This Week’s Cartoon: “Don’t Tread On Me”

I sort of feel like the tea party and progressives could almost find some common ground over the plight of ordinary people getting screwed six ways from Sunday in this economy. We share a disillusionment with Wall Street and, I would argue, concern with loss of community in the face of crushing bureaucracy. The general principle of localism seems like something we could agree on, to a point. But it all ends there, because the tea partiers, among their other philosophical shortcomings (and there are many), have a MASSIVE blind spot when it comes to understanding the way power works in this country. They refuse to see any abuses resulting  from unfettered, predatory, market-fundamentalist-style capitalism. Everything is the government’s fault. It’s such a simplistic view, it would be quaint if it weren’t also so harmful.


  • Michael Welle

    It’s like an action movie where the villain ends up eliminating his henchman. Generally speaking, I don’t think tea partiers are disillusioned about Wall Street. I see them as violent dupes who are governed by their greed and frustration with government.

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  • Michael Adams

    In my debates with Tea Party folk, the impasse seems to be that they think government enables business to be excessive, and if we remove the government, the business excesses will go away. They also seem confident they can mitigate the advancement of Totalitarian and Religious Conservatives. But this is like asking the people to cede power to 3 people, and 1 gets to brawl the other 2.

    I also see the issue that there could be a Robin Hood thing going on: the idea that somehow we can storm the vaults of our oppressors. But with electronic money and whatnot, any dream of having non-paper/non-electronic currency will not happen easily: the wealth-builders will transfer it to a part of the world we don’t live in, and leave us to rebuild with sea shells.

  • Boston

    I my debates with liberals, I’ve discovered that they are much more interested in characterizing me than in understanding what I actually believe. At the end of the day, though, government deals with everyone via violence. They pass a law, and back it up with violence. Businesses deal with people on a consensual basis. If you disagree, you don’t have to do business with them. The worst offenses of business that you can point to inevitably turn out to be due to government. (eg: all the monopolies in the USA are government created.)

    Bottom line is, capitalism is consensual, government is force. It is the advocates of government control over our lives who are violent.

  • Aaron

    It’s probably good to go back and read Boston’s comment, and reread ‘they pass a law’ as ‘representatives of the people pass a law,’ reread ‘violence’ as ‘measures to enforce the law whose severity depends on the nature of the law, and is not always violent,’ and reread ‘consensual’ as ‘not necessarily lawful or agreed upon as morally sound or unharmful by a consensus of the people’

  • Russ Nelson

    Aaron: probably not good, no. Law enforcement is always violent; it has to be, because it has to change the behavior of violent people. It will often leave the gun in the holster, because violence is expensive and risky. But the gun is always there.

    Michael A: perhaps you are talking to overly optimistic people? Business and government will always misbehave; it is in the nature of the people who have the desire to run things. Progressives think that voting constrains government; libertarians (the Tea Party has no coherent philosophy) think that the need to convince customers constrains businesses. No matter who is correct, objectively only businesses fail; governments go on until the next revolution, which is often bloody and violent.

  • Russ Nelson

    Jen, it’s not helpful to talk about what tea partiers think. A tea party is an event. Anybody can show up. In order to say what a group thinks, the group needs to be able to exclude people who misbehave. Anybody ever heard of a tea partier getting kicked out of the tea party because their ideas are too outre’?

    You are right about the “simplistic idea”, but maybe that’s because it’s not held by any actual tea partiers? Have you tried engaging one in conversation? If you start by acknowledging that governments usually work poorly if at all, I’m sure you will find no objection when you say that corporations work poorly as well.

    I don’t count myself as a tea partier, but I’d be happy to tell you exactly how badly corporations abuse their mandate for public benefit. And I’ll let you tell me about the many government failures. Maybe we can agree that the War on Drugs is a horrible disaster and we should stop it immediately?

  • Russ Nelson

    I’m happy to have that conversation with anybody. is my (already way too-well published) email, and my phone number is 315-600-8815. Just be prepared to take a realistic view of the nature of government, because I already have a realistic view of the nature of corporations.

  • Jen Sorensen

    Agreed about the War on Drugs, absolutely. On the other hand, I wouldn’t generalize that governments usually work poorly. Some policies are good, some are bad. I prefer to look at specifics in context.

  • Tom

    The more history I read, the less I can agree with a blanket statement such as “governments usually work poorly if at all.” A society without any government devolves into a situation like Somalia, or like the “Hell on Wheels” gambling and vice camps that followed the building of the Transcontinental Railroad (I just finished reading the Stephen Ambrose book “Nothing Like It in the World”). The Confederacy tried to set up a nation without a strong central government, but instead became even more oppressive, drafting farmers en masse, confiscating crops as a substitute for currency and hanging people who remained loyal to the United States.
    The Transcontinental Railroad, by the way, was built with the backing and funding of the United States government. When the Penn Central Railroad went belly-up after a series of business bungles and blunders – and, rigid, overreaching government rules left over from the abuses of the Gilded Age – it was Conrail, a government entity that eventually set things back upright. Ferdinand deLesseps tried to dig a Panama Canal with free-market private industry and failed, and the US Army Corps of Engineers came in years later and did it.
    In short, the record is mixed.
    A good book to peruse (it’s mostly illustrated, with brief captions) is one by the Bettman Archive called “The Good Old Days: They Were Terrible.” The reason we have as much government as we do is because private enterprise in the 1800s brought us tainted food, exploding steam boilers, fire companies that let buildings burn if the owner hadn’t bought a membership, factory machinery that maimed employees and a long list of other miseries.

