Free Markets, Free People

Tea Party movement

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 05 Aug 12

This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale talk about the totalitarian mindset of the left, and its consequences.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

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2012 is gonna be nasty

Mitt Romney is upset that the Obama team is planning to run a negative campaign of personal attacks against him.

Obama has remained personally popular — scoring as high as an 86 percent approval rating in the District of Columbia in a recent Gallup poll. But while he’s personally well-liked, the president’s overall approval rating is 43 percent compared to 48 percent disapproval, according to Gallup.

With that knowledge and the poor economic climate, Politico reported that the Obama campaign has no choice but to give up the 2008 campaign of "hope" and turn negative, portraying the incumbent as "principled" whereas Romney is an "opportunist." 

By the way, going to a DC Poll to prove how well-liked Obama is, seems like a pretty clear case of cherry-picking your polls for a positive result. In any event, there’s more from Politico:

The dramatic and unabashedly negative turn is the product of political reality. Obama remains personally popular, but pluralities in recent polling disapprove of his handling of his job, and Americans fear the country is on the wrong track. His aides are increasingly resigned to running for reelection in a glum nation. And so the candidate who ran on “hope” in 2008 has little choice four years later but to run a slashing, personal campaign aimed at disqualifying his likeliest opponent…

“Unless things change and Obama can run on accomplishments, he will have to kill Romney,” said a prominent Democratic strategist aligned with the White House.

The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, “weird.”

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign focused on a now-famous aphorism: "It’s the economy, stupid." It was the top theme of the campaign that carried the Arkansas governor to the White House. Skip forward 20 years, though, and the Obama administration’s campaign can rightfully be characterized with the slogan "It’s anything but the economy, stupid!" Seeking re-election with 9%+ unemployment and sub 2% GDP growth means that the economy is literally the last thing you want to discuss.

In fact, it’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, the Democrats can push as a positive result of the Obama Administration.  His signature achievement, Health Care Reform, remains deeply unpopular. The debt to GDP ratio has risen to 100%—and no doubt will be higher next year. For all his talk about deficit reduction, the president hasn’t actually put forward a written plan, though he has given a number of speeches.  His signature economic reform at the moment appears to be increasing taxes on "the rich", i.e., any family making more than $250,000 in household income. But beyond that is the deeper fear that the social welfare statism that has been the central tenet of the Democratic party for the last 30 years is simply unsustainable.  Not only is it nearly impossible to financially justify any real expansion of social democracy in the US, it’s difficult to see how even the current levels of welfare state spending can be sustained.

For the last three decades, Republicans have made soothing mouth noises about smaller government, while in actual practice, have continued driving the car off the cliff. The main difference between them and the Democrats, is that the Republican establishment has been firm in their refusal to upshift past third gear. On most occasions, anyway. That hasn’t really been particularly helpful. Both Republicans and Democrats in the political class have embraced a set of assumptions that spending increases are baked into the budget baseline, that any reductions in that baseline increase are "cuts", and that the time for financial rectitude—if it ever came—was at some hazy point in the far future.

Sadly, we’ve learned, as Rams coach George Allen used to tell us, that the future is now.

So, now, there’s the rising threat of the TEA Party, and their explicit argument that the welfare state experiment has been a financially disastrous failure, in that, even if one were to stipulate, arguendo, that the Democratic Party’s policies accomplished everything they wished in terms of creating a compassionate society, it would still be doomed to end due to the unsupportable financial burden it imposes. But, of course, while the latter is true, the former certainly isn’t, so there’s declining enthusiasm for continuing to support expensive programs that simply don’t accomplish their stated objectives.

In such an electoral climate, what remains, in the absence of any solid record of accomplishment, growing distrust of government, and financial/economic failure, is simply the will to power. And to maintain that power, destructive personal attacks are just about the only tool left in the Obama campaign toolbox. After all, we’ve already seen the change, and, so far, it hasn’t offered much hope.

The attacks that have been launched on the TEA Party are instructive.  If you can judge the quality of an opponent’s threat by the response it provokes in his enemies, then the TEA Party is enormously threatening to the entrenched political class. So far, they’ve been subjected to accusations of racism, extremist violence, been blamed for the failure of debt ceiling negotiations and the S&P downgrade of US debt, and derided as cranks and "hobbits".  Nearly every political ill has been ascribed to them by the political class—Democrats and establishment Republicans alike. I can only presume that this is because the political establishment perceives them as a threat.

