Arsenic and Old Lace (2014 Tea Party Edition)

Tea-Party-Xpress_Sen-Mike-Lee-Jan2014Senator Mike Lee gave the “Tea Party” response to President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Tuesday night. About as clean cut as a man can be, the Senator from Utah looked and sounded as though he had just stepped out of a 1940’s picture show. “Clean cut” tells part of the story. Dapper, is the way I’d describe his visage.

His appearance reminded me of a movie from 1944 wherein the Brewster sisters (played by Jean Adair and Josephine Hull) poison lonely old men in order to put them out of their misery.

arsenic-old-lace1944Arsenic and Old Lace is funny because the brooding nemesis in this story, their nephew Johnathan (a tall, menacing Raymond Massey in the film; the unforgettable Boris Karloff in the Broadway play), with a reputation for murder and mayhem, has nothing on two little old ladies who can just as easily slip a deadly concoction into your tea as charm you with their old-fashioned grace.

Offering a sympathetic ear to the “Americans who may feel they’ve been forgotten by both parties,” Lee proceeds to explain why our government is bad: lying to, spying on, and “targeting” its own citizens. He praises those who protest against dysfunctional government; highlighting, of course, the original Boston tea party of 1773.

Now, it’s a given that liberals and leftists also don’t like the perfidy surrounding the Benghazi attacks nor the NSA’s ‘total information awareness’ campaign nor the use of drones to murder suspected terrorists. But if you’re going to adopt the mythology of an exceptional America, the nation that 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain called the “greatest force for good,” you better be prepared to ignore some uncomfortable facts.

The Boston Tea Party was not applauded by the most famous patriots of that time, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Franklin, in fact, thought the East India Company should be compensated for its losses that day. According to historian Ray Raphael, author of “A People’s History of the American Revolution: Founding Myths and Founders,” the dispute wasn’t even about higher taxes.

“The immediate catalyst was a tax break—not a tax increase—that effectively made imported tea more affordable for colonists. What irked the patriots was that they had no role in the decision.”

I’m fairly sure the Tea Party cohort doesn’t realize that East India was the first of many companies to be treated as if they are “too big to fail.”

Several times, Senator Lee mentions the founding of our nation at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, site of the Constitutional Convention. He conveniently omits the back room deals where men of wealth and property decided to create an executive branch that is not beholden to the national legislature as say it would be in a parliamentary system. Convenient in the sense that to admit any failing on the part of the founders is to undermine the Tea Party’s stock in trade, i.e. the ongoing barrage of vitriol fueled attacks on the current president.

The truth is, to the extent the Tea Party Caucus adopts libertarian thinking into its rhetoric – opposing the civil liberties excesses of the Patriot Act, indefinite detention of suspected evil-doers, and “corporate welfare” for example – they will attract adherents.

But the measure of a society begins with how it treats its less fortunate and its oppressed. The old joke: “How many Reagan-era bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they just rename the dark and say it isn’t a problem” still applies to 2014 era Republicans.

But Mike Lee and these arch-conservatives? They would have you believe that ripping the guts out of the SNAP program – food stamps have been shown by scores of non-partisan research organizations to be highly, highly successful – and cutting or eliminating home heating assistance, are reforms that “help poor families work their way into the middle class.”

They would convince you that all these intensifying storms and bizarre weather patterns across America are the work of “radical environmental activists.”

And of course that life begins when daddy makes the first deposit to junior’s trust fund.

I say, beware these little old ladies with pin stripe suits and law degrees; they’ll gladly put you out of your misery.

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