Americans are Speaking... Is the Administration Listening?
More than 235 years ago, American patriots fed up with the taxes being levied on colonists by the British government held one of the first and most famous political protests. Today, new generations of American families are evoking the name and message of the Boston Tea Party as they gather across the nation to protest the most egregious efforts of the swelling federal government.
I had the privilege of speaking with Tea Party participants at recent events in Dallas and San Antonio. While their concerns varied, I saw an overarching theme. The government is growing so big, so fast that these Texans are worried about threats to their own liberties and America's ability to remain the greatest nation in the world. They are afraid that America is drifting too far from the framers' original intent and from our basic principles. I share their concern.
I suspect those patriotic Texans with whom I met were characteristic of those who came to the U.S. capital for the National Tea Party. On September 12, more than 100,000 people representing every state peacefully assembled on the National Mall. The 100,000 or more who stood at the steps of the Capitol is only a small sampling of the broader movement. For every person who traveled to Washington, there were dozens more in their states who wanted to be there but could not come due to obligations to their families or work. Those who did come paid their own way, many of them from great distances.
Just as the Tea Party's participants came on their own, the messages displayed on their signs and banners conveyed their personal point of view. The individuality and freedom of expression guaranteed to Americans was powerfully demonstrated on those hand written signs and placards. Some were humorous and others were poignant. As can be expected in any demonstration, some were tasteless or even offensive - but those were rare and absolutely not representative of this patriotic movement. Mostly, the signs were instructive.
There were hundreds of signs that protested the number of Obama administration czars who are operating unchecked and holding unknown levels of power at the highest levels of government. The protesters were rightly concerned about the threat this poses to the government transparency and accountability guaranteed through the separation of powers.
Many signs decried the administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership's tax, borrow, and spend approach to our nation's challenges. While their families are making sacrifices to keep afloat during the economic downturn, Americans are watching the federal government spend without reservation. And they know that the government spending spree will be funded through tax hikes and that it will continue to deepen the debt that will burden future generations.
Still more signs protested the drastic health care reform proposals. Americans are outraged that the federal government is trying to force a trillion dollar government expansion on the public that gambles with the quality of our health care system. For many Tea Party participants, this was the final blow, and it is what ultimately brought them to Washington.
Incredibly, the day after the Tea Party in Washington, D.C., one of the President's top advisors dismissed the validity of these Americans' views when he said, "I don't think it's indicative of the nation's mood... I don't think we ought to be distracted by that. My message to them is, they're wrong."
The President is doing a lot of talking. In fact, he has reportedly given 265 speeches during his 234 days in office! But it isn't clear that he is listening. That is precisely what so many taxpayers are rallying against: an administration that seems to be out of touch with what is really going on in the hearts, minds, and households of Americans and their families.
These are not "fringe" protesters - far from it. They are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians. They represent teens, 30-somethings, senior citizens, and every age bracket in between. They are the people who run America's small businesses. They are teachers, nurses, franchisees, doctors, and professionals who feel that they are increasingly being asked to shoulder the burden of the government's spending spree. Some are single and some are married. Many are parents who worry their children won't have with the same freedom or quality of life they have enjoyed. They pay their taxes. They are hard working Americans. They are the fabric of our nation.
The message every elected official should send to taxpayers is: I am listening to you. I respect your views. I understand your concerns. Ben Franklin was famously asked, "What have we got - a republic or a monarchy?" He replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." I am working with you to keep it.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. senator from Texas.