By the same token, any Republican candidate can now expect withering personal attacks in response to any perceived electoral threat to President Obama. It may come from the Obama Campaign. It may come from media surrogates like Tina Brown’s Newsweek, which intentionally ran a cover picture this week whose sole purpose was, apparently, to make Michelle Bachmann look like a loon. It may come from campaign surrogates like SEIU union goons to heckle and disrupt campaign rallies. 

But, there’s no doubt that we’re in for a high level of personal nastiness and invective. This election is not going to be about some minor adjustment to spending, or some trifling adjustment of tax rates, or some nibbling at the edges of the regulatory state.  What is at stake in the 2012 election is the continuation of a world-view; a political philosophy that sees ever-larger government as the cure to whatever ails us. This next election is the first big battle for the survival of that worldview as the majority view of the political class, or the survival of the insurgent TEA party idea that government has become to large, too intrusive, and too expensive, so therefore must be radically reduced. There is little room to compromise between these two visions of government.  Indeed, in most ways, they are worldviews that are mutually exclusive. Over the next decade or so, we are going to learn which of these two views will prevail, and if the US, as presently composed, will remain a united polity.

We are now at a point where the fabric of the Republic is about to be tested as it hasn’t been since the Civil War, and this election is the first major event in that test.

It’s not going to be pretty.

~
Dale Franks
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The Tea Party downgrade

“Look at the history of this – the fact of the matter is that this is essentially a Tea Party downgrade. The Tea Party brought us to the brink of a default.” –David Axelrod, top political consultant to President Obama, in an appearance on “Face the Nation”, Sunday, 7 August, 2011

Damn those Tea Partiers, and their rigid insistence on slashing the Federal budget. If only they were more flexible on spending and increased taxes, we’d be just fine. Their demand that we substantially cut federal spending, balance the budget, and pay down the debt without significant tax increases has now caused S&P to conclude that we aren’t serious about getting debt under control.

That’s the Democrats’ argument anyway. And they’re sticking to it.

I will defer to Protein Wisdom’s Jeff Goldstein for his response:

For all those — both left and (establishment) right — inclined to excuse their own complicity and try to scapegoat the TEA Party, which remains the one faction who actively pushed for serious, actual debt reduction and a return to fiscal sanity, take note here: we recognize that it’s been your strategy since the downgrade to seize on the warnings against “political gridlock” in order to insist that a failure to “compromise” on the part of the TEA Party supporters is what led to the downgrade. We also recognize the dishonesty and cynicism of such a strategy: as has been noted time and again, Cut Cap and Balance was the compromise, with the vast majority of TEA Party supporters in the House voting for the bill, which gave the President his debt ceiling increase in exchange for both real cuts and a mechanism by which to control future deficit spending and debt.

Who didn’t compromise — and whose political intransigence is at the heart of the downgrade — is the Democrats, who refused to come up with their own plan, and who then refused to even allow CC&B come up for a vote. This faction — along with the go along/get along GOP establishment — is now looking to pass blame for their own willingness to block compromise onto the TEA Party.

It won’t work. 66% of the population backed CC&B; 75% backed a Balanced Budget Amendment. What they got instead was more spending (the single largest increase in history) for more empty promises of future cuts in the rate of spending.

This didn’t come anywhere near to what the credit agencies demanded, and it is not lost on us, no matter how feverishly you wish to spin it, that what is missing from any plan but those pushed by the TEA Party is any “‘stabilization and eventual decline’ of the federal debt as a share of the economy,” something that simply won’t happen without real cuts. Raising taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” even were you to confiscate all their wealth by taxing them at 100%, would run this government for less than a year. And once you confiscated it all, you’d have to then look elsewhere for new “revenues” to keep the government running.

The political class is unwilling to accept a simple premise: They’ve looted the system.  And they’ve looted it to such an extent that some notional increase in revenues obtained by taxing the "rich" can never make up for the spending.

Blaming the downgrade—or anything else—on the only group in America who are willing to fix the problem, rather than kicking it down the road as far as they can, is just a non-starter.

