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Donald Kettl
Academic Dean

Original 'Tea Party' leaders

Q: Having failed to stop health care reform, Republican leaders have vowed to make repealing it their rallying cry in the November elections. What lessons could they draw from political history and the experience of leaders in other fields?

The Adams family of Massachusetts played a huge role in shaping the American revolution. The firebrand of the family was Sam Adams, who helped stir up the mob that stormed British ships in the Boston Tea Party. Afterward, he vigorously defended their protest by arguing such strong measures were the only recourse left to citizens denied their rights by an oppressive king. His cousin John Adams was more measured. Not nearly as incendiary, John stood to principle in arguing that the British soldiers who killed five Bostonians in the infamous massacre deserved a fair trial--and he ended up defending them in the trial.

Sam Adams is now best known for the beer that bears his name. John Adams became an author of the Declaration of Independence, president of the United States, and only one of two men to serve as president and father a successor.

Who was the better leader? There's a lesson here. Leaders can quickly reach great heights and huge success, rallying citizens by railing against an abuse, real or perceived. But that kind of leadership is hard to make stick for very long. Fires that flare up quickly often burn themselves out just as fast. Longer-term success requires something to fight for. John Adams was often plodding and sometimes clumsy, but in the end he won the cause for which cousin Sam provided initial ammunition.

This lesson is critical for the Republicans. They have a tea party moment that's given birth to a brand new tea party movement. The passage of health care reform is giving them an incredible opportunity to rally people scared of big government, frightened by Obama-ites, and uncertain about a domestic economy and global dynamics that offer little comfort. As Sam Adams showed, this can work--maybe even long enough to give the Democrats a very hard time in November.

By Donald Kettl

 |  March 23, 2010; 5:59 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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When the law can stop the blades of grass from growing as they grow, I will stop treading on the green and pushing down tees. If a man is permitted to make all the ballads of the world, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation. Don't tread on me.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 23, 2010 8:28 PM
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Sure Dwight...we all have stench..but some more than others and some of us have bathed!

Posted by: kiler616 | March 23, 2010 8:22 PM
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What Dwight Collins said.

Posted by: chatard | March 23, 2010 7:51 PM
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The modern republican tea party types would be calling John Adams a traitor and one of the Al Quaeda 7 for defending the British soldiers. As they say "all heat and no light".

Posted by: dougsuitor | March 23, 2010 7:43 PM
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you people try to define and manipulate what the Republican party is...
you don't have the right, now or ever...
worry about yourselves, you have enough of a stench on you...

Posted by: DwightCollins | March 23, 2010 7:28 PM
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It is unimaginable how embarrassed and tearful people from the Adams family would feel is they saw the types of neanderthals that inappropriately took over the tea party name. The original tea party consisted of honorable people who stood for freedom. The present-day people who hijacked the name are spitting, racist, homophobic, plane-crashing brownshirts who are the ugliest movement since their foreparents in the Klan.

Posted by: revbookburn | March 23, 2010 7:27 PM
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swlewis, i wouldn't confuse the repub's with ordinary americans, who woke up one morning and their mortgage was under water. americans don't want van jones or eric holder or anybody who would appoint them to anything. the repubs are gone too if they don't grasp this opportunity to do right. america has awakened, and they blame EVERYBODY in d.c., including george bush.

Posted by: 12thgenamerican | March 23, 2010 7:13 PM
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well, with the democrats pushing amnesty and carbon taxes and buying each other off and an attorney general who is clueless and appearing to be an out right liar, yea i'd say the dems were toast in november.

Posted by: 12thgenamerican | March 23, 2010 7:09 PM
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Give each according to their value; Sam Adams as a provocateur and revolutionary and his cousin John Adams as a legal and political thinker.

Different times call for leaders with different skills and temperment.

Posted by: kuvasz | March 23, 2010 6:44 PM
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I laugh every time I think about the Tea Party. Where was this group when Bush was President? What about the constitution and the growth of the defecit and of government in general during his term? Why wasn't this fire raging over Medicare Part D which clearly broke the bank. Or what about financing the War in Iraq off budget? Oh the hipocracy. These are just a bunch of loudmouth republicans who are upset that they lost the last election. Nothing more and a flash in the pan. There is no real Tea Party.

