Tea Across the Pond
“A warning from someone whose present resembles your future.”


LOPEZ: Is the Tea Party a wholly American phenomenon? 

HANNAN: Yes, because open primaries are a wholly — or almost wholly — American phenomenon. There was a survey last week by the BBC World Service of 23,000 people in 22 countries. In all but one of these countries, people wanted spending cuts rather than tax rises. In other words, the desire for tax cuts is not peculiar to the U.S. But the belief that you can do something about it through your democratic mechanisms is a fairly unusual one. In countries where candidates are selected by the parties rather than by local people, certain points of view are excluded from the legislature. Unsurprisingly, voters in those countries believe that a Tea Party would simply be ignored.

LOPEZ: You say that British liberties thrive in the U.S. Any hope for them in England?

HANNAN: I know Americans like to see their Revolution as a national struggle, a war of independence. But this reading depends on disregarding much of what the patriot leaders were arguing at the time. They saw themselves not as revolutionaries, but as conservatives. All they were asking for, in their own minds, were the rights they had always assumed to be theirs as freeborn Englishmen.

As I argue in the book, people in Great Britain seem to have seen things much the same way that people did in the 13 colonies. Insofar as historians can infer from the data, Toryism attracted roughly the same level of support on both sides of the Atlantic, namely around 35 percent. The difference was that the colonial assemblies had a wider franchise than the House of Commons, and so were more representative of public opinion. 

So, yes, British liberties thrive in North America. The framers of the U.S. Constitution saw themselves as part of a continuing tradition, stretching back through the English Civil War, back even through Magna Carta, to the folkright of Anglo-Saxon common-law freedoms. And they believed, naturally, that Great Britain was equally the inheritor of this tradition. As Thomas Jefferson wistfully observed, in a line that his fellow authors insisted on excising from the Declaration of Independence, “We might have been a great and free people together.” We might yet.

LOPEZ: You write with a great deal of clarity and common sense and love for American constitutional principles. How in the world were you once a fan of Barack Obama? 

HANNAN: I thought his victory would serve to silence some of America’s critics; and, in the short term, it did. When his opponents complained that he was “all things to all men,” I saw no dishonor in that. The phrase comes from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians: Paul describes how he came as a Jew to the Jews, as a Greek to the Greeks, and so on. This is part of what a U.S. president is supposed to do: to be a unifying figure at home and an ambassador abroad. I had also become disillusioned with the GOP. The longer the Republicans stayed in office, the less Republican they seemed. They had become a party of external tariffs, of federal spending, of contempt for states’ rights, of the surveillance state, and, latterly, of bailouts and nationalizations. I had no idea that Barack Obama would immediately expand the federal government by a third. After all — it seems an eternity ago — he had campaigned on a promise of tax cuts.

Finally, I was taken aback by the vehemence of the personal attacks on Obama. Leftists are forever judging people’s worth by where they are placed on the political spectrum, and I feel we conservatives should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Your president may be mistaken, but he is not wicked. His children are old enough to read and remember what is written about him. His critics would perhaps be more convincing if they remembered this.


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