Dana Milbank: Dick Armey's "Tea Party' History is a Strange Brew





[Dana Milbank is a columnist for the Washington Post.]

Dick Armey is intellectually versatile: The former leader of House Republicans went from being a rainmaker for a Washington lobbying firm to being the unofficial leader of the anti-Washington "tea party" movement.

But his latest avocation, historian of early America, may be his most intriguing role yet. As head of FreedomWorks, the group that helps to fund and coordinate tea party activists, Armey went to the National Press Club on Monday afternoon in advance of Tuesday's tea party protest in Washington, to present some of his historical findings....

"The small-government conservative movement, which includes people who call themselves the tea party patriots and so forth, is about the principles of liberty as embodied in the Constitution, the understanding of which is fleshed out if you read things like the Federalist Papers," Armey explained. The problem with Democrats and other "people here who do not cherish America the way we do," he explained, is "they did not read the Federalist Papers."

And this oversight makes the tea partiers mad. "Who the heck do these people think they are to try to sit in this town with their audacity and second-guess the greatest genius, most creative genius, in the history of the world?" Armey demanded.

A member of the audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?

Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton."

Alas, for Armey, it was the case. Hamilton favored a national bank, presidents and senators who served for life and state governors appointed by the president....

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