For more than a year now, we've been hearing from Republicans, tea party people and Glenn Beck's chalkboard about how big government is destroying American liberty and freedom. Much of the shrieking is literally accompanied by the yellow Revolutionary War "Don't Tread on Me" flag.
Every tea party lawn concert and misspelled sign regatta features people dressed in colonial drag with tea bags dangling from their tri-corner hats, waving banners in support of tax cuts, liberty and freedom and against the allegedly tyrannical Obama government. They're really scared and they want their country back from the (somehow) black liberal Nazi.
We've heard about how the "czars" are unconstitutional, even though the name "czars" was invented by the press as clever pseudonym for "advisers."
We've heard about how the Recovery Act, which has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and cut taxes for 95 percent of working families, is unconstitutional and an attack on states' rights and individual liberty. We've heard about how it's "generational theft" for the government to spend money to solve an economic crisis. We've heard about how the tax cuts in the Recovery Act are just a scam and should be returned to the government in protest.
We've heard about the crazy conspiracy theories involving the IRS invading our neighborhoods with armed goon squads -- rounding up anyone who purchased one of Glenn Beck's dozens of McBooks. Of course this meme turned out to be entirely untrue as there is no enforcement mechanism in the health care reform law should you simply choose not to pay the tax penalty for not buying insurance.
Republican attorneys general across the nation are challenging the health care law in court because, they say, it's unconstitutional. House minority leader John Boehner once called the bill "Armageddon" because of the tax penalty for Americans who choose not to buy insurance. Armageddon!
Throughout all of the misinformed and contradictory right-wing antics of the past year, I've been wondering how post-Bush Republicans and conservatives can possibly square all of their newly found affinity for freedom, liberty and the Constitution considering their eight year support for Bush era policies. Policies like illegal wiretaps of American citizens, the USA Patriot Act, suspension of habeas corpus (it's in the Constitution) and all the rest of it.
Have they at long last abandoned their support for these obvious trespasses against liberty and the Constitution? In fact, Glenn Beck said recently that he failed to speak out back then but, "It doesn't matter. I'm here now." Convenient timing. History appears to have skipped the first decade of the 21st century.
Put another way, are the Republicans suddenly joining up with civil libertarians to denounce policies that infringe upon basic constitutional rights? Maybe Rush Limbaugh teaming up with the ACLU during his drug case was a sign of things to come. A civil liberties-oriented conservative movement, eh?
Not a chance in hell.
This week, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said about the failed Times Square car bomb suspect, "Did they Mirandize him? I know he's an American citizen but still."
I know he's an American citizen but still. This easily catapults to the top of the list of awful, creepy, dangerous things Republicans have said in the context of terrorism since 9/11 -- the same list that includes: "None of your civil liberties matter much if you're dead," and, "I have had it with members of your party undermining our troops, undermining a commander in chief while we are at war."
Republicans from King to John McCain to John Cornyn and Jon Kyl are engaged in some sort of weird penis-measuring contest over the Faisal Shahzad case, each attempting to prove how quickly they can subvert the basic rights of American citizenship in order to appear "tough" on terrorism.
Marco Rubio, who is the tea party favorite for the U.S. Senate from Florida, said, "If this individual has information that could help us prevent future attacks and loss of life, nothing should stand in the way of that, including Miranda."
So nothing except, again, the basic rights of American citizenship.
Pseudo-Republican Joe Lieberman wants to change the law in order to strip would-be terrorists of their American citizenship. Hey, why not expand that to encompass all violent crime. Before long, we're not going to need Amendments Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Fourteen.
Liberty! Freedom! Constitution! Except when we're scared.
At the same time, a new poll from the New York Times and CBS shows that a narrow majority of Americans support the Arizona anti-immigration law even though a wide majority also believes that it will involve racial profiling. Concurrent to this poll, a Gallup survey shows that 75 percent of Republicans support the Arizona law with only 17 percent opposed.
Knowing full well that American citizens who happen to be brown will be swept up in the law enforcement dragnet, regardless of whether or not they've actually broken the law and regardless of whether or not they've lived in Arizona longer than many of the white people there, the Republicans and tea party people appear to be perfectly comfortable with the idea of government overreaching and engaging in a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, among other things.
Liberty! Freedom! Constitution! Except if you're brown.
And finally, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico rapidly buries any previous records for oil spills, dumping perhaps as much as 25,000 barrels of oil per day into the sea -- dooming jobs, wildlife and natural resources for decades to come, suddenly big government spending and "redistribution of wealth" isn't so bad after all.
Republican lawmakers are quickly stashing their "Don't Tread on Me" banners and tea bag hats in the nearest closet and demanding that the federal government come to the rescue of the Gulf States.
As documented by Dana Milbank this week, Republican David Vitter worried that BP couldn't do the job alone and that "federal and state" government agencies pitch in.
Talk radio and Fox News, meanwhile, lied about the administration's allegedly slow response, implying that the government should be doing more -- even though we've been told by everyone of Ayn Rand to Sarah Palin that the free market ought to be able to handle these things on its own. (For the record, the administration has been on the ground and at sea since day one of the BP crisis.)
The governors of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, all run by small-government Republicans demanded more support from the National Guard. Small government senators Shelby and Sessions promised the full support of the federal government.
Bobby Jindal, who famously joked about federal spending for volcano monitoring and tried to stop any Recovery Act money from entering Louisiana, isn't so concerned about federal spending now. He issued a statement demanding "critical" federal government resources.
I think you get the idea.
But maybe we should just slow things down. Before we spend any government money, before we spread the wealth around and engage in generational theft, maybe we should start over. I know there's a crisis here, sort of like the one in which the economy was rapidly sinking into another Great Depression or the one in which American families are filing for medical bankruptcies every 30 seconds or the one in which there are 9/11-level deaths every month due to a lack of health insurance, but let's just slow down and start over.
In his University of Michigan commencement address in front of 92,000 people last weekend, President Obama made a rational, reasonable case for government. It was a far cry from Reaganomics and President Clinton's declaration about the end of big government. He said, "There are some things we can only do together, as one nation... So what we should be asking is not whether we need a 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter, better government."
Perhaps, despite the inchoate rage of the tea parties and the posturing of the Republicans, they really do understand that we live in an era of unprecedented national crises and that with many of these problems only the federal government is adequately suited to repair the damage. If we could all meet up on these terms, on the terms of "smarter government," I think we'd be able to accomplish anything and mitigate any crisis.
After all, how bad can it be. The grandfather of the tea party movement, libertarian Ron Paul, receives government Medicare benefits.