Or, it would be, if there weren’t so many people who weren’t so desperate to believe the gravy train can roll forever.

~
Dale Franks
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Quote of the day – Bob Herbert Tea Party edition

The "Rodney Dangerfield" of movements gets ignored by liberal Bob Herbert. After he says both sides are clueless in DC, and leadership is "AWOL", he says this:

What this election tells me is that real leadership will have to come from elsewhere, from outside of Washington, perhaps from elected officials in statehouses or municipal buildings that are closer to the people, from foundations and grass-roots organizations, from the labor movement and houses of worship and community centers.

The civil rights pioneers did not wait for presidential or Congressional leadership, nor did the leaders of the women’s movement. They plunged ahead with their crucial work against the longest odds and in the face of seemingly implacable hostility.

Sounds like a perfect description of the Tea Parties and what they’ve faced from the left – to include Bob Herbert.

Irony – something about which the left remains clueless.

~McQ

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NAACP “unexpectedly” finds racism at the bottom of Tea Party

Katherine Zernike at the NYT writes about a just released “study” by the NAACP which is entitled, “N.A.A.C.P. Report Raises Concerns About Racism Within Tea Party Groups".

I know, I know – knock you over with a feather, no?  And the timing?  Perfect.  Just before the mid-terms, a chance to label the opposition racist.  Not that anyone would see through the attempt or anything.

I’ve scanned the “study” and wasn’t particularly impressed with the level of “truth” I found.  For instance, here’s an example of an assumption of racism not evident at all in the situation, but somehow the NAACP managed to dig it out:

Shortly after the Seattle and Denver protests, on February 19, 2009, a stock analyst for a cable television network, Rick Santelli, let loose a five-minute on-air rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Yelling “This is America!” he attacked the home mortgage rescue plan the Obama administration had unveiled the day before. It was “promoting bad behavior,” he argued, by rewarding the “losers” who took on more debt than they could afford. Santelli said that Obama was turning America into Cuba, and called for a capitalist “Chicago Tea Party.”

An unstated racial element colored Santelli’s outrage over the Obama administration’s home mortgage rescue plan. During the years leading up to the housing crisis, banks had disproportionately targeted communities of color for subprime loans. Many of the so-called “losers” Santelli ranted about were black or Latino borrowers who’d been oversold by lenders cashing in on the subprime market. Their situations were worsened by derivatives traders, like Santelli, who packaged and re-packaged those loans until they were unrecognizable and untenable.[9]

Don’t you love that “unstated racial element” assertion?  Because that’s precisely what it is.  Santelli’s remarks were not something anyone I know interpreted as “racist”.  It was a cry against government intervention in an area where it doesn’t belong.  His “this is America” resonated not because everyone thought he was talking about blacks and Latinos, but because freedom means the right to both succeed and fail.  “Promoting bad behavior” was a shot at government, what it had done (and enabled) and was then considering bailing out.

Another portion goes into trying to tar the entire Tea Party movement with various characters that have apparently shown up at events.  A “this guy knew this guy who was acquainted with this guy who is an anti-semite” type of inuendo that is supposed to show, one supposes, that there is underlying racism and anti-Semitism at the base of every Tea Party movement.  For instance:

Also on the platform that day was the band Poker Face, playing music, providing technical back up, and receiving nothing but plaudits from the crowd.[208] The band, from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, already had a reputation for anti-Semitism. Lead singer Paul Topete was on the public record calling the Holocaust a hoax, and writing and performing for American Free Press–a periodical published by Willis Carto, the godfather of Holocaust denial in the United States.

My guess is that the crowd giving “nothing but plaudits” had no idea who Poker Face was and, unless the band did anti-Semitic songs, had no one awareness of the lead singers absurd position on the Holocaust.  

And then this damning bit of “evidence”:

In preparation for Tea Party protests held on July 4, 2009, national socialists and other white supremacists created a discussion thread on Stormfront.org, the largest and most widely accessed of the many white nationalist websites.[216] While highlighting the distinction between themselves and the majority of Tea Partiers who were not self-conscious about their own racism, one person argued, “We need a relevant transitional envelop-pushing flyer for the masses. Take these Tea Party Americans by the hand and help them go from crawling to standing independently and then walking towards racialism.”[217]

Or said another way, unlike the NAACP, the white supremacists assumed the “Tea Party Americans” weren’t racist and needed their help in becoming so.  In essence the attempt by the NAACP is to give a litany of white supremacist organizations and torturously try to link them to the Tea Party – with the inevitable slip ups like that above where, in fact the supremacists neatly contradict their premise.

