A while back, John McCain drew the ire of the conservative rank-and-file when he said, “Then Democrats would have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements, and the tea party hobbits could return to Middle-earth.” There’s a whole universe of metaphor in what he said, though I do not think he realized it.
The issue on which he was speaking at the time was the raising of the debt ceiling. The establishment seem to believe there is no alternative to doing this when we have – again -outspent our resources. The ordinary people, however, look at their own budgets and note that they do not simply take out another credit card every time they need money – and that if they did, the results long term would be disastrous. The TEA Party is particularly outspoken about this.
“Though I Do Not Know The Way.”
While McCain was blasted for his condescension toward the TEA party peeps – and he should have been – he was not wrong in calling the TEA party a bunch of hobbits. Look at the similarities: a group of small (in size for hobbits, in power for the TEA party) people set forth from their safe haven to achieve a goal that seems far beyond any of them. As they learn more about the goal and their role in it, the achievement of success seems further and further away. Yet, they persevere, in the light and in the dark, struggling to reach the end of the road and destroy the perverted power that threatens to corrupt them all.
Pretty clear analogy, if you ask me.
But the hobbits did not do it alone. They had a great deal of help from those IN power who recognized the importance of the Ring’s destruction. When Frodo accepts the burden of the ring in Rivendell, he says, “I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way.” This was probably the most critical line in the whole book. If you follow Joseph Campbell’s storytelling theories, it was the moment when Frodo accepted the Call to Adventure, and was thus irrevocably committed to the hero’s role.
The TEA Party had a similar moment, on April 15, 2009 when they rallied in Capitol Mall and in cities across the country to show their commitment. While up to that point, they had been talking about changing Washington (since no one else was willing to do it), at that moment they announced themselves willing to change it. The problem was, of course, that they did not know the way.
That’s where the Washington insiders should have helped. In The Lord of the Rings, the role of the powerful was protecting the mission to destroy the ring, not directing it. They were to lead the way, but not dictate where that way led. Gandalf was the glue holding them together; he knew them all, and they all knew and trusted (more or less) him. Not until he fell in Moria was the party at any real risk of falling apart.
There was, however, no Gandalf in Washington to help the TEA Party. Instead, they found themselves beset on all sides from the very beginning. The most powerful Washington insiders either refused to involve themselves or made fun of TEA Party ideals, considering them unrealistic and unattainable. The people in power could have empowered the TEA partiers; instead they hindered them, making it even harder for these relatively powerless citizens to figure out which way to turn.
Yet the TEA Party persevered, to the point that they became a gadfly to the Washington insiders. They persevere yet, from quiet hidden places.
Whenever you have power you have temptation. In The Lord of the Rings, Boromir fell victim to that temptation (and I wonder if it was accidental that of all the Companions, he was the one most arguably a politician?), and his greed for more power, even though his intentions were good, drove Frodo to strike out on the path to Mordor by himself – even though he still did not know the way. He did not dare take the chance that others would be corrupted by the Ring.
Similarly, the TEA Party rejected overtures by many in power to “help” them – “help” really being a euphemism for “follow me and I’ll lead you to where I want you to go.” Most of their leaders are either hobbits themselves or those who have been somehow rejected in Washington: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Marco Rubio. Like Frodo, they do not dare trust even those who seem to have their best interests in mind. By themselves, the TEA Party must travel to Mount Doom – and the way is long and dangerous and demoralizing.
The Role of Power
This does not mean that those who are in power can do nothing. In The Lord of the Rings, the role of the powerful was to distract and hold off the forces of evil while the hobbits made their way toward Mordor. For the hobbits to succeed, everyone had to work together to achieve the same goal.
We have Boromirs in the ranks of the powerful – those who would seize the same power we’re trying to destroy in order to pervert it to their own goals, but become corrupted in the process. We also have Aragorns – those who are willing to take terrible punishment and pain in order that the TEA Party succeed.
Ultimately, just as in The Lord of the Rings, whether or not the hobbits succeed depends on their level of faith. If we do not give up, if we maintain strength in the face of all the terrible things that come our way, we will eventually succeed.
So overall McCain was right, to a point: the TEA Party hobbits had set forth from their safe homes in Middle Earth to destroy the power that threatened everything they loved. However, he should have read to the end of the book: the hobbits did not return to the Shire until they were successful, and even then they had to fight to get their homes back. We will be doing the same. We are all hobbits, and we are strong enough.