The Tea Party and Semantics

A few weeks back I had a discussion with someone on my Facebook friends’ list, about the difference between a democracy and a republic.

During the course of the conversation, I was served up a link, which I followed and watched just long enough to understand the gist of the filmmaker’s views on the subject.

I was suspicious of the origin and checked the background on the poster. Found a bunch of skinhead-style diatribes and links to antisemitic web sites, and so discounted the original video, but it got me thinking about the original Ben Franklin quote that appears at the start of the video and its meaning in context.

Interestingly, the actual quote, paraphrased in the video, is this:

QUOTATION: “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”
“A Republic, if you can keep it.”
ATTRIBUTION: The response is attributed to BENJAMIN FRANKLIN—at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation—in the notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of Maryland’s delegates to the Convention.

The text above comes from, and contains links to other Franklin quotes.

So, already, the quote is changed, because Franklin was asked whether the US would be a monarchy or a republic. A more moderate view, that republic and democracy are not mutually exclusive, could replace the Tea Party’s preference (republic) and come to a more acceptable conclusion (

In fact, democracy goes far, far back, to Athens, in advance of the Roman empire. We could learn a lot from the fall of Athens and takeover by Rome or, for that matter, the fall of the Roman empire. We are perfectly situated to become another in a long series of democratic failures if we allow plutocrats and the aristocracy to take over our nation, as they are poised to do if Gov. Romney wins.

If you listen to the Tea Party’s rhetoric, you will hear the seeds of the Republican Revolution that is on our horizon. Would we have been pushed to this brink had McCain won, or Clinton, in 2008? It’s impossible to tell. We are there now, though, thanks to a concerted push to move out the moderate majority in favor of extremist views that have a firm basis in religion and protectionism.

I am an idealist, confirmed and unapologetic. I would like to think that we should be able to find a way to work together. I am also a pragmatic realist and deeply cynical, because I know we are not in a position to make decisions that help us realize the idealistic goals we should reach as a country. The US was founded in reaction to a monarchy bent on taxing us to death for personal gain.

Sadly, we will replace that monarchy soon if Romney and the Tea Party have their way. And the only ones who will benefit in the end are the billionaires who will see their wealth increase at an unknown and unimaginable cost to the rest of our society.

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