And of course there’s irony.  In one portion of the “study” the NAACP goes after Pam Geller of Atlas Shrugs as a dangerous “Islamaphobe”.  She’s cited as a very important cog in the Tea Party movement.  Of course Geller is Jewish which sort of injures the “Tea Partiers are anti-Semitic” canard but never mind that.  How about this instead:

With leaders like Geller, it is not surprising to find language on a ResistNet Tea Party website that denigrates an entire grouping of people because of their faith. “We are at a point of having to take a stand against all Muslims. There is no good or bad Muslim. There is [sic] only Muslims and they are embedded in our government, military and other offices…What more must we wait for to take back this country of ours…”[260]

We have an entire “study” dedicated to denigrating an entire grouping of people as “racist, anti-Semitic, nativist and homophobic”, but the NAACP is a bit upset that Geller isn’t a fan of Islam.

Anyway, you get the drift.  Read it if you want too, but you’ll find very little light and a whole bunch of tenuous nonsense that is excruciatingly void of real facts.  Certainly not at all unexpected nor surprising.

Two responses I found interesting came from Project 21 members – a black conservative organization:

Project 21 fellow Deneen Borelli, "This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to mobilize support for their policies through fear. Even though Obama’s policies are harmful to the black community, tragically, they seek to manufacture blind loyalty to the President by scaring them about the opposition. As a frequent speaker at tea party rallies nationwide, I know the movement has nothing to do with race and everything to do with toxic liberal policies."

"As a black man, I scorn and resent this never-ending assault on the morals of all black people by the NAACP," said Project 21 member Oscar Murdock, who took part in the Tea Party Express rally in Searchlight, Nevada. "In spite of being an organization that was correctly established to procure and preserve rights for a people to whom rights and dignity were being denied, the NAACP has descended into a group that is a disgrace to the humanity of the very people it was created to elevate. It is now only a bigoted and politically biased blight among organizations."

I’d almost bet that these folks will soon be called “Oreos” or “Uncle Toms” by members of the organization which sponsored this smear job.

~McQ

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At least one person seems to "get" the Tea Party movement (update)

Jonathan Rauch, writing in National Journal, seems to have done what no one else in the media has yet done – get a fairly decent handle on the phenomenon known as the Tea Party movement.

"From Washington’s who’s-in-charge-here perspective, the tea party model seems, to use Wildman’s word, bizarre. Perplexed journalists keep looking for the movement’s leaders, which is like asking to meet the boss of the Internet. Baffled politicians and lobbyists can’t find anyone to negotiate with.

The "boss of the internet" makes a great point. This is an unknown beast in politicoworld. And since the politicians can’t find the leaders (and there by attempt to "negotiate" or buy-off that leadership) and it is something journalists don’t understand, they’re afraid of it. And they keep trying to pigeon hole it, but the movement doesn’t really allow that. It is what it is for a reason:

"[R]adical decentralization embodies and expresses tea partiers’ mistrust of overcentralized authority, which is the very problem they set out to solve. They worry that external co-option, internal corruption, and gradual calcification — the viruses they believe ruined Washington — might in time infect them. Decentralization, they say, is inherently resistant to all three diseases.

And that’s a another great point. But keep in mind, that wasn’t a design feature, that’s a feature of the spontaneous coming together of those who’ve signed on with the movement.

Sell-outs occur when leaders are co-opted by enticements and promises. No leaders, no co-option. If you want examples of the other two – corruption and gradual calcification – look no further than your Democratic and Republican parties, or the governments they run. There is no TP "president", no "treasurer", no "communications director". In fact, the movement is a collection of hundreds, if not thousands of local TPs which identify with the movement as a whole. Negotiate with that.