Posted by: swlewis | March 23, 2010 6:27 PM
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The Republican Party for what ever reason, have decided to walk away from REASON, LOGIC, REALITY and most of all COMPASSION FOR THEIR FELLOW MAN.

It is for the best of this Country to have two Political Parties, under the circumstances one Political Party have decided to walk away from the Untied States of America.

The Democratic Party is left with the Incredible Task of carrying the Country into the 21th Century "ALONE".

Posted by: austininc4 | March 23, 2010 6:03 PM
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John Adams?!?

The author forgot a few of John Adams' more memorable actions. In France, he was abrasive enough that he nearly destroyed Ben Franklin's work getting the French to support the American Revolution with money and military. (I believe Franklin wrote to the Continental Congress and got them to send Adams somewhere outside of France in order to keep Adams from completely souring the atmosphere). Adams also showed no interest whatsoever in Shays Rebellion, probably owing to the fact that he was a gentleman farmer and thus had no interest (to say the least) in supporting working class tenant farmers like Daniel Shays who broke their backs for people like him. Also, as the United States' second president and a Federalist, he was primarily responsible for enforcing the Alien and Sedition Act which allowed him to send out federal troops to arrest and imprison newspaper editors who wrote things critical of him. (The first person arrested under the Act: Ben Franklin's grandson). And it wasn't just newspaper editors who ended up in jail for bad-mouthing John Adams; ordinary citizens landed in jail for saying bad things about him. Google, "Who is Luther Baldwin?" sometime. Not surprisingly, John Adams, our second U.S. president was also our first one-term president.

Posted by: srb2 | March 23, 2010 5:48 PM
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I do agree the Republican Party not always has the suitable politicians or enough defenders of the Constitution to maintain a reliable path to liberty. Only Constitutionalists do! In a video, Sen. McCain a Republican is heard saying that he is confident that the people of Arizona will “…judge me not on what I’ve done to them, but what they think I can do for them. ” Most politicians who have spent as many years in the U.S. Senate as McCain has would be expected to run on their record – not their potential. A fresh breed of respectable country loving Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and Patriots, all Constitutionalists pro middle-class, are the response to action for taking back local and Federal Government from bossy bureaucrats!
However, penalties must be impose for those violator of the Constitution and their oath of office. Wherefore, vigorous consequences this historic document becomes void. Proven by the anti-middle class Republican Tarp and the so label Democrat Stimulus Bill
History demonstrates that anti-plutocratic struggles are not, the best path to Democrat or Republican socialism, but surely the only way to transfer the Republic to an egotistical Dictator. With a heavy exposure to competition, free market solutions are best, to increase employment and investments, bringing down prices and improving standards. In addition, without political manipulations of the citizenry and blurring of the Constitution. Poverty diminishes and the middle-class prospers, however, elitist Democrat or Republican socialism expands poverty and ruin liberties for all.

Posted by: ruizfernando5 | March 23, 2010 5:36 PM
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It seams that many posting here do not realize that we live in a Republic not a Democracy. It is the rule of law not of the mob. The Tea Party (2009...) is protesting the trampling of the constitution by elected people that feel that that because they have a majority they can do no wrong.

Posted by: norm814 | March 23, 2010 5:11 PM
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TTJ1's comment reminds me of the guy who said he'd vote for Bush because Bush seemed the type of guy who'd help you unload the hay wagon. I too would rather hang out with Sam (a no-term president), but I'd rather have John running the country. You can call John Adams a "one-term president" but that doesn't lessen all that John Adams accomplished in his life time.

Posted by: habernathy | March 23, 2010 5:00 PM
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Both Adams and all of the early elected officials were capable of insulting their political enemies. What they would never have done was stoop to vulgarities and tired, boring, no-longer-with-the-power- to shock four-letter words. These men had imagination, originality and wide vocabularies and knew how to use them. A Southern senator (Calhoun?) told Henry Clay he was like a "rotten mackerel, shining and stinking in the moonlight". Now, THAT'S tellin' 'em. So much for ''You lie." and "baby killer."