  • Russ Nelson

    Yes, Tom, the record is mixed. I’m glad you admit that, because most defenders of government action are loath to admit that government can ever do wrong. I’d also point out that the Transcontinental Railroad went bankrupt, precisely *because* it was subsidized. James Hill’s Northern Railroad was built with private funds and didn’t go bankrupt.

    The Confederacy? You mean the same country that was set up so that ONE PERSON COULD OWN ANOTHER PERSON? Sorry, but they didn’t go down the tubes — they started at the bottom of the tubes.

    Not sure that I believe the “tainted food” — Sinclair’s book was mostly fabrication. Yes, steam boilers exploded — anybody actually think that was profitable?? Steam boilers were new technology. Bridges collapsed, too.

    When a business fails, it’s because nobody wants to pay the price for its product. When government steps in to rescue the business (or do what the business was going to do, e.g. dig a canal) that doesn’t mean that the product is any more valuable — it just means that politically powerful people decided that they wanted to take your money and create the product ANYWAY.

    Ask yourself why anybody would work on machinery which was known to maim employees? Start by assuming that the employees weren’t stupid.

    Every coin has two sides: why would anybody go without buying a membership in a fire company? Probably because the building wasn’t worth the membership. And yet, when the building burns, why does it become the fault of the fire company for the owner deciding that the building wasn’t worth saving? It’s not like buildings never burned, so that no owner had a lesson to learn. Not a secret that fire company membership would be useful?

    Thanks for taking my concern seriously.

  • Michael Welle

    Mr. Nelson,
    1) Would you please cite a few specific examples of the so-called “fabrication” in Upton Sinclair’s work?

    2) In response to: “Ask yourself why anybody would work on machinery which was known to maim employees? Start by assuming that the employees weren’t stupid.”

    …Stupidity has nothing to do with it. You are revising history by implying that people had a choice (based upon whether or not they were stupid) to walk out and find another job. If you look at history, people in the late 19th century took whatever they could get and many children and adults had to work 16 hour days, with no weekends in order to make a living. Before labor unions, and in part thanks to Upton Sinclair’s book (which brough about the Pure Food and Drug Act), people had to endure these conditions because the big businessman and the robber barons were unregulated. The only reason we have any rights like we do today is because labor unions fought along with the Democrats (and well, okay Teddy Roosevelt) to stop many of the powerful trusts from taking advantage of the little guy.

  • Jen Sorensen

    @Michael Welle – I wish Obama had a bit more Teddy Roosevelt in him.

  • Michael Welle

    To Jen: Remember the famous last line in “Some Like it Hot?” (1959)

    Tom: I went to amazon and looked at “The Good Old Days”. I put a link to the section where you can look inside the book here:

  • Adam

    The old standby line which is often regurgitated to these crowds (to much chuckling and nods of affirmation) is “The most feared words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help!’”

    Yet try as I might, I cannot think of one instance where a government (city, state or federal) has personally and specifically ripped me off. On the other hand, I have been ripped off (Good God, have I been ripped off) by banks, insurance companies and credit card companies. And “refusing to do business with them” (which is the cure all for all of the unfettered free market true believers) doesnt really work, since all of their competitors engage in the same practices.

    It’s not “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” that anyone really needs to worry about. I’m way more scared of “Hey, I’m running a business here.”

  • Michael Welle

    Another example: the federal government gives me a $7,500.00 interest free loan (for first time home buyers) which I use to help pay off a $12,500.00 line of credit at 6% when buying a new home. The loan from the government is free (I pay back $500.00 a year for 15 years). The only catch was the government wasn’t sure my mailing address corresponded to the address where I live (if it doesn’t I have to pay back all of the $7,500.00 immediately). The CPA who I use thinks this hang-up can be ironed out. But it does show you some of the frustrations when dealing with the IRS. But where else are you going to get a $7,500.00 loan at no interest? If I have a choice between Shylock and the IRS that is a no brainer.

  • Mr. Mayes

    @Boston: You claim that liberals attack you personally, however your arguments are not based on facts.

    You claim that Government passes laws and backs them up with violence. A blanket statement that is not true. Ex. I got pulled over for speeding. Did the cop kick my ass? No. He gave me a ticket and went on his merry way. I filed taxes late. Did a “man i a black suit” put a gun to my head and take my wallet? No. I got charged a penalty and interest (the same thing a bank would do if I were late making a loan payment).

    “all the monopolies in the USA are government created.” Not true. The US Government does not grab some companies, group them together and then force them to become a monopoly. Your statement completely ignores the origin on anti-trust laws and their history. I won’t give you a history lesson here, as you can look it up yourself if you so choose; but in today’s world companies can legally become monopolies with the “permission” of the government (local and federal).

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.