"’The reason the tea party isn’t yet there is they don’t yet make a distinction between friends and foes and persuadables,’ says [Ralph Benko, a Washington-based public affair consultant]. ‘They don’t yet make a distinction on who they can focus on to change a vote, or how they can change the fortunes of their preferred candidates. As long as they’re in ‘We hate you all’ mode, I don’t know if they’ll manifest as a powerful national force.’

They’re clear in what they’re interested in – fiscal sanity on the whole meaning smaller, less intrusive government, less spending, less taxation. That the type candidate they’ve been backing in the various primaries. And, at least in the primaries, they’ve had some success.

But those in the movement are at once national and local. They’re a spontaneous reaction to the frustration the general population has felt by being ignored completely between election cycles while the politicians proceed to break every promise they made, spend us into oblivion and generally treat us like chattel.

The "We hate you all" mode that is referred too isn’t quite as global as Benko would like you to believe. Obviously some politicians haven’t had to face TP backed candidates or have been backed by the TP as incumbents. That’s because they reflect the general political goals of the TP – both the local one in their area and the national movement.

As for becoming a “powerful national force”, if Benko doesn’t consider knocking off establishment party candidates in a number of Senate primaries the makings of a powerful national force, I’m not sure what would impress him.  He seems to be looking for that traditional political model with which to bestow that power.  What the TP movement is doing is finding its legs. 

It’s power is in its decentralization as Rauch points out above.  How to wield that power effectively is what the movement is just now exploring.  If it uses its template of governing principles and applies them consistently and persistently it will indeed be a ”powerful national force.”  But I think it is a mistake to claim the TP is in a “we hate you all” mode.  In fact, it’s just a target rich environment right now.  In a few years with a few successes and other politicians figuring out which way the wind blows politically, the TP may be much more selective in its application of that power.

Which brings us to this:

"But, tea partiers say, if you think moving votes and passing bills are what they are really all about, you have not taken the full measure of their ambition. No, the real point is to change the country’s political culture, bending it back toward the self-reliant, liberty-guarding instincts of the Founders’ era."

Why do you suppose the TP is such a incredible mix of types of people?  Because the dissatisfaction with the country’s political culture is an across the board phenomenon.  It is this the two parties just seem not to be able to grasp.  It isn’t about a preference for one or the other, it’s about not liking either of them or the culture they’ve spawned.  The TP’s main message is “change that culture or we’ll find and back someone who will, and if they fail, we’ll kick them out and find others”.  The fact is that in principle, it is the Republican party which should be the greatest beneficiary of this sort of a movement.  But over the years, speaking of co-option, corruption and calcification, the GOP has lost its way.  Dumping the Murkowskis and Bennett’s and rejecting the Crists and Castles of the party is the movement’s way of pointing out what the Republicans have to do to win their support.  Naturally the establishment party is resisting the guidance.

Democrats, of course, are scared witless of the movement because they – on the whole – represent everything the TP isn’t for.  Consequently that party has spent all its time denigrating, demonizing and falsely accusing the movement of being everything from a reincarnation of the KKK to the Nazi brownshirts.  But they’ve been unsuccessful in pinning any of those tags on the movement.  Time and again, TP rallies have formed in large numbers and done so peacefully and without incident.  And, the one time there were supposed “incidents” it ended up blowing back on the Democrats when not one shred of proof of their charges could be found.

Obviously, it is still too early to say if the TP will actually have any staying power or whether or not if it does it will become a “potent national force”.  However, it is clear that the media and politicians don’t know what to do with it, what it really is or means or how to take it down.  And that’s the core of its power right now.  Its spontaneity and decentralized “structure” enabled by today’s technology have them running scared.  And personally, I’d like to see politicians kept in a perpetual state of fright – it seems to me that’s when they’re most responsive to the will of the people.

UPDATE: Ralph Benko responds.

~McQ

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A pox on both parties

Gallup’s latest poll shows that at least in the universe of those polled, neither the GOP or the Democratic party are held in very high esteem.  It’s something that I and Billy Hollis have been trying to get across for some time. 

What you’re seeing out there among the teeming masses isn’t necessarily a movement (I’m talking the Tea Party, etc) that wants to put the GOP in power.  It is a movement that is sick and tired of the way the country has been run and at the moment Republicans are considered to be slightly better because of their fiscal principles.

But, as Lisa Murkowski can tell you, not even all of them are acceptable.