Posted by: m_richert | March 23, 2010 4:52 PM
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The Tea Party of 1773 concerned Taxation Without Representation. But the latest Tea Party folks have lots of representation. They voted in the last presidential election (and lost), they have representatives in the Senate and House, they have the right to protest and petition. So what's with the name Tea Party? These folks are in the minority party, ie: Republicans, they lost the last two elections 2006 and 2008. This is call Democracy sore losers. The majority voted for Obama and his agenda, including healthcare. We won, you lost! They call that Democracy at work.

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Posted by: linjian76 | March 23, 2010 4:18 PM
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At last the voice of reason. The Tea Party movement as it exists today is more like the one in Alice in Wonderland than the grand old party of the Revolutionary War.

Posted by: hakafos44 | March 23, 2010 4:02 PM
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Professor Kettl,

Think about this: John Adams would have been hung in the gallows himself as a traitor to the British if it weren't for people like his cousin Sam who stood up to enemies of freedom. And at the end of the day until present times people would rather hang out with a Sam Adams than with his one-term president cousin.

Posted by: ttj1 | March 23, 2010 3:48 PM
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Glazer68: If you knew anything about American history, you'd know the Patriots did not just spit on British officials, they tarred & feathered them, ran them out of town on a rail, burned their homes and sometimes lynched them!

Oh, and they didn't have time for racial slurs and homophobic taunts agains the Torries, because they were too busy KILLING them!

Ever heard of the Over-the-Mountain Boys and what they did to their Torry prisoners after the Battle of King's Mountain?

GEEEEZ, you America-hating liberals are totally clueless, aren't you?

Posted by: pmendez | March 23, 2010 3:41 PM
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The distinction drawn here may be too facile to yield fruitful discussion. Sam Adams also favored a fair trial for the British soldiers (though he disagreed strenuously with the final verdict, and with the demonization of the people, who had just cause to be upset at British rule). Additionally, Sam Adams had a role in drafting the Massachusetts Constitution, which was a model for the United States Constitution. And finally although Sam Adams is remembered as the leader of the Sons of Liberty, John Adams was also a member of that group.

Posted by: Candidus | March 23, 2010 3:22 PM
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Yet Michael Steele is at the Tiller of the boat stering it. How do you reconcile your bigotry whena a black man is at the rudder of the white conservative boat?

Posted by: theFieldMarshall | March 23, 2010 3:21 PM
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This comparison is flawed on many levels.

The Adams opposed an autocratic, hereditary king and a legislature in which they had no representation. The GOP and the "Tea Party" are opposed to a democratically elected President and a legislature, in which they are a minority; also by democratic means.

Furthermore, they are opposed to legislation, passed by the majority, that includes many ideas from the minority, and dropped many provisions favored by the majority but opposed by the minority. Suddenly, democratic majority rule; that which the Adams sought to establish, in which the minority is actually deferred to, is now tyranny!?

No, these people stand for rule by a highly rigid, highly vocal minority. These people do not view their political ideas as contributions to a marketplace of ideas where they are free to use reason to persuade others to agree. They view their political ideas as a religion to be imposed on all, and accepted without question because to do otherwise would be heresy, blasphemy, and treason.

Today's GOP represents the very thing the Adams fought against!

Posted by: risejugger | March 23, 2010 3:13 PM
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I think the Republicans need to be careful here in 2010. The current situation reminds of the 1994 mid-term elections-- the Republicans were swept into control of Congress after the fears/fires generated by Hillary's secretive healthcare debacle. Even with a plan (the Contract with America), the Republicans took a beating two years later resulting in Newt Gingrich losing his House speakership and the shreading of the Contract. Same senario could very well play out here. It is easy to lead the revolution, but governing after the revolution is won is a whole new challenge.

