Disconnect and the Tea Parties

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.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.