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.