I’m not speaking for the Tea Party, I’m not sure anyone can, but it appears to me to be mostly driven by a desire for fiscal conservatism and a return to Constitutional/limited government.  I don’t think it is much more complex than that, although with any mass movement you’ll see other minor movements with different causes try to attach themselves and claim to be mainstream in that movement.

But for the most part fiscal conservatism and limited government best characterize the Tea Party in my eyes.  And I’ve spoken frequently about how the “wrong track” poll – i.e. the fact that a huge majority of Americans, in the 60 percentile range, think the country is on the wrong track and have thought so for at least the last two administrations – speaks to the fact that they’re not happy with either party.

Gallup’s poll simply validates that point:

Americans’ frustration with Congress is directed at both sides of the aisle — with job approval ratings of 33% for the Democrats in Congress and 32% for the Republicans in Congress.

Interestingly those ratings are considerably higher than Congress’s approval rating (somewhere down around 11%) which I attribute to this specific Congress.   Americans don’t like the way Congress as a whole this session has done business and blame the Democrats for that, since they’re the majority party.  But in general, and for some time, they’ve not at all happy with the two parties (in fact, the cited poll numbers probably reflect approval by mostly partisan members of each party).

So here we are on the eve of  a mid-term with the GOP poised to make a return to power, at least in the House, and it is clear that they are nothing more than a “lesser of two evils” pick because, unfortunately, there are only two viable parties.

That is part of the frustration Americans are going through right now.  Movements like the Tea Party are trying to shape that a bit with its support of candidates that are much closer to the ideal they prefer.  And they’re having some success.

Of course the point is that the GOP shouldn’t think that there’s been a sudden mass acceptance of their brand or that they suddenly have some sort of mandate (the mistake the Democrats made and the result of that will be seen this November).  Instead they should understand that they’re grudgingly being given another chance to prove themselves, that the people that are supporting them have been very clear what they want, and if they don’t perform, they now have a movement that can find  – and back – someone who will. 

That’s quite a change from previous years, and who knows, if the Tea Party survives in some manner or form, it might be something that can indeed help us back along the road to fiscal conservancy and limited government.

~McQ

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Misunderstanding Freedom

Rand Paul managed to raise quite a ruckus by honestly stating his views in response to a loaded (and irrelevant) question. In the process, the left and those who pose an intellectual moderates have seized the opportunity to tee off on libertarianism and the Tea Party movement. Dale capably dismantled one such effort by the New York Times editorial board. Today, a more subtle, concern-trollish effort graces the NYT in a piece from Sam Tanenhaus:

On the surface Mr. Paul’s contradictory statements [i.e. that he dislikes the federal government intrusion into private business affairs, abhors racism, and would have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act — ed. – which aren’t necessarily contradictory] might seem another instance of the trouble candidates get into when ideological consistency meets the demands of practical politics. This was the point Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, made when he said, in mild rebuke of Mr. Paul, “I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here.”

But Mr. Paul’s position is complicated. He has emerged as the politician most closely identified with the Tea Party movement. Its adherents are drawn to him because he has come forward as a kind of libertarian originalist, unbending in his anti-government stance. The farther he retreats from ideological purity, the more he resembles other, less attractive politicians.

In this sense, Mr. Paul’s quandary reflects the position of the Tea Partiers, whose antipathy to government, rooted in populist impatience with the major parties, implies a repudiation of politics and its capacity to effect meaningful change.

Although Tanenhaus provides a fairly non-judgmental opinion here, he is also quite clearly trying to imply a racist undertone to the Tea Party movement. At best, he is suggesting that Rand, and thus Tea Partiers, are smugly indifferent to the vagaries of racial prejudice, and all too ready to sacrifice the well-being of those who suffer most from such discrimination on the altar of libertarian purism. While it’s true that libertarians can be just as prone to fits of utopianism as any good Marxist, Tanenhaus’ conjecture relies on at least two fundamental misunderstandings: (1) that adherence to principles of liberty can only be maintained from a standpoint of ideological purity; and (2) that distrust of government intrusion equals “anti-government.”

