by: J.D. Tuccille
You’d think that, after a couple of centuries of major American figures describing government as, at most, something to be tolerated, political pundits would have made their peace with the idea that skepticism toward state power has a core place in American political life. If your toes tingle at the thought of more coercive programs, laws, politicians and bureaucrats, you’re the (very) odd duck, not the folks with anti-government views. And yet, we still get the likes of Frank Rich throwing high-profile hissy fits because “the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback,” as heralded by … Andrew Joseph Stack III’s Kamikaze-style airborne attack on the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas?
For those not in the know, Stack, like many people, had a bone to pick with the I.R.S. and with the federal government. But the manifesto he left behind also accused drug and insurance companies of “murdering tens of thousands of people a year,” charged that poor people get to die for the mistakes of the wealthy, and quoted Karl Marx. Anti-government Stack was, but his ideology, such as it was, doesn’t appear to have been coherently right-wing or left-wing so much as ticked-off and populist.
Rich does appear to be aware that Stack isn’t a very logical stick with which to beat the Tea Party movement that has him and his government-cheerleading chums so knicker-twisted. At least, he concedes “it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a ‘Tea Party terrorist.’ But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner.”
Nice how Rich works that gratuitious “Tea Party terrorist” bit in there, eh? But even as he smears his political opponents as guilty by distant and tortured association, he manages to overlook the fact that the anti-government sentiment he so regrets is neither a wholly owned subsidiary of the Tea Party movement and the Right, nor an aberration coughed up every decade or two by by unenlightened neanderthals briefly emerging from the philosophical swamps.
Frank Rich is a well-educated man with an Internet connection paid for by a respected news organization that has a vast historical archive of its own, so it’s impossible to believe that the New York Times scribbler is unaware that Thomas Paine wrote in one of the more popular political tracts of the revolutionary period that “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.” Nor can we believe he’s unaware that James Madison hedged on Paine’s sentiments only to the extent that he wrote, “It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune.” And certainly he knows about Thomas Jefferson’s warning that “[t]he natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”