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Guest Thinkers

Never Mind the Tea Party

You have to hand it to them.  The motley crew who have Sarah Palin as their star turn at their “Tea Parties” seem to have struck a chord. Tea and the American Revolution go together, although I rarely managed to find a good brew in many places in the United States. When I first arrived in New York, my new American friends would ask – tongue in cheek, as I later discovered – how I liked my tea, and when I replied “in tea bags” there would be barely suppressed giggles.

But the American Right have once again managed to seize a slice of American popular history and turn it to their advantage. Never mind that the Tea Parties themselves resemble some ghastly pastiche of what the American Revolution was not about, or that the eclectic grouplets who gather around them are all clearly members of the Flat Earth Society, they appear to some at least to have captured the zeitgeist.

Of course they are helped by the viral nature of new media, which has its pluses. Where once the national media could afford to ignore local protest, now clever campaigning and use of the new media commands attention. Tea Party goers can twitter, they can face book, they can be LinkedIn and they can “veoh,” whatever that means. There is such a multitude of messaging that they can’t be ignored. Nor should they, because clearly liberal America still buoyed by the Obama victory, which in itself owed much to new media, don’t know quite what to do. The Right of course have also been no slouches when it comes to twisting the vital and heroic role of the Revolutionary ‘minutemen’, and turned them into a modern day posse against impoverished Latinos coming across the border.

But wait. Has anyone thought to ask Sarah Palin one or two pertinent questions as to the historical claims being made by the Tea Party organisers? I doubt it. Recently, I read one American commentator claiming that the Tea Party organisers are prone to citing the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, when Washington forced the surrender of British General Cornwallis, and effectively ended  British rule. That – to my knowledge – was no battle over tax on tea.  Any fool doth know that the Mother of all Tea parties was held in that Rabelaisian, rebellious town of Boston in 1773. In any event the pouring of good tea into Boston harbour was a crowning event, in that what had really infuriated Americans was the Stamp Tax.

In truth, and according to the author Ian William’s whose “Rum, A Social and Sociable History of the Spirit of 1776” is not only a must read, but such incredible fun, it was the British decision to tax Rum that provided the catalyst that sparked the Revolution. According to Williams, “Rum, and the molasses that it was made from, was to the eighteenth century what oil is to the present.” Neither the Continental Army nor the Redcoats could do without copious quantities. Rum, not tea, kept the warriors in fighting spirit.

So here’s a thought, and given the Tea baggers historical dissonance, might there be some mileage in organising Rum Parties to counter the Tea Parties? They would be so much more fun – and more to the point show Palin and her friends for the dullards they really are.


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