There’s a Better Flag for the Tea Party to Rally ‘Round

tea party confederate flagKentucky, my home state, only requires a rear license plate for cars.

So a lot of people wear their opinions on front bumper novelty plates.

Rebel flag plates are popular, even though Kentucky was a Union border state during the Civil War. A lot more Kentuckians wore Yankee blue than Rebel gray, too.

Now I’m seeing more of those yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” Tea Party-inspired plates. They are based on the Revolutionary War-era, rattlesnake-emblazoned Gadsden Flag, which is the Tea Party’s unofficial banner.

Some states that are Republican Red, or at least lean to the conservative side, issue real Tea Party or “Confederate Heritage” plates. Kentucky , though a Red State, seems disinclined to follow suit, at least for now.

Tea Party folks are big on Revolutionary War imagery. When they denounce “big government tyranny,” they liken themselves to the American patriots who battled British “tyranny.”

The comparison is bogus.

The term “Tea Party,” of course, is based on the Boston Tea Party of 1773, maybe the most famous protest in our history. Dumping all that tea in the drink was indeed a big step toward the colonies and Mother Britain parting company on less than amicable terms.

Our basic beef with the “big government” British was taxation without representation. We said the crown had no right to tax us because we were unrepresented in the British parliament.

We have taxation with representation at all levels of our government. In other words, only the folks we vote into office can tax us. So the current Tea Party-original Tea Party connection doesn’t make sense.

But the Tea Party movement does hearken to another chapter in American history: the Civil War, the sesquicentennial of which we are starting to observe.

There are some parallels between the tea partiers and the Confederates. Thus, the Stars and Bars might be a better banner for the Tea Party crowd. (Confederate flags are sometimes waved at Tea Party rallies.)

The Confederates were counter-revolutionaries. So are the tea partiers.

kentucky license plateThe Confederates seceded from the Union and brought on the Civil War because they were afraid that President Abraham Lincoln and his “revolutionary” “Black Republican party” were about use “big government” to end slavery.

Of course, the party of “ Lincoln and Liberty ” is long gone. Today’s GOP tilts toward the Tea Party.

“Fears of a transforming America ” are big motivators for “the Tea Party/GOP,” writes Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today online article.

He explains:

“In brief, the Tea Party/GOP is pushing for economic and social policies based on fears: Fears of massive transformation, turmoil and chaos underway in our society. And, fears about how those transformations will impact lives largely defined by self-interest, power and money.”

He adds that “major shifts and transformations in the U.S. and our globalized world…can be frightening and emotionally disruptive, as well, especially when people feel their vested interests, beliefs and entire way of life are threatened.”

In the South, slavery was more than a labor system. It was the bedrock of white supremacy. Thus, the Confederates were scared that an end to slavery would lead to political and social equality for African Americans, whom they considered inferior and suited only for bondage.

LaBier listed the “Tea Party/GOP” fears:

  • A rising orientation towards serving the common good in business and personal behavior.
  • Turning away from self-interest and materialism as the prime objectives of life.
  • An increasingly diverse society, where current minorities are headed toward the majority within the current decade.
  • Growing business recognition for sustainable practices.
  • Growing outcry against the steady redistribution of wealth to the very rich.
  • A younger generation’s orientation to collaboration and equality; to serving a larger purpose than just oneself, both in personal life and in the workplace.
  • Increasing acceptance of diverse sexual orientation in in public and private life.
  • A rise of an internationalist perspective, reflected in diverse ways…

Like the Tea Party, the Confederates mangled history.

They put George Washington on the Confederate seal. They even claimed the “Father of Our Country” would be one of them.

Washington was a devoted nationalist and unionist in word and deed. In 1783, he warned, “whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the Union, or contribute to violate or lessen the sovereign authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the liberty and independency of America, and the authors of them treated accordingly.”

Berry CraigWhile Washington was a slave owner, he eventually came to doubt the South’s “peculiar institution,” at least privately. Washington ’s will stipulated that his slaves had to be freed upon the death of Martha Washington, his widow.

Therefore, to this history teacher, the Confederate flag looks like a better bet for the tea partiers. Their movement is almost entirely white. It seems to be more popular in Dixie than in any other part of the country. And, not coincidentally, the Tea Party movement began after we elected our first African American president.

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on June 21, 2011
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.