Weak tea

For all the media attention devoted to this week's so-called “tea party” protests, the most striking thing is what wasn't mentioned.

For all the media attention devoted to this week's so-called “tea party” protests, the most striking thing is what wasn't mentioned.

When a group of colonists in Boston dumped a bunch of tea in the harbor in 1773, they had an unambiguous grievance: They had no say in the tax policy to which they were subject. “No taxation without representation” became one of the central rallying cries of the American Revolution and continues to represent a concept so basic most Americans probably take it for granted.

As for this week's tea parties, few people seemed to have any idea what, exactly, the events were meant to protest.

Even Fox News, which served as both quarterback and head cheerleader for the protests, had trouble explaining what the attendees were upset about, and what they wanted. They were angry, Fox told us -- but angry at what? Some were angry about taxes, or (typically unspecified) spending, or Washington, or (purely imaginary) attempts to repeal the Second Amendment. Others just seemed angry at the wind. In Texas, some members of the “Party of Lincoln” even began talking about seceding from the United States.

One thing was clear: They were angry. Fox News' Neil Cavuto made that clear during an exchange with Bill O'Reilly: “They're annoyed at everybody. ... There is a palpable rage here. ... These people are ticked. ... These were a lot of average folks who said they were sick of it. ... They're just very angry. This is a populist rage. ... They don't like being laughed at. They don't like being joked about. They're average folks who want to just be treated like average Americans who are angry.” (Presumably, the people who don't like being laughed at were not the people who walked around with bags of tea dangling from the frames of their glasses.)

Absent any clear indication of what, exactly, the protests were meant to protest, or what the protesters think should be done, Fox News was reduced to explaining by implication. Throughout the day, Fox News reporters periodically reminded viewers why they were billing the events as “tea parties” despite what appeared to be a complete lack of beverages of any kind. That reminder usually went something like this one, from Bret Baier: “In December of 1773, new world colonists protested British taxation policies by dumping tea into Boston harbor.”

Notice anything missing from that little history lesson? Right: Baier forgot to mention the part about “taxation without representation.” Fox News kept leaving that part out. Maybe because Fox News wants you to think the American Revolution was the result of colonists unhappy that the wealthiest among them would see the top marginal tax rate increase from 36 percent to 39 percent, or maybe because the tea parties in Texas and California and 48 other states were attended by people who do have representation.

Cavuto, however, was ambitious enough to try to reconcile the appropriation of the tea-party imagery by a group of people who have representation but just don't like the results -- or what they perceive to be the results, since real facts did not play a prominent role at these gatherings or on Fox News during these gatherings.

CAVUTO: I think the criticism that this is not like the Boston Tea Party because that wasn't about taxation without representation. But a lot of the folks here ... they feel this doesn't represent our views, Glenn. This isn't what we thought were represented to us, the change that we would see. This isn't our cup of tea, so to speak. So, they're railing against it and protesting it.

The New York Post (a Fox News sibling) quoted a tea-party participant making the same argument:

“This is a matter of liberty. We're here to break the chain of taxation without representation,” said Abraham Mudrick, who traveled from Oregon to DC -- which he called “the belly of the beast” -- for the event.

Although Mudrick acknowledged taxpayers are represented in Congress, he said, “My elected officials aren't doing what I want.”

Of course, that isn't what “taxation without representation” means. Representation doesn't mean that your representatives will do what you (individually) want. Indeed, it can't mean that, unless each member of Congress' constituents all agree about everything, which seems reasonably unlikely.

But a lack of coherence or reasonable understanding of the concept of representative democracy among tea-party participants and their leaders at Fox News probably isn't all that noteworthy.

Here's something that is: Today, more than 200 years after the Boston Tea Party, United States citizens who live in their nation's capital are subject to taxation without representation.

Actual taxation without representation. Not the “my elected officials aren't doing what I want” kind; the “I don't have elected officials” kind. The kind that led colonists in Massachusetts to flavor the Boston Harbor.

Now, here's the amazing part: Every major news organization in the country covered Wednesday's tea parties. And, in doing so, they all ignored the fact that residents of Washington, D.C., are subject to the very conditions that led to the Boston Tea Party.

It's not like this is some big secret. On their way to work on Wednesday, reporters who are based in Washington would have passed countless cars bearing license plates that offer the reminder "Taxation Without Representation." Many of them probably have such a license plate on their own car. Then they went out and covered tea-party tax protests in which people who have representation complained about “taxation without representation” -- and it didn't occur to them to mention the situation in Washington, D.C. If any reporter asked any tea-party participant or advocate if they support giving the District of Columbia a member of Congress and two senators, I can't find evidence of it.

Even The Washington (D.C.) Post didn't mention the surreal situation in which right-wing activists, who no doubt favor taxation without representation for D.C. residents, held a rally in the District of Columbia that they claimed to model after the Boston Tea Party protest against taxation without representation.

Instead, the news media just played along with the absurd fiction that this week's whining by conservative activists and Fox News reporters had anything at all to do with the principles on display at the Boston Tea Party.