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Last night, I posted what I believed to be an innocuous (though admittedly negative) tweet about conservatives. I wrote "This Independence Day, we should pause and reflect that in 1776, conservatives wore red coats and would have hanged the founders of America." Shortly thereafter, a gentleman named Ryan Hamilton replied, "false. Conservatives were rallying around Edmond Burke to protect traditional rights from royal infringement."

After exchanging a few cordial tweets, I proposed making my argument in a blog post to which he could reply. I thought this better than trying to debate via 140 character tweets. He agreed, and so now I write.

Since the days when I first taught political and social philosophy, I have admired Edmond Burke, and my first instinct was to argue that he was not a conservative, but a classical liberal. However, Burke ws so good and his reasoning so balanced that for more than 2000 years, both conservatives and liberals have sought to claim him (which I believe illustrates that in more tolerant times, the labels weren't nearly as polarizing as they are today.) Furthermore, I doubt that a hyper-intellectualized parsing of the historical evolution of the labels "conservative" and "liberal" would do anything but put unfortunate readers to sleep (I'm already nodding off just thinking about it). So how can I justify my assertion that today's Tea Party conservatives are the ideological descendants of those American colonists who backed King George and denounced the patriots?

Although today's Tea Party presumably named itself after the Boston Tea Party, the original was a protest against a tea tax, imposed by the British Parliament, without the consent of the colonists, for the benefit of British trading corporations. Today's Tea Party protests taxation, but the taxes to which they object are imposed by their own elected representatives (albeit not the ones they voted for, but they do get to vote), and the taxes to which they object the most are the ones used for the benefit of the poorest of the poor. The bulk of government expenditures today do, in fact, benefit corporations and the richest of the rich, but today's Tea Party seems to applaud transfer payments from the 99% to the 1%.

In 1776, the government of George III took wealth from the colonists, without their consent, and transferred it to London based corporations that grew fat and rich from the labor of the colonials. Those who objected to this practice rebelled and were called Patriots; those who approved, supported the Crown, Today, those who object to the ongoing transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to corporations, banks and brokerage houses are called "Progressives" or "Liberals". Those who support the continuation and expansion of transfer payments to the very rich call themselves "Conservatives". This is why I believe that the spiritual ancestors of today's conservatives would have worn red coats and called for the blood of our founding fathers.

In reading History, I find there are times and circumstances which compel me to agree with the judgment of those calling themselves conservatives. But whether or not I agree with what they had to say, for the most part, conservatives throughout history have been honorable men and women who loved their countries. I cannot say the same for today's "Program Conservatives". Their leaders are nothing but thugs and shills for greedy billionaires who want an ever bigger share of the pie. 

I don't really know whether it is more appropriate to call Edmond Burke a conservative or a liberal of the 18th century, but I believe that if he were alive today, he would align himself with the progressives. And so I stand by my claim that in 1776, the conservatives (had there been Tea Party Program Conservatives in 1776) would have worn red coats and would gladly have hanged our founding fathers.   

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    My name is Richard Bullock. I practiced law in Illinois until I retired and moved to the southwest in 2002. I currently teach mathematics in Bullhead City, AZ and live with my wife (also a teacher) in Laughlin, NV.

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