America witnessed a tremor in the political landscape in 2009. We know it as the Tea Party movement, a grassroots response to resist massive federal expansion.
As federal oversight in the banking, insurance, auto, energy, and healthcare industries have all been flagship issues for this administration and its supporters, it comes as no surprise that the Tea Party movement has encountered fierce resistance. Since its inception one year ago, "tea partiers" have been razed by the news media. Liberal pundits across the networks ignored the substance and reasoning for the widespread protests, and rather made sophomoric jokes about “tea-bagging.” They made accusations of political lobbies "astroturfing," and stoked racial sensitivity by perpetuating a lack of minority participation to discredit the movement as a "whites-only" club. (1)
Even elected representatives showed contempt for the apparent disapproval of these constituents. Nancy Pelosi also called the movement “astroturf,” and reduced the protest attendees to little more than Neo-Nazi racists. (2)
With many loyal media outlets by their side, Democrats just plugged their ears, kept chanting their mantra, and hoped their negative slights against the tea partiers would drown out the loud voices of dissent. They could not have been more wrong.
In fact, the attacks may have helped the Tea Party's cause. Perhaps people noticed the movement more because, deep down, Americans knew that there was something incongruous about the Democrats’ blistering attacks upon the tea partiers. After all, the liberal establishment had spent the latter half of the Bush years peddling the slogan, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Then, in the very moment that this administration encountered opposition to its own proposed policy, dissent had lost its “patriotism” and had become the destructive plot of racists, insurance lobbyists, and ordinary people that are just too stupid to know what’s good for them.
Also ironic is that when prominent liberal Democrats like John Kerry and Ted Kennedy found themselves quoting this maxim with regularity, it was falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson with equal regularity. (3) They apparently felt that if the phrase could invoke the spirit of the founding fathers, it would legitimize their resistance to the Iraq War.
But the thing is, if the Democrats truly believed that the ideals of the founding fathers are the litmus test for legitimate dissent, they could not find the tea partiers’ cause more reasonable. Their argument today is remarkably similar to that of the American colonials in 1776. Largely comprised of taxpayers, today's tea partiers feel that they are facing the inevitable prospect of increased tax burdens, and that they lack the representation to avoid such intolerable mandates. But rather than seeing their dissent as patriotism, Democrats feel that the the Tea Party movement should be the subject of ridicule and scorn.
It seems that Democrats want to selectively choose when citizens should adhere to the doctrine of patriotic objection, and are willing to reshape the terms when convenient. One can’t help but draw a parallel to Orwell’s iconic interpretation of elitism and tyranny. In Animal Farm, we see a ruling party amend the principle “All animals are equal” to become “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (4) It seems that upon encountering the inconvenient objections of the Tea Party, this Democratic administration also felt the need to amend its ideology, and “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” has become “Objecting to George W. Bush was the highest form of patriotism, but in 2010, we should all just agree with hope and change."