Disconnect and the Tea Parties

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

In normal times, political institutions generally reflect the
members they serve. In theory, a legislative body reflects the
combined wisdom and experience of its elected representatives. And
those representatives, again in theory, reflect the views of the
citizens who elected them. The same can be said of virtually any
organization, whether a labor union or a political party.

But every now and then, those in the leadership positions of
political institutions, for whatever reason, become disconnected
with the very people they purport to represent.

Perhaps the clearest example of this occurred in 1978 with
Proposition 13. It is hard to fathom the depth and breadth of the
stated opposition to the measure. Virtually every organization in
California had taken an opposing position. Virtually every editorial
board, all business organizations (including the California Chamber
and the California Taxpayers Association), all labor organizations
and, of course, the entire academic brain trust from our world
renowned universities campaigned vigorously for the defeat of
Proposition 13.

But something funny happened on the way to the polls. Ordinary
Californians rejected the predictions of the end of civilization if
Prop 13 passed and overwhelmingly enacted the measure by over 66%.

How could this happen? The political elite had even taken the
extraordinary step of putting a competing measure on the ballot —
Prop 8 — and tried to sell it as property tax relief but without
all the Draconian consequences. But voters would have none of it.
The political elite had long exhausted its supply of credibility.

Much like what is occurring now.

Across the nation, and especially here in California, ordinary
citizens are taking to the streets to protest what they view as
excessive taxation and gross financial mismanagement by our elected
officials. Many are also upset with what they see as a transparent
socialist agenda rapidly being forced on an unwilling population.

The Tea Party movement has, of course, its genesis in the Boston Tea
Party where noted colonial brewer Sam Adams with a band of rather
uncivilized ruffians dared to dump the King’s tea into the ocean as
a protest against taxation without representation.

Much like that original event, the modern Tea Party movement is a
citizen-driven phenomenon. Mostly hand painted signs — rather than
the sea of pre-printed signs — are on display. Although not
directly tied to the Tea Party movement, a recent rally in Orange
County turned out thousands more than expected. The target of their
ire was a package of tax increases forced on California citizens by
the state legislature including support from Republican leadership.

And therein lies much of the source of discontent. When ordinary
California citizens feel that they have been abandoned by their
elected leaders as well as their political parties, they seek
alternative means to express their political judgment.

The only question that remains is whether our political leaders will
understand the significance of this discontent before they, too,
become irrelevant.

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