Taking the second point first, there has been a concerted effort by the left to portray libertarians in general, and Tea Partiers specifically, as some sort of “anti-government” force. Tanenhaus attempts to support this myopic view by equating Rand’s skepticism regarding certain portions of the ’64 Act with an unbending aversion to government in toto. In turn, all those in favor of limited government, and especially those opposed to the unnecessary and unwanted expansion of federal powers witnessed in the past couple of years, are labeled as anti-government ideologues, who mistake the theoretical for the practical. Yet, in truth, the views of libertarians and the Tea Party crowd are not terribly different from those of this nation’s founders in that regard. Distrust of government, after all, was what led to the formation of a constitution that limited its powers and explicitly placed the source of all such power in the hands of the people. That is not an anti-government stance, but a pro-limited-government and pro-liberty view. Tanenhaus’ misapprehension of that fact leads to a portrayal of Rand et al. as some sort of anarchist radicals bent on destroying government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Turning to Rand’s comments on the ’64 Act, we should all have a problem with government intrusion into our private affairs. A good argument can be made that without such intrusion the invidious racist practices targeted by the ’64 Act would have continued for quite a while, but that is simply an end-justifies-the-means argument that misses the most important reason to be skeptical of such intrusions: once government has such power it rarely, if ever, gives it up, but instead extends its reach into other areas as well. Yes, that is a “slippery slope” argument, but one that in this case is well founded in fact. Indeed, the ’64 Act itself, based on Congress’ Commerce Clause powers, serves as the perfect illustration of why the slippery slope should be minded. Since the end of the Lochner era, and the concurrent expansion of Commerce Clause power, the federal government has arrogated to itself the ability to control almost every level of your business and personal activity, right down to what you may or may not ingest, and how you can can receive health care when you get sick. Again, whether some of these results are “good” is beside the point that the means of obtaining them requires a suppression of liberty and an expansion of centralize government power. For that reason, and that reason alone, Rand is right to question the necessity of certain provisions of the ’64 Act, even if eventually he would have voted in favor of it (and leaving aside the cogent, and certainly correct, arguments that federal government had the requisite power to enact those provisions through the 13th Amendment). And, again, none of that stance make he or anyone who supports him some sort of “anti-government” radical.

In the same way, questioning invasive government powers in defense of liberty does not make one an impractical ideologue. For starters, freedom isn’t just an idea or some sort of construct; government is. Like pure oxygen, it’s rare to find in the natural order of things, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In contrast, government had to be invented from the ideas of man. Accordingly, it is not ideological to take the view that, as Justice Scalia once noted, individual liberty is the default position and government control over it must be constitutionally and specifically justified, not the other way around. Our very country was founded on this basic principle. Yet, the critics of Rand Paul, libertarians and Tea Partiers get this exactly backwards.

Moreover, just because something is practical, doesn’t warrant an eradication of individual liberty. Perhaps it is true that de facto Jim Crow would have lingered in the absence of those ’64 Act provisions preventing private discrimination. If so, then the practical application of those laws would seem to trump the individual liberty of the racists who tried to perpetuate that era. Yet, can it truly be said that the ’64 Act was responsible for bringing an end to discrimination, or since we know it still exists, its retardation? Isn’t there a much better argument to be made that Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and all those civil rights activists of the 50’s and 60’s who lent their blood, sweat and tears — and sometimes their very lives — to the cause had a much greater impact than the 88th Congress? In this sense, while the ’64 Act may have been practical in regards to expediency, was it really necessary especially in consideration of the cost to personal freedom? Even if the answer to that last question is a fully justified “Yes” (and maybe it is), raising it does not make one an ideologue impervious to the realities of life. It simply makes one a principled defender of liberty, which one can be without being a mindless utopian.

Looking at this whole issue from a broader perspective, the real problem here is a basic misunderstanding of freedom. One can love liberty and still support government. From a libertarian point of view, government is simply an ordered, less brutal means of securing to ourselves the ability to pursue freedom by donating limited powers to the governing organization. Instead of defending all property with the barrel of a gun, we look to the judicial system. Rather than depend on the will and wherewithal of individuals to defend our society from its enemies, we support a national defense. As opposed to having each and every transaction among people be subject to individual contract, we recognize the ability of legislatures to set certain standards for the conduct of society. We may disagree as to where the limits should be set on each of these governmental powers, but libertarians are fully cognizant of the fact that having some sort of governmental structure is more desirable than having none. And yet, we also unapologetically and jealously guard our freedom, ever mindful that liberty lost is rarely regained without serious strife and deadly consequences.

