At yesterday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the IRS abuses, Rep. Paul Ryan responded to a verbal assault from Democrat Jim McDermott to the seated witnesses, among them members of Tea Party groups who’d been targeted by the IRS, with the words “Welcome to Washington.”
As a student of political science and someone deeply involved in politics for some time, I think yesterday’s hearing should be studied for generations to come. From the outset, it was clear that the witnesses were not professional politicians but instead were honest ordinary American citizens who decided to get involved in the political system as they always believed it was their right to do.
One of them, Becky Gerritson, a leader of an Alabama Tea Party group, gave one of the best speeches I’ve heard from an American citizen on Capitol Hill since Jimmy Stewart in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. During her testimony, Ms. Gerritson emotionally began with the following words:
In Wetumpka, we are patriotic Americans. We peacefully assemble. We petition our government. We exercise the right to free speech. And we don’t understand why the government tried to stop us.
I’m not here as a serf or a vassal. I’m not begging my lords for mercy. I’m a born free American woman. Wife, mother, and citizen. And I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place. It’s not your responsibility to look out for my wellbeing and monitor my speech. It’s not your right to assert an agenda. Your post, the post that you occupy, exists to preserve American liberty. You’ve sworn to perform that duty, and you have faltered.
Later, she concluded with the following:
This was a willful act of intimidation to discourage a point of view. What the government did to our little group in Wetumka, Alabama was un-American. It isn’t a matter of firing or arresting individuals. The individuals who sought to intimidate us were acting as they thought they should in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens. Many of the agents and agencies of the federal government do not understand that they are servants of the people. They think they are our masters. And they are mistaken. I’m not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America that I grew up in. The America that people crossed oceans and risked their lives to become a part of. And I’m terrified it is slipping away.
This testimony was followed by “questioning” by Rep. McDermott. In his comments, McDermott described the IRS’s activities as “stupid” and “inept” but concluded that hearings involving IRS activity were mostly “political theater.”
All I can say is that Paul Ryan’s follow-up “Welcome to Washington” was right on target. As for Rep. McDermott, he was born in the wrong century. He could have made King George III very proud and would have been a great asset to the Crown back when the British were dealing with those pesky American colonists who refused to just pay their taxes and shut up.
As for Ms. Gerritson, she’s exactly the kind of citizen that would have made the Founders proud.
Thank you, Becky Gerritson, for standing up for the true principles on which our country was founded.