Responsible citizenship made obsolete by Tea Party tactics


A few days ago, a friend told me that their son who had recently graduated from college was moving to Washington to work for a coalition of churches that lobbies for sustainable environmental practices. My first reaction was positive. This sounded like a wonderful opportunity for a bright and capable young person to represent the views of a broad coalition of communities who are committed to protecting the natural resources on which we are all depend.

But this thought was almost immediately followed by the realization that this young man’s efforts and those of any group seeking to engage the legislature in a responsible manner is pointless in the current chaos created by the extremists occupying seats in Congress.

Responsible behavior simply cannot compete against the tactics of the members of the Tea Party and the Republicans who support them.

Become informed. Build relationships. Network with your neighbors and within your communities. Write letters. Organize petitions.Testify before legislative committee meetings. Elect informed and thoughtful leaders who are prepared to learn, engage in the legislative process and wrestle with vital economic issues.

All of these are the actions of a responsible, engaged citizen.

Until very recently, this behavior was considered the norm by citizens and elected leaders alike, but today it is obsolete.

The game has changed entirely.

Today the elected leader who declares that government is the problem and refuses to discuss anything that is related to raising taxes holds all the cards. Simply by refusing to back down, one group of elected officials has made all the previous rules of engagement redundant.

The problem facing our leaders in Washington is not two partisan viewpoints failing to come to agreement. The problem is that one group of elected officials has changed the definition of the job that they were elected to do. The Republican leadership and the Tea Party members contend that they were elected to reduce government spending.

Any high school civics student could tell them that they have a responsibility to represent the people residing in the state where they were elected. Their job is defined by far more than simply ‘”reducing government spending”.

The crisis we face is a rebellion from within the government itself. Conservative elected officials have redefined their role to suit their purposes. This redefinition was not the result of a process in which all of the members engaged in a dialogue and eventually agreed to redefine the role of the legislator. On the contrary, there was no process nor was there any agreement.

This behavior is so outrageous that polite responsible citizens have not figured out how to respond let alone hold them accountable.

The handful of angry citizens who staged the Boston Tea Party in 1773 were protesting a tax issued by Great Britain.They acted as private citizens, not elected officials. The self-proclaimed Tea Party activists who were elected to Congress do not have the right to stage a rebellion from within the government. They are bound by an oath of office to serve in the capacity of a legislator as the job was defined long before they were elected.

If they are not held accountable for the responsibilities of their office, long after the current chaos is finally addressed, they will continue to trample on the rights of all citizens to be fairly represented.