Posted by: patrickmcconnell | March 23, 2010 3:05 PM
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The Republican Party and conservatives who bitterly hate all that is not white conservative are on a boat, a boat full of haters. The rest of the world is on a boat, a boat full of people trying to solve the complex problems that society faces 24/7.
These two boats are like to ships passing in the night. Neither boat knows that the other boat exist. What a waste.

Posted by: jimarush | March 23, 2010 2:57 PM
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republicans are a party devoid of reason, responding more to feverish emotions such as fear and hatred, and, like kept women, to the needs of their big business benefactors.

Posted by: JovialReaper | March 23, 2010 2:50 PM
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I prefer to think of Palin, Cheney, Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, Hannity, O'Reilly, and the rest as modern-day Jean Paul Marats rather than Adams.

"And there is no device sufficiently destructive of freedom, vexing enough, disastrous enough that they don’t have the art to have enacted, always with objections, often without opposition."

Heads rolled after that. May their falls be just as rapid.

Posted by: arancia12 | March 23, 2010 2:49 PM
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the tea baggers should aim a little higher to show what they really are.

Posted by: msjn1 | March 23, 2010 2:48 PM
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You image for the article on the home page is of Paul Revere, the Sam Adams beer mascot.

Posted by: Ecksley | March 23, 2010 2:39 PM
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It's important to keep in mind that John and Samuel were on the same side. They both helped the cause in their own way and complemented each others' strengths.

The problem with republicans is that they have no John Adams equivalent. They only have emotions. And much of their emotional firepower is negative and not at all uplifting. Also worth noting is that both of these men were men of honor. Unfortunately, because of their lack of intellectual prowess, the republicans have chosen not to engage in honest debate. They choose instead to engage in fear mongering and deceit. Where's the honor in that?

Posted by: rramos01 | March 23, 2010 2:19 PM
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The Republicans have had a chance to take the John Adams role in the health care debate, (and other issues too).

Problems with health care has been festering for decades, yet they did virtually nothing during the 12 years they held the congress and during the George W Bush years.

The made a political decision not to engage or offer any concrete proposal on health care. Sen Snowe initially signaled she was interested in doing something to fix the horrible insurance situation in Maine, but then complained it was going to fast . . . Charles Grassley parroted the death panel lies in a effort to scare people. And Mitch McConnell (and many others) just wanted to make health care Obama's waterloo without any thought of what ordinary people go through. This was their deliberate political choice.

Even now that the bill has passed, all we hear is "taking away freedom", "socialist", "baby killers". Nothing positive and no real ideas for people who are self-employed, 50+ years old, pre-existing conditions, only "the market will take care of you". Simply buying across state lines and tort reform will not help people who are sick, self-employed or have a child born with a pre-existing condition.

All of us will die, the vast, vast majority will need healthcare, especially as we age. Without regulation, no insurance company will compete for the sick or older population and they would be in breach of their primary responsibility to their shareholders if they did.

In a free-market, unregulated health insurance system promoted by the Republicans many of will have shorter lives no matter how much broccoli we eat.

Republicans have provided no leadership on health care. How about admitting it.

Posted by: lynne6 | March 23, 2010 2:16 PM
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So you're comparing Samuel Adams and John Adams to the Tea Partyists of today? How many times did either Adams use racial slurs or homophobic taunts? How many times did they spit on officials or spread venomous falsehoods?

Posted by: glazer68 | March 23, 2010 1:57 PM
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Don - when Sam and John were working to coalesce thought and action in Boston and Quincy their ideas passed slowly by word of mouth and mail pouch. Time and distance allowed the good ideas and focused energy to ferment into sound concepts and good policy. Given the pace of communication in the 18th Century it was no wonder the First Amendment elevated free speech as a pillar supporting democracy.

I wonder what would have become of either Adams if - in the 18th Century - their words and actions had been instantaneously "interpreted" by multi-millionaire talk-show hosts who could speak simultaneously to millions of frustrated listeners across the land.

Better government?

Posted by: gandalfthegrey | March 23, 2010 1:07 PM
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For a party hopped up on populism, they just might take that beer idea and run with it.

Posted by: highland2 | March 23, 2010 7:10 AM
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