Why the “Tea Parties” Might Be Right

Okay, I have to admit how appalled I was in watching the news coverage of the recent “tea parties”…the much hyped ‘grass-roots’ demonstrations that were pretty much organized and orchestrated by the neo-conservative community with help from some major media players. When people are invited to gather as an expression of anger and frustration, I guess we can’t be too surprised when some go overboard in the passion of the moment, so the talk of revolution and secession was a natural outcome. Many of us were scratching our heads in amazement when we saw slogans from our colonial period appearing…”No taxation without representation”…as if elections hadn’t recently been held and as if public sentiment in those elections wasn’t clear and overwhelming. But still…I’m always reminded that our emotions are never wrong. Our thinking might be wrong, but our emotions are always pointing to the ‘true-north’ of our human needs as best described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

If we take these feelings seriously, what is the real issue behind the issue? In one possible definition, we could simply replace the word ‘representation’ with ‘accountability.’ When it boils down, isn’t accountability one of the primary goals of a representative form of government? Should it be surprising that people have strong feelings about ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability?’ President Obama presented these concepts as the foundation of his campaign. After his inauguration, he immediately signed a memorandum directing specific actions to achieve transparency, openness, and engagement.” His Presidency will basically rise or fall as the public evaluates his willingness to follow these principles, even when the going gets tougher. If these principles weren’t in crisis, would a President spend this much time talking about them? If these principles are in crisis, isn’t it time we talked about them as our responsibility, discussing with our neighbors what we expect in ‘transparency’ and what we’re willing to do to make ‘accountability’ the cornerstone of ‘representation.’

‘Accountability’ is a huge and complicated subject. I think we’re increasingly unsettled and concerned that our institutions are failing because of a systemic lack of basic ‘accountability’ in the news industry…in the court room…in our classrooms…in the corporate board room…in the global financial crisis…in the city council chambers…in state legislatures…in the halls of Congress…in the White House…and in the actions of the United Nations. I’m persuaded that President Obama AND the tea-baggers have identified the one issue that could eventually threaten the unity of these United States, and could make it impossible to create and sustain truly effective global efforts to solve problems like climate change, pandemic control or AIDS.

I feel obliged to share a few random thoughts on the subject before I finish. It seems to me that ‘accountability’ is best achieved in individual relationships and small groups…the town hall meetings we hear about as the epitome of ‘accountability’ and public decision-making happened in small town and continued until the problem was resolved. People who know they don’t tell the truth are pretty sure others are doing the same…’accountability’ starts as a personal decision to be trustworthy, and then to expect the same from others, not the other way around. Contrary to what Jack Nicholson’s character said in the movie, A Few Good Men, we CAN handle the truth…’accountability’ shines a light on everything equally so we can make better private and public decisions. The President AND the tea-baggers seem to agree that ‘accountability’ is in crisis. My suspicion is that this is not a topic for its own framing, but should be embedded and integrated in every issue guide we create.

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