In contrast to the last time he mentioned the Whiskey Rebellion on his show, last night Jon Stewart got relationships among the Shays Rebellion, the creation of the Constitution, and the Whiskey Rebellion exactly right. His purpose, brilliantly achieved, was to demolish Sean Hannity’s fake patriotism, which as Stewart said, is really a form of rear-guard antifederalism, in keeping with that of the entire Fox News right. The Constitution they profess to love was formed, precisely and specifically, to create a power to do what they hate: collect taxes, in service of a big national debt, by force if necessary.
And Stewart is quite right to note that all of that came about in direct response to the Shaysite resistance in western Massachusetts. Then, in 1794, the first president exercised those new powers with a vengeance in western Pennsylvania. Just as he would do today, at the Bundy Ranch.
Stewart’s point was to expose the vile hypocrisy of Hannity and the new antifederalists. He could not have made that point more effectively.
The problem with that realpolitik founding history for liberals, though, is that the neither the Shaysites nor the Whiskey Rebels were in fact anti-tax activists, like those the Hannitys of the world endorse. The original rebels were working-class labor activists resisting not taxation itself but deeply regressive taxes, earmarked for payoffs and bailouts to the richest few. Progressives today would agree, that is, with the critique made by the Shaysites and the Whiskey Rebels, if not with their tactics.
And in suppressing those founding rebels, both the framers, constructing the Constitution precisely to enforce regressive taxation and protect bonanzas for the rich, and the first president, ignoring all civil rights during the 1794 crackdown of western Pennsylvania, made themselves anything but heroes of modern liberalism. History: Whaddaya gonna do.
Anyway, nice to see founding realpolitik on “The Daily Show,” and to see today’s populist-right history nonsense exposed for what it is.