Among many happy memories as a taxpayer activist: times spent on
the Boston waterfront, tossing tea into the harbor. We had to
keep the tea boxes on a rope, for recovery, so we wouldn't
Eventually tiring of tea-tossing, Citizens
for Limited Taxation focused on tax-issue ballot questions
instead of symbolism. But always in mind, the similar theme:
citizen activists in revolt.
Over the years, we won some,
lost some; got older, perhaps a tad discouraged. Then in early
2009, reinforcements, calling themselves the tea party, arrived:
symbolism organized for action here in Boston again, and across
the nation. While Sam Adams-like leaders eventually appeared,
the initial and dominant activism was spontaneous, citizens
waking from a dream of government competence as the national
debt hit 60 percent of GDP.
In fact, a similar awakening
had happened before, in the early '90s. Back then, most people
didn't seem to know the difference between the deficit and the
national debt; we used the words interchangeably. Then Ross
Perot came along with his simple charts and a pointer, warning
about irresponsible borrowing, teaching us the already worrisome
numbers. He was running for president at the time; my partner,
Chip Ford, was Massachusetts media liaison for his 1992
Like most political activists, Mr. Perot didn't
make a good politician; his presidential bids failed, and his
tea party-like movement, the Reform Party, fell apart when it
tried to become an actual political party. But the effect was
lasting, for a while: The newly educated voting population
demanded a balanced budget, and the effort became part of the
Clinton presidency, supported by the Republicans who controlled
Congress in his second term. The end of the Cold War helped with
the balancing, but without public pressure, the "peace dividend"
would have been quickly spent on new programs, leading to even
more new borrowing.
In the mid-'90s, the House actually
passed the National Taxpayer Union's federal Balanced Budget
constitutional amendment. It failed in the Senate by just one
vote; that would be Sen. John Kerry's. Remember that as you hear
him bemoaning the current debt ceiling crisis: It's his fault.
Soon the public moved on to other issues, and when it wasn’t
looking, the annual deficits piled up again. Some of us thought
that with Republicans controlling the executive and both
legislative branches after 2002, the deficits would be
controlled. We also fantasized about addressing the “alternative
minimum tax” that was once levied on “the rich” and had
inevitably trickled down to the middle class, and getting
another shot at a balanced budget amendment.
to President Bush, we also got a new ongoing War, Hot instead of
Cold, with Islamic terrorists. But this should have reminded the
U.S. of its priorities, national defense trumping social
spending as the primary reason government was invented in the
first place. Instead, voters became infatuated with an unknown
presidential candidate vaguely promising "hope and change."
So here we are, with a national debt of $14.3 trillion. In
2009, the public started paying attention again, organizing
around the issue as the tea party, which to its credit has
resisted the temptation to become a third political party or,
for the most part, get distracted by non-fiscal issues.
I'm not an organizer of the new tea party, though as a generic
tea partyer for more than 30 years, I'm a practicing member,
grateful it's here in time to save the country. Because it's
deliberately and often viciously misrepresented by its enemies,
I hope I'll accurately clarify its position on the present
debate about raising the debt limit while expressing mine.
We can't responsibly raise the debt limit unless there are
cuts in federal spending to prevent the total debt from
increasing. Borrowing to pay operating expenses, including
interest on debt, is insane fiscal policy for individuals and
governments. Burdening a child born today with $46,000 in debt
is governmental child abuse.
Once the growth in debt is
stopped, there are various plans to start reducing it. This will
take time; we must be open to discussion of all ideas except
defaulting on our debt, which is unthinkable, and raising new
taxes, which delays reform. The supermajority vote on a balanced
budget amendment may have to wait until more Republicans or Blue
Dog Democrats are elected in 2012. The debt ceiling may have to
be raised a month or so at a time, with matching cuts so the
debt doesn't increase.
As an independent, I don't relate
to and am thoroughly fed up with partisan posturing, the blame
game, appeals to "institutional congeniality," not to mention
the lies, scandals, power-seeking and pandering to special
spending interests, Big Business and Big Labor. I do admire
those politicians who stand up for fiscal responsibility even
when attacked by irrational constituents who support the status
Despite the mistakes of the past, I still believe in
America, in the essential common sense of its voters, in our
ability to meet this challenge together without compromising
basic American principles. Tea party on!