When Did 'Anti-Government' Become a Bad Thing?

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You’d
think that, after a couple of centuries of major American figures
describing government as, at most, something to be tolerated, political
pundits would have made their peace with the idea that skepticism
toward state power has a core place in American political life.
If your toes tingle at the thought of more coercive programs, laws,
politicians and bureaucrats, you’re the (very) odd duck, not the
folks with anti-government views. And yet, we still get the likes
of Frank Rich throwing high-profile
hissy fits
because "the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government
right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis
is making a comeback," as heralded by … Andrew Joseph Stack
III’s Kamikaze-style airborne attack on the Internal Revenue Service
building in Austin, Texas?

For those not
in the know, Stack, like many people, had a bone to pick with the
I.R.S. and with the federal government. But the manifesto
he left behind also accused drug and insurance companies of "murdering
tens of thousands of people a year," charged that poor people
get to die for the mistakes of the wealthy, and quoted Karl Marx.
Anti-government Stack was, but his ideology, such as it was, doesn’t
appear to have been coherently right-wing or left-wing so much as
ticked-off and populist.

Rich does appear
to be aware that Stack isn’t a very logical stick with which to
beat the Tea Party movement that has him and his government-cheerleading
chums so knicker-twisted. At least, he concedes "it would be
both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier
or a ‘Tea Party terrorist.’ But he did leave behind a manifesto
whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some
of those marching under the Tea Party banner."

Nice how Rich
works that gratuitious "Tea Party terrorist" bit in there,
eh? But even as he smears his political opponents as guilty by distant
and tortured association, he manages to overlook the fact that the
anti-government sentiment he so regrets is neither a wholly owned
subsidiary of the Tea Party movement and the Right, nor an aberration
coughed up every decade or two by by unenlightened neanderthals
briefly emerging from the philosophical swamps.

Frank Rich
is a well-educated man with an Internet connection paid for by a
respected news organization that has a vast historical archive of
its own, so it’s impossible to believe that the New York Times
scribbler is unaware that Thomas Paine wrote
in one of the more popular political tracts of the revolutionary
period that "government, even in its best state, is but a necessary
evil; in its worst state an intolerable one." Nor can we believe
he’s unaware that James Madison hedged on Paine’s sentiments only
to the extent that he wrote,
"It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would
be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a
misfortune." And certainly he knows about Thomas Jefferson’s
warning
that "[t]he natural progress of things is for liberty to yield,
and government to gain ground."

Read
the rest of the article

April
10, 2010

JD
Tuccille [send him mail] is
an Arizona-based writer and political analyst.

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