishness in the last election cycle came from the left, the window smashing, bus-tire gashing, etc. Perhaps it is good that the right sets a bar on “not a thug” because clearly the left’s bar is lower.

    Hmmm the guy belongs to a Church whose pastor thinks praying for Obama’s death is a good thing.

    I didn’t get that from the web site for the group to which he belongs. Now as a Christian myself, I have issues with any church which calls itself Christian and prays for anyone’s death.

  14. Boonton says:

    No you’re going off the deep end. The tea party protesters have no mainstream representatives. They don’t identify with the GOP.

    Beck, Fox News etc.

    Hmmm, as I recollect the majority of the actual thuggishness in the last election cycle came from the left, the window smashing, bus-tire gashing, etc.

    As I recollect you were unable to back that up with anything. I do recall (and can easily confirm with google) a sad story about a McCain volunteer who claimed to have been mugged by a black Obama supporter who carved a ‘B’ on her face that later turned out to be a complete hoax that resulted in the girl being charged with making a false report.

    I didn’t get that from the web site for the group to which he belongs. Now as a Christian myself, I have issues with any church which calls itself Christian and prays for anyone’s death.

    So this is how you feel confident to vouch for this guy’s motives? By looking at the web site of the Church he goes too? I’m not taking the stand that the guy is a nut or has motives for violence. I’m taking the stand that it is something that is quite reasonable to be concerned about.