In short, although we may question authority, we do not seek to abolish it. While we may defend the liberty of even the most odious of individuals, that does not mean we support their anti-social behaviors. Libertarians, and all lovers of freedom, have firm, historical reasons for challenging intrusions into their lives. We do not need to be ideologues to do so, and the practical effects of that suspicion of power has led directly to the greatest expansion of wealth and prosperity for the largest number of people in history. Freedom, at times, may be ugly up close, but it is still the most beautiful thing that has ever existed, bar none. Defense thereof requires an adherence to reality, not flights of fancy.

Dan Quayle’s wrong

Not completely, not utterly, just in how he discusses the Tea Party’s origins.

Like many influential causes before it, the “tea party” movement appeared on the scene uninvited by the political establishment. Democrats in the White House and in Congress recognize it for what it is — a spontaneous and pointed response to the Obama agenda — but some Republican leaders still aren’t sure what to make of it, as tea partiers have risen on their own and stirred up trouble in GOP primaries.

The  tea party movement is not exclusively a reaction only to “the Obama agenda”. And if the GOP buys into that, they’re buying trouble.  Quayle even acknowledges that without knowing it when he talks about trouble in Republican primaries.

This grass roots movement didn’t begin when Obama took office or in reaction to his specific agenda, but instead began to form during the Bush administration as government continued to expand. About the time TARP found its way into the political lexicon, it went public.  It was the size of the crisis and response – the trillions of dollars thrown around like confetti – that finally spurred people into the streets and birthed the official “tea party movement”.

If you haven’t already, I’d like you to watch and listen to this interview with Pam Stout, a local tea party movement president from Idaho. She’s on the Dave Letterman show, and, knowing the history of the show, I’m sure you can figure out why he wanted her there. But she blows up the game and in what I’m sure was an unintended outcome, gives lie to almost all the myths, legends and charges being circulated about Tea Partiers. Listen at the 3 minutes mark on the second video where Ms. Stout verifies exactly what I’ve been saying about the movement.

Stout is the perfect example of my point – this isn’t a movement of right wing disgruntled Republicans. This is a movement of small government fiscal conservatives – almost libertarian in leaning. Her discussion of the demonization of business, the necessity of allowing businesses to fail, getting out of the way of the markets and let them take the lead in recovery were on target and well delivered.

But most importantly, the GOP needs to understand that her “hero” is Sen. Jim DeMint, not because DeMint is a Republican, but because DeMint is a small government fiscal conservative who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. The reason they’re identified with the GOP is because that’s about the only place other than the libertarian side of the house, that you’ll find those type people.

That’s who Tea Partiers are looking for. They’re not looking necessarily for Republicans. They’re looking for principled small government fiscal conservatives who will return sanity to government and scale down its size, scope and cost. Sen. Olympia Snowe would not qualify. Sen. Lindsey Graham most likely wouldn’t qualify either. And I’ll venture to say, neither would Sen. John McCain. These are the type people they’re promising “trouble” for in Republican primaries.

But if the Republicans don’t quite get it, the Democrats definitely do. They understand they are faced with a grass roots group – a real grass roots group which makes them doubly dangerous – that stand for everything Democrats do not. Democrats are absolutely dedicated to using government as a tool to expand the social welfare state come hell or high water. Their concentration is on expanding both the size and scope of government and, by fiat, it’s cost. Their almost single-minded effort of over a year to pass health care reform, while a more critical priority – the economy – went wanting underlines their agenda, and yes, as Quayle says, this group opposes that agenda. That’s why you’ve seen efforts almost since day one to brand the tea parties as extremist, racist, terrorist – you name it – in an effort to discredit it.

But this goes much deeper than just Democrats and a specific agenda and I think Ms. Stout does a great job representing the movement and of making that point clear. The tea party movement certainly has a focus – but it isn’t necessarily that of many in the GOP. If they thought they had a place in the GOP – if they thought the GOP was indeed the party of small government fiscal conservancy – there’d be no need for tea parties, would there?

~McQ

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