According to WaPo today, the TV ad shows red coats with guns about to shoot down colonial revolutionaries, when, a Dodge Challenger roars out of the woods with an American flag on it, driven by George Washington, who vanquishes the red coats and then steps out to declare "Here's a couple of things America got right: cars -- and freedom." When I watched the July 4th parade in Harrisonburg, by far the largest contingent were members of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party handing out pamphlets supporting tax cuts and smaller government, the pamphlets very slick and showing funding support from the Heritage Foundation and various other conservative entities. A friend who was in the parade supporting a local Democratic candidate emailed friends about feeling threatened by gun-toting people in the parade, particular the Tea Partiers.
So, it has been taken for granted that the political Right owns the Tea Parties. After all, the original tea party was to protest a tax on tea, right? Not so simple, actually. The original slogan was "No taxation without representation," not "no taxation." It was pro-democracy, not anti-tax or anti-government. And all the taxes we have have been instituted by democratically elected Congresses and legislatures and city or county councils or boards of supervisors. There are many progressive aspects of the American Revolution, not just arguments for going back to the late nineteenth century. Tea partiers cite the 10th amendment to argue that the federal government should not be regulating the environment or providing social security or health insurance, ignoring that the Constitution calls for support of the general welfare.
Another aspect often ignored by the Tea Partiers is the relative social liberalism of many of the Founding Fathers on many issues (although not on slavery or attitudes towards the Indians or women). These men were deists who believed in the separation of church and state. The claims that the US is a "Christian nation" were refuted by even the most religious of them, John Adams, as president in our treaty with the Barbary States in 1798. Franklin and Washington were Masons before their official religions (and Franklin did not have one at all). When they attended the Episcopal churches to which they belonged, neither Washington nor Jefferson took communion, and Jefferson declared a favoritism for Unitarianism, which John Adams was a card carrying member of at his death, while Washington had a Masonic funeral. It is perhaps ironic that some of these folks are aware of these attitudes, as the recent effort by the Texas School Board to remove the teaching of Jefferson as an important political figure for his support of separation of church and state shows.
In any case, I think that progressives need to claim, or perhaps re-claim, their heritage in the American Revolution and not let it be taken over by this collection of hypocrites and lunatics.