Jul 26, 2014

Letter to the Editor: Modern Day Know Nothings

Wilton resident Kelly Franklin responds to an earlier article on the Tea Party Movement in Wilton.

Letter to the Editor: Modern Day Know Nothings

A little over a week ago, Wilton Patch ran an article on the tea party movement

While I take issue with some of the unsubstantiated claims in the article indicating that there is a growing interest in this movement in Wilton, and with the assertion that it is a grass-roots organization, my reason for writing today is Steve Symonds' comment on that article that asked town Democrats and Republicans to stop speaking in code, and be clear about their stance on this issue.

Mr. Symonds is right to ask for that clarity, and as a registered Democrat in Wilton, I'd like to make my position clear. I think the tea party movement is both dangerous and misdirected. It is also not unique. After almost every period of economic upheaval or social change in American history, we have seen the rise of these sorts of groups.

For example, the 1850s nativist Know Nothing movement also had no centralized organization or cogent platform, and was spawned  by fear of "the other." Today's inchoate tea party movement, which laments taxation (despite the fact that taxes have gone down in the last year, and are lower than those imposed by Ronald Reagan), and boasts anarchic, but ill-informed citizens who loudly demand that the "government keep its hands off Medicare" certainly echoes its predecessor.

The primary difference is that the Know Nothing movement grew organically, playing on reactionary fears and fueled by the influx of immigrants to the United States and evolution in culture and voting patterns that that trend engendered.

Conversely, the tea party movement, while feeding off a real anger shared by the left and the right at citizens picking up the tab for Wall Street's bad bets, got its start as an astroturf (fake grass roots) movement, funded by Republican-led PACs like Freedomworks, and fostered by "news" outfits like Fox which seek to make a cage match out of public discourse. 

While not all that identify with this movement are conspiracy theorists and bigots and anti-government extremists, many are. That these people, who hold up signs of our president defaced with a Hitler mustache dare call themselves "patriots" cheapens the achievements of our founding fathers and denigrates the sacrifices of generations of Americans who have given up their lives in service to our country. That they disrupt public discourse by hijacking town halls robs their fellow citizens of our right to engage in reasoned discussion and debate with our representatives.

This town, this state, and our nation have serious challenges - problems that require intelligent and thoughtful debate, and willingness on the part of our elected officials to take unpopular stances and make tough decisions. 

Unfortunately, many Republicans at every level of our government seem more interested in fanning the flames, just saying "no," and playing political games than they do in living up to the responsibilities we've entrusted them with to help govern thoughtfully, and make tough choices.  

A cynical donor presentation for the Republican National Committee was made public last week ( http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0310/33866.html) and revealed just how eager this political organization is to stir up fear in order to co-opt and channel the anger of those who affiliate themselves with the tea party movement.

It is perhaps worth noting that the Know Nothings' largest legacy was that it killed the dying party of no ideas that was the Whigs, while forming the basis for what we today know as the Republican party. Perhaps history will repeat itself.

-Kelly Franklin, Wilton

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