The efforts of Tea Partiers to wrap their anti-government agenda within the imagery of our Nation's Founding reached absurd and dangerous heights this morning with the release of Alabama congressional candidate Rick Barber's "Gather Your Armies" campaign ad, which portrays a George Washington-like figure authorizing armed rebellion in response to federal taxation and a law passed through the process established by the Founders (the health care bill). Barber, who is in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the right to challenge Rep. Bobby Bright (D-AL) in the fall, himself is heard in the ad stating that he would "impeach him," apparently referring to President Obama, and then adds, ominously, "and if that's not enough . . ."
Watch it yourself:
Allow us to clear up a few things. First, as every fifth grader knows, our Founding Fathers rebelled against the British tea taxes primarily because the taxes were imposed upon the colonies without any representation in the British Parliament. That's why the call that resonated from the Founding was "taxation without representation" -- not simply "no taxation." In fact, the Constitution was written, among other reasons, to "promote the general Welfare," and it authorizes Congress to "lay and collect taxes" for that very purpose.
Second, Barber's ad invokes patriots such as George Washington apparently to support a proposition that Washington would surely have found abhorrent: that citizens should engage in armed rebellion in response to government actions sanctioned by our Constitution. In fact, we know precisely how President Washington would have responded if the armed rebellion suggested by Barber materialized: he would have crushed it. We know this because just such a rebellion - the Whiskey Rebellion - happened during Washington's presidency.
Like Barber and his tea party friends, the whiskey rebels of the late 18 Century believed the federal government had overreached and had unfairly imposed taxes upon them. As recounted in Ron Chernow's brilliant biography of Alexander Hamilton, President Washington -- surely the greatest patriot this country has known -- determined this rebellion must be crushed, stating that if "a minority is to dictate to the majority, there is an end put at one stroke to republican government." (p. 473) Then the 62-year old Father of our Country joined Alexander Hamilton and the federal army on a westward journey that put the rebellion to rest.
President Washington would have "gathered the armies" if Barber made good on his veiled threats, not in support of, but in opposition to, Barber's objectives.
Co-authored with Hannah McCrea, Online Communications Director of Constitutional Accountability Center. Cross-posted at Text & History.