Editor’s Note: America’s right-wing Tea Party movement harkens back to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when angry citizens protested a British tax by throwing crates of tea into Boston Harbor. But the irrationality and inconsistency of today’s Tea Partiers invite a more literary comparison: the tea party of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Today's Tea Partiers – by rejecting democratic institutions in the name of “liberty,” by complaining about their loss of gun rights while brandishing firearms at government parks, by shouting wild claims about “socialism” and “fascism,” and by making the crypto-racist demand to “get our country back” – show all the sense of the Mad Hatter without the amusing charm, as author William John Cox and artist Helen Werner Cox note in this guest presentation:

The movement has rallied a mixed group of Americans who have come to believe their government has failed them and that the political process is doing nothing to solve the nation’s problems.

While there may be truth in this complaint, the larger truth is that all of us are being manipulated by the big corporations and the wealthy elites, who have used the corporate-owned media to mislead many Americans, including the Tea Partiers, into acting against their own interests.
 
For millions of Americans, lies have become truth, such as during the health-care debate when modest reforms were distorted into “death panels” and “socialized medicine,” or when some protesters demanded that the federal government keep its hands off Medicare, apparently not knowing that the health-insurance program for seniors was government-run.

A modern-day Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Drawing of Mad Hatter's Tea Party by Helen Werner Cox.

But the sophistry that has infused the Tea Party protests would not have troubled the Mad Hatter or other characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

When the March Hare tells Alice during a tea party in Wonderland that she should "say what you mean," she replied: "I do, at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing you know."

To which the Hatter replied: "Not the same the same thing a bit! Why, you might as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see!’" The March Hare added, "You might as well just say that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like!’"

The Dormouse piped up, "You might just as well say, that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe!" The Hatter concluded, "it is the same thing with you."
 
And so it has been for many American workers, the middle class and small business owners who have been deceived by oft-repeated lies and clever propaganda.

Indeed, one could argue that the Republicans used distortions – and the U.S. news media’s obsession with the relatively small Tea Party protests – to trick the Democrats into passing a Republican health-care law, one that primarily benefits the insurance industry and other parts of the medical-industrial complex. The insurers stand to get 31 million new customers who will have no option to buy into a public plan.

The losers, again, will be the American people who already suffer from the most expensive and most inequitable health-care system of any industrialized nation. Yet, because of political/media pressures, the proposals that might have reined in costs and guaranteed meaningful access to doctors – a single-payer system or at least a robust public option – were discarded.
 
The next targets of this anti-government crowd are Social Security and other social welfare programs, including unemployment insurance and public education. With the wealthiest Americans paying historically low marginal income-tax rates, the burden for these programs has already been shifted to workers, the middle class and small business owners.

Now, the American people are being told that they cannot afford the very programs that most benefit them.

While presenting themselves as a kind of vanguard for rank-and-file Americans, the Tea Partiers are instead advocating more tax cuts for the well-to-do and fewer government services (and protections) for everyone. That will only give the corporations and the elites greater dominance over American life.

The people have every right to be angry about the mess they find themselves in, but they had better wake up, smell the tea – and realize they are being played for fools – before it is too late.
 
The future of democracy – and the survival of the last few constraints on unbridled corporate power – hang in the balance.

William John Cox is a retired supervising prosecutor for the State Bar of California. Acting as a public interest, pro bono lawyer, he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical right-wing organizations in 1981 that denied the Holocaust. His 2004 book, You’re Not Stupid! Get the Truth: A Brief on the Bush Presidency is reviewed at http://www.yourenotstupid.com. He can be contacted at u2cox@msn.com.
 
Helen Werner Cox was trained as a classical painter at Boston University. She is nearing retirement as a nationally-certified library media teacher, who has made extensive use of art in her literacy programs.

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