New Year’s Day in Washington dawned gray, wet and cold. It was a perfect day for sightseeing, and so my wife and I decided to sightsee. We went to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, named, incidentally, after a British admiral, Edward Vernon, by George’s older half-brother. Upon inheriting the mansion, George never saw any reason to change the name, despite the British army’s many acts of rudeness to him. George was a big enough guy not to bear a grudge.
We arrived just as the estate opened, at 9 a.m., and we were about the only tourists in the place for the first hour. The very agreeable lady who sold us our tickets, noting our enthusiasm, inquired as to where we came from. “Twelve miles up the road,” my wife said. “We don’t get out much.” Actually we do, but not to sightsee. We have both been reading a lot about George Washington, and so we visited Mount Vernon for the first time in years. Our reasoning is that with the Tea Party’s arrival in Washington, we had best familiarize ourselves with the Founding Fathers, a goodly number of whom lived in Virginia. We started with George. Marx is out.
George Washington was a man of immense proportions. He was a soldier while still in his teens. Then a planter, and a very successful planter at that. Then, in middle years, he was a soldier again, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, who set a tone for war and peace. He was courageous, occasionally brilliant, and endured setbacks and despair. He led the British on a wild chase, ending in their defeat at Yorktown. He believed in character and fair play, and when he captured a Hessian army, he treated it humanely despite its barbaric treatment of his troops in New York. There, a ragtag assortment of patriot soldiers, mainly very young and the very old, were bayoneted by the Hessians, some impaled against tree trunks after surrendering.
Washington would not stoop to such barbarism. He was a moral exemplar with a deep sense of the Almighty. He was famously tolerant, but he was a person of faith. When he went on to become our first president, his example set the template for a republican presidency up to the present moment, Bill Clinton and Warren G. Harding notwithstanding. His example and that of the other Founders is especially important at the present with the arrival in Washington of the Tea Party movement. There are 87 new Republican members of Congress, 75 of them endorsed by the Tea Partiers. All are alive to the principles of the Constitution, the bewildering debt laid on us by the outgoing Congress and the debt we are facing because of 40 years of paternalistic government programs that are about to bankrupt us. Their enthusiasm for the Constitution and for getting limited government back on the national agenda is inspiring.
Yet how successful can they be? The modern Tea Party movement has no leader. It has no organization. Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, tells us that an organization is in place, but it had better be awfully good. I fear that an organization with no leaders is susceptible to having its members picked off, a little bridge to nowhere here, a little bridge there. There is no George Washington now. There are only Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and a dozen or so forceful members.
Well, there is the speaker of the House, John A. Boehner. His career is noteworthy for steadiness, conservatism as a governing philosophy and a knack for being in the right place. He is, they say, humble. Of all the virtues, this is the one with which I have the most difficulty. I mean, what is the point? So he is humble. He also is going to have to be vigilant and steely. His knowledge of government is going to have to be vast and his sense of which issues to take on, very clever. The problems facing the country are huge, but he has reinforcements, the Tea Party movement. It is the most salubrious addition to politics since the Reagan Revolution. Welcome to Washington, friends, and get down to Mount Vernon on a weekend. It is just 12 miles down the road.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His new book is “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).