Feb. 27 marked the five-year anniversary of the birth of the tea party. March 1 marked the two-year anniversary of the death of a patriot in that movement, Andrew Breitbart. And this week marks the annual convention of conservatives in Washington, D.C., Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. This is an appropriate time to assess the pulse of conservatives.
Conservatives often use the hashtag, #War when tweeting about the tyrannical imperialism they believe has overtaken the culture, but is there really a concerted war, or more of a frenzied disagreement?
War is mental
As I watch what is happening, the term that often comes to mind is “playground politics,” which Dr. Paterno and I covered extensively in our book, “Ladies and Gentlemen.” The child-like behavior has become so pervasive in politics, that it has left otherwise perfectly patriotic people perfectly cynical.
Teddy Roosevelt knew war. He addressed it in his speech, “Citizenship in a Republic,” delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910. It seems he knew that most every day enjoyed in the freedom of a republic was likely to be part life, part war.
“The Man in the Arena”:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
War is hell, and though Americans seem to know that on some level, they tend to forget that the battle for the republic will be ugly, painful, unpredictable, tiring, insulting, frustrating, demeaning and that we could lose.
War is expensive
Today, it doesn’t seem many are really willing to fight for the republic. Those who are, are often mocked, scorned and robbed. Most patriots I know give so much of their precious time and resources to the fight, because they recognize that there are more important things than money, and worse things than war.
John Stuart Mill pointed out that while war is an ugly thing, it is not the ugliest of things: “The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
One of the things worse than war is tyranny. And to most who see this as war, that is the target in the crosshairs. To those who know why they fight, tyranny is the threat. This is not about party politics, imposing morality or petty differences to them. To the patriot in the arena, this is a fight for all things sacred, most especially, liberty.
War is personal
First, the tea party was attacked for being violent, though no violence was proven. It was attacked for being radical, but what is radical about demanding that government balances its budget and is limited to its constitutional roles? Tea-party activists scratch their heads, wondering what is so violent and radical about believing one generation has no right to lay the bills for its profligate spending on the next?
Just like the D.C. politicians who may start out as civil servants, tea-party leaders often face similar temptations. As this “war” progressed, some fallible individuals were exposed for having too much focus on personal agendas and were willing to attack those with more patriotic agendas.
Our founders were above that. They made statements about divisiveness and petty jealousies, and they had answers for those who misunderstood or abused the mission.
“We must all hang together or we will certainly hang separately.”
– Ben Franklin
Franklin and others understood that warriors, however passionate, are filled with human frailties. That doesn’t negate the priority of the mission, though.
Some will criticize those who give to the movement for various reasons. I, for one, am encouraged as I have watched patriots rise up to pour out their time and talents, one by one, month after month, year after year.
The bloggers have been the underrated, over-mocked voice of the uprising from the very beginning. Alongside bloggers and other mouthpieces, patriots such as John Hawkins correlate news of other conservatives’ work, and Steven Laboe used his talent of video editing to push out the appearances of other conservatives online. There are patriots who built organizations, and those who push out patriots’ work every day, all day, as a personal mission.
When their work is dignified, even for the other side, those who selflessly give for their vision of the future should be encouraged, I believe.
The passion of such conservatives should inspire those who do see this as war, and who do see this as a battle for the republic. Thousands of patriots give selflessly and tirelessly of their skill. That is the stuff of warriors.
As the war progresses, if this is a real war, the soldiers had best recognize the enemy. Those who do not will be exposed.
“The road to war is paved with arrogance and miscalculation” – Eric Margolis
Just because we have, at times, fought stupidly, doesn’t mean there isn’t time to rise up, recognize the elements of war, and win. But we have to know what we are fighting for.
I asked patriots around the country to answer the question of where we are, if this is #war.
Sly Ocana, a patriot from California, said that first, “It is important to recognize this as a war. We are being assaulted by forces that seek to destroy America and our freedoms. Many do not even see this as a war. It is imperative that we start getting this narrative out there. If you recognize what it is, you can begin to effectively combat it.”
Tom C. Lehner said he believes that patriots are in defense mode, and if they don’t adopt a posture of offense instead, “We are in deep trouble.” He said that right now the battle reminds him of Vietnam, “1,000 battlefields and no plan whatsoever.”
But Chris Babb and Ann-Marie Murrell said it is too early to gauge. Both agreed that this is a long battle, and we are only at the beginning of such a large fight. Babb said, “We are only at the beginning of what will be an equally long road, as the road that brought us to this point. This battle shall be won over time.”
Wayne Scott said in the five years since patriots woke up, some definitions have become very clear: “We now understand the battle lies not between parties, but between two different ideals: Self-governance or nanny state.”
Karin Rosarne feels optimistic: “I can see a huge shift in the grassroots education reform movement. #StopCommonCore groups are getting sick of dealing with politicians. I think they are about to take matters to a whole lot different level,” and she adds for emphasis, “check the ‘opt out movement.'”
War is disillusioning
Orwell assessed the tactics of the propagandists of his time, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
Tea-party activists fought diligently to avoid the pitfalls common to movements, and one tactic was to avoid conveying their power to a central figurehead. This created confusion as to who spoke for the movement or how to define it, but it also limited the hostile media from being able to make it personal. Today, some who consider themselves “taxed enough already” are beginning to see a Reagan rising from the ashes, perhaps.
“We need another Reagan or Thatcher,” Chris Skates asserted, as he prepares to attend his first-ever CPAC this year. He believes that among others, Ted Cruz holds great promise for a real political pivot.
Many in the patriot movement echo his sentiments about Cruz, but they also believe that the establishment GOP will do all in its power to remove Cruz, because it can’t control him.
War is defining
Kim Paris is one of those who saw the disconnect and started a foundation to help give funding and direction to patriot “boots on the ground.” Her Foundation For Common Sense, she says, “is composed of patriots with different objectives, who will be recognized for their projects that proceed without fanfare, day in and day out … who fund the expenses primarily out of their own pockets, or at otherwise great personal sacrifice.”
Paris made another point about those patriots in question. She said they won’t be at CPAC, because most can’t afford it. “Instead,” she said, “they choose to spend what money they have to continue their work on the homefront.”
War is necessary
Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Many in the patriot movement have whispered the question that everyone wonders. When do patriots take to the streets, as they have so many times in history and recently in the Ukraine? When do they have no choice but to become the radicals they have been accused of being for so long? That they have suffered so heavily and maintained civility is a testament to the true character of the average tea partier. Still the questions linger about when that might change.
Is it when they come for our guns? Or have they already?
Is it when they kill our children? Or have they already?
Is it when they deny us health care? Or have they already?
When is that moment?
War is the beginning of the end
I always have my students answer this question, “What do you want your epitaph to say?”
I believe there is power of vision when the end is established, first.
As patriots gather to mourn the anniversary of the loss of one of their own; as they celebrate the birth of their movement, however flawed and capable; as they gather in D.C. to strategize for the road ahead, perhaps they are best to pause and reflect on the final goal.
What is sacred enough to die for?
That is the pulse that patriots ought to take, in this most pivotal moment.