CHICAGO, Illinois — Living in Boston these past two years I have had many opportunities to visit the Old Granary Burying Ground, where several Boston Massacre victims are enjoying their final rest alongside John Hancock, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. During my sole semester in the Emerson College Master’s program last fall, these little forays became a near daily ritual. At this point I have tagged along on more of the free tours of the graveyard than I can count.
In all that time, however, I don’t believe I ever heard as much talk of Samuel Adams as I did during two days at the Americans for Limited Government (ALG) conference last month in Chicago. Mary Adams, the group’s Activist of the Year for decades of anti-tax work in the imploding welfare state that is Maine, spent nigh her entire speech extolling the virtues of Sam the Publican, going so far as to grandly label her young acolaytes “the political sons of Samuel Adams.”
At first the comparison seemed a little overblown, and to a large degree it still does in the context of the kind of “revolution” ALG is fomenting — essentially the group provides funding, assistance and advice to groups attempting to gain control over issues of state spending, property rights and judicial accountability via ballot initiatives and referendum — but it didn’t take long to see the origins of the basic corollary. The general conference consensus seemed to be that politicians, in the best existing example of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C., have failed to honor the Constitution and America’s political traditions, and as such the time had come to find a way to circumvent them for the good of the Republic.
At the opening plenary, for example, after some requisite bashing of the “biased” press in attendance, ALG President John Tillman told the 200 or so gathered they were all actors “in a drama playing throughout the country,” the underlying theme of which was simple: “Can the people rein in an out of control government?” That evening ALG Executive Committee Chairman Eric O’Keefe expanded the critique, urging activists to “step outside the party structure” where they are forced to support members of Congress who are “a collective and individual disgrace” and instead work to “build a coalition against the political class.”
Indeed, aside from Pennsylvania Club for Growth Executive Director Kathryn English relaying her preferred methods of deposing RINOs, party politics mostly took a back seat to discussions of how to organize petitioners and deal with physical and legal harassment from unions and others opposed to small government reforms and the grassroots like.
If there were any rah-rah Republican Party apparatchiks in the audience they surely realized their mistake during the first panel, “Does Anyone Really Care about Limited Government Anymore?” wherein the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner blasted the Bush Administration’s pursuit of an “activist government for conservative ends” and a de facto “conservative welfare state,” while Tim Carney laid out the frightful collaboration between Big Business and Big Government even under Republican Party rule.
Once the bad news was out, though, the rest of the conference — save Senator Tom Coburn’s closing address — belonged to the little known activists fighting mostly unsung battles against Big Government encroachment in North Dakota, Maine, Michigan, Illinois, and several other states. These were the stories that made the trip to Chicago worthwhile because it was not about furthering the cult of personality of some politician or another but rather about a philosophical and moral stand in favor of individual liberty made all the more romantic by the hitherto lack of recompense.
“Liberty will not be restored as a gift from our fake representatives in Washington,” O’Keefe said during his Friday night address. “We were not born to be subjects of a government in London or D.C.”
Stirring stuff, no doubt. Nevertheless, as cases in Massachusetts, where the legislature has balked at implementing a constituent ordered income tax rollback, and Arizona, where politicians of both parties have worked assiduously to subvert Proposition 200, have proven, the political establishment does not always take kindly to voters taking an end run around them. AmSpec political columnist and Wall Street Journal mainstay John Fund warned during the panel he moderated on keeping the parties accountable, “if you try to hold politicians accountable, they will fight back.” Often as not, he said, a barometer of success is “how viciously you are attacked.” It will only be when that resistance Fund talks about begins to more fully materialize that we shall see what the real potential (or lack thereof) this proposed peoples’ revolt holds.
Near the end of his opening remarks, John Tillman said the country was beginning to hear a “rumble of deep discontent.”
“That rumble is you,” he said.
Will the rumble become a political earthquake? Or is it destined to be a murmur calling forward the disaffected but never quite reaching the ears of the electorate en masse? While ALG is making some impressive strides in communities across the country, the answers to those questions are not yet known. Still, it’s good to see so many people interested in a principled opposition.
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