The Future of the Tea Party Movement
By: Guest Authors
By: James R. Keena
Assume, for the purpose of this discussion, that the Tea Party movement continues to significantly influence political outcomes through the 2010 primaries and general elections.
In other words, assume that conservative-leaning candidates win their primaries, that Big Government apologists are defeated in the general election, and that the U.S. House of Representatives is snatched back from the radicals.
What then for the Tea Party movement?
Are the Tea Party tactics of the past 18 months sufficient for continued success in the future? Do we proceed with more rallies of sign-toting and fist-shaking patriots? Do we propagate more speeches and e-mails invoking patriotic icons, anecdotes, and imagery? Do we indulge in more wistful longing for oldies-but-goodies like Reagan and a Contract with America? Do we humor more high-profile celebrity, political, and media hangers-on who prove daily that Tea Party success has a thousand vicarious mothers?
None of these tactics are sufficient for future success, even though they contributed to our success in the past. Past is not prologue for the Tea Party movement. Widespread success in November will cause our political circumstance to be very different. When conservatives retake the U.S. House of Representatives, we will no longer be just a boisterous horde outside the castle; we will be a coterie among the Kingâ€™s court. The stark reality of our accomplishments will necessitate a different strategy for the Tea Party movement. This article proposes such a strategy.
First, letâ€™s acknowledge that the Tea Party movement has thus far accomplished things that were both extraordinary and necessary. The movement has invigorated a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground army of passionate conservative activists. This is something that the feckless Republican Party, which has been the putative flag-bearer of conservatism, has been utterly incapable of inspiring. The Republican Party, because of its stodgy, wishy-washy, misdirected political inertia, is not yet even fully attuned to the limited-government tsunami that has cascaded out of the Tea Party movement. More will be said about that shortly.
The Tea Party movement has also become the counterpoint to the Leftâ€™s radical boots-on-the-ground coalition that includes termites like ACORN (or whatever theyâ€™ve disguised themselves as now), Organizing for America, and MoveOn.org. Tea Partiers, to their considerable credit, accomplished this without the corrupting billions of rogue Soros-like backers or the endless manna granted by foundations and government agencies that typically support left-leaning activists. The Tea Party movement is truly a grassroots phenomenon, unlike the ersatz publicly and institutionally funded Astroturf organizations of the Left.
Emotionally, the Tea Party movement has infused conservatives with an energy that seemed unimaginable just 18 months ago. It has reintroduced the concept of limited government into mainstream American political conversation. It has taught politicians of all stripes that â€œWe the Peopleâ€ is no longer a trite patriotic anachronism, but rather the battle cry of a grassroots electoral tiger with razor-sharp fangs.
However, the success of the Tea Party movement thus far has certain inherent limitations. It is one thing to successfully awaken and energize the conservative tiger, which will certainly be manifested as an electoral blood-letting in November. It is entirely another thing, though, to channel that energy into a defined and executable path forward for the country. The Tea Party momentum from the impending electoral victories in 2010 must be codified into a widely-embraceable mandate. It is only through such as mandate that the movement can emerge from the 2012 elections as an executable political revolution.
Said another way, it is one thing to shout â€œthrow the bums outâ€ and to proceed to do just that in the voting booths in November. It is entirely another thing, though, to elect politicians to stand in place of the evicted bums who can lead with courage, audacity, and steadfast commitment to limited government. Such is the kind of leadership that Republicans have not recently demonstrated an aptitude for. There is cause for grave concern on this point. The end result of our efforts cannot be to merely elect Big Government elephants in lieu of Big Government donkeys.
Therein is our predicament. How does the Tea Party movement affect the selection of bold new leaders and the execution of a bold new political vision, when it is not a functioning political party and has no national structure or funding? How does the Tea Party movement gain sufficient organizational structure and financial clout to substantially and permanently alter the political future of the country? This is a particularly urgent question, since 2012 is just around the corner, in the grand political scheme of things. Shortly after the November 2010 vote, candidates will begin to emerge, and platforms will begin to coalesce, for the 2012 elections. If we leave candidate selection and platform development to the Republican Party of recent vintage, we will deserve the disappointment and frustration that will be the logical outcome of such dereliction of duty.
The quickest and most effective solution for this predicament is for the Tea Party movement to simply engulf and transform the Republican Party from the inside. Bizarrely, the stale carcass of the Republican Party is still the nominal standard-bearer of American conservatism, in terms of the actual mechanics, funding, and structure of party politics on the right of the political spectrum. Therefore, the Republican Party is incongruously the nominal political leader of the newly-energized limited-government tidal wave that it had virtually no role in cultivating.
This incongruity seems very much like the tail wagging the dog. It makes absolutely no sense.
The Tea Party movement has become the heart and soul of conservatism inside the otherwise heartless and soulless GOP carcass. However, despite displacing the carcassâ€™s heart and soul, the Tea Party movement has not yet gained control of the carcassâ€™s arms and legs. The newly-energized activism of limited-government advocates must be first fully manifested inside the GOP, before it can be fully manifested nationally in general elections and subsequent administrations. Champions of limited government must take back the GOP, before they can take back the country.
The Tea Party movement has no choice but to infiltrate the GOP and take control of its arms and legs. If we donâ€™t do this, the arms and legs of the spiritless carcass may head in different and unpredictable directions than our conservative hearts and souls desire. The goal of our movement is to resurrect limited government beholden to the people, not to resurrect a moribund party that is beholden to itself.
We need to assert our political will inside the Republican Party, and insist that the GOP cast aside the fecklessness, ambiguity, and incompetence that caused its brand to be so brutally tarnished in the past several elections. â€œThrowing the bums outâ€ should be an exercise that begins inside the GOP, before it becomes a broad nationwide electoral mission in 2012. We need to become the Republican Partyâ€™s precinct delegates, its campaign volunteers and managers, its party operatives and leaders, and most importantly, its candidates. We have the energy, we have the boots on the ground, and we have the vision. We just need the will to do it.
This proposed palace revolt inside the GOP is not without precedent. An analogous dethroning happened during the last decade in the Democrat Party when George Soros and his Shadow Party took control of the DNC party machinery with billions of Sorosâ€™s dollars and a phalanx of left-wing satellite organizations.
Even after the Tea Party movement figuratively assaults the ramparts of the GOP and takes control, there will still be a major void that must be addressed quickly. A critical milestone for a successful limited-government political revolution is the creation of a tenable â€œbig tentâ€ political vision to define it. A conservative political movement with too small of a political tent is a waste of everyoneâ€™s time. We will simply be left to stand on the political sidelines shouting angry but futile epithets while the radical coalition in power continues to destroy America with ruinous spending and end-runs around the Constitution. We are not seeking the electoral consolation prize that comes with narrow, polarizing ideological purity; we are seeking victory in the form of fundamental transformation of our government.
To be very clear, we should not create an artificial and unstable big tent by compromising our principles, by collaborating with Big Government apologists, or by linking arms with appeasers and RINOâ€™s. We will never achieve a return to limited government if we aid and abet the enemies of limited government. We have come too far with our movement just to squander our efforts by making deals with devils who will sell their souls to collectivism for the mere purpose of maintaining public office. We do not want anybody in our political tent who cannot embrace a return to limited government based on the U.S. Constitution. Period.
The key to erecting a limited-government big tent is to identify and embrace â€œTrue Northâ€ political principles that are not only inherently righteous, they resonate across a broad spectrum of the electorate. The process of doing this will necessarily require minimizing discussion of polarizing topics, and maximizing discussion of the broader and more unifying â€œTrue Northâ€ principles.
The primary â€œTrue Northâ€ principle that the conservative movement must embrace is the reestablishment of constitutionally-limited government in America. Limited government reflects positively on our noble culture and tradition. It has been thoroughly proven as a successful model by the greatest country in the history of the world. Limited government is the heart of soul of the American vision. It is the most morally profound political vision in the history of mankind. It is not only right and proper as a political vision; it is the essence of the American spirit. Limited government is a framework that conservatives, libertarians, and fiscally-concerned moderates and independents can rally around. Such an alliance, if fully unified, can be a powerful electoral force. This alliance will be our last stand. If such an alliance cannot successfully take back our country, then all is lost anyway.
Such an alliance can be easily fractured, if other important but less universally agreed-upon concerns are allowed to take precedence over the grander and more universally accepted principle of limited government. This is a sensitive point to make, but its very sensitivity is proof of its urgency. For example, there are many positions on social issues that conservatives hold dear. These include the right-to-life perspective on abortion, opposition to gay marriage, and support for school prayer, among many others. The â€œproperâ€ positions on these issues have tended to become litmus tests for â€œconservativeâ€ candidates in the past.
However, in order for the limited-government movement to be successful in the 2012 elections and beyond, we have to abandon these â€œconservativeâ€ litmus tests. We also have to abstain from constructing planks in our political platform built around social issues. This is not to say that those who hold conservative positions on social issues should abandon them as personal commitments. Quite to the contrary, conservatives should continue to energetically advocate for their positions on social issues in families, churches, communities, schools, the media, and the marketplace.
We should not, however, allow polarizing positions on these issues to derail our momentum in the political quest for limited government. If we do not succeed in reestablishing limited government throughout America, then our positions on social issues will be steamrolled in the political forum. It is limited government or bust. If the radicals who are opposed to limited government continue to hold power in political offices, the conservative positions on social issues will be swept aside anyway. The radicals will enact adverse legislation, they will appoint antagonist judges, and they will ignore or erode the tenets of our Constitution.
Hereâ€™s the brutal reality of our circumstance. The radicals in power dearly want to use the state to wage war on our conservative values. We need to gain political power to stop them. But in doing so, we will proceed as champions of limited government. As champions of limited government, we cannot propose to use political power to force our values on the rest of the nation. Therefore, the fulcrum and lever in this sticky circumstance is simply advocacy for limited government. If we pile on by emphasizing polarizing social issues, it will not gain us any friends, but it will fracture our limited government coalition.
There is only one overriding political battle right now, and there can only be one steely-eyed focus for us in the next