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Why have the combined mudslinging voices of the media (so-called), congressional Democrats and the thin-skinned boy wonder who occupies the Oval Office not been able to turn the tide against the tea partiers? If you look at the poll numbers, the answer is obvious: Most Americans are tea partiers.
However, most of them are not yet in enough pain to skip a day at the ball park and stand in a crowd of thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) and listen to tea-party speakers. That’s a shame, but it doesn’t change the fact that they identify with the tea-party movement.
So, what is the common bond with which they identify? Taxes? Health care? Financial regulation? I thought about this question as I was rereading Amity Shlaes’ landmark book, “The Forgotten Man.” In it, she quotes Yale philosopher William Graham Sumner, who, clear back in 1883, explained the crux of the moral problem with progressivism as follows:
“As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine … what A, B, and C shall do for X.”
Shlaes goes on to add: “But what about C? There was nothing wrong with A and B helping X. What was wrong was the law, and the indenturing of C to the cause. C was the forgotten man, the man who paid, ‘the man who never is thought of.'”
In other words, C is the guy who isn’t bothering anyone, but is forced to supply the funds to help the X’s of the world, those whom power holders unilaterally decide have been treated unfairly and must be compensated.
FDR, however, did a switcheroo on Sumner’s point by removing the moniker of “the forgotten man” from C and giving it to X – “the poor man, the old man, labor, or any other recipient of government help.” Zap! Just like that, Sumner’s forgotten man was transformed into the opposite of what he was meant to be.
Today, I believe it is the tea-party people who represent Sumner’s Forgotten Man. They are taxed and told what they must do and what they must give up in the way of freedom and personal wealth every time a new law is passed. I believe it is this reality that bonds the tea-party people together.
Put another way, it is not health care or any other single issue the tea-party people are most angry about. It is all of the issues combined that have to do with impinging on their individual liberty. Above all, they are outraged by the fact that immoral politicians and bureaucrats not only violate their God-given right to live their lives as they please, they dismiss them as “extremists.” Collectively, the tea-party people are today’s Forgotten Man.
In his essay, Sumner went on to say:
“All history is only one long story to this effect: men have struggled for power over their fellow-men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others and might shift the burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others. It is true that, until this time, the proletariat, the mass of mankind, have rarely had the power and they have not made such a record as kings and nobles and priests have made of the abuses they would perpetrate against their fellow-men when they could and dared.
“But what folly it is to think that vice and passion are limited by classes, that liberty consists only in taking power away from nobles and priests and giving it to artisans and peasants and that these latter will never abuse it! They will abuse it just as all others have done unless they are put under checks and guarantees, and there can be no civil liberty anywhere unless rights are guaranteed against all abuses, as well from proletarians as from generals, aristocrats, and ecclesiastics.”
Sumner was a man of great insight. He saw the absurdity of assuming that the poor man is morally superior to the rich man. This is where I believe that sincere revolutionaries go wrong. While their initial intentions may, at least in their own minds, be well-meant, they begin with a false premise (that the misfortunes of those at the bottom of the economic ladder are a result of the evil actions of those who are more successful) and, from there, leap from one false conclusion to another.
This is why politicians who pose as conservatives to get elected so often rush to the aid of their progressive Democratic pals. I believe that these philosophically lost souls do the bidding of the intimidating left because they have never given any serious thought to the possibility that the very premise of progressivism is morally wrong.
As a result, they have no feeling for the (perceived) rich man. In plotting their do-gooder schemes, he is easy to forget. They see nothing whatsoever wrong with society’s sacrificing his liberty for the “public good.” As Montaigne said, “Men are most apt to believe what they least understand.”
What gave birth to the tea parties is that the Forgotten Man syndrome is like a metastasizing disease. As politicians long ago realized, there aren’t enough rich people to support all of the X’s. As the number of X’s (i.e., those who live off the surpluses of others) increases, a lot of A’s and B’s must, by necessity, be reclassified as C’s. And that is when they become candidates for joining the tea-party movement.
Put simply: When A’s and B’s are transformed into C’s, they mysteriously lose their enthusiasm for new laws to help out X. Put even more simply, they suddenly realize that they are now the Forgotten Man. And that realization is what automatically qualifies them as tea-party people. No recruitment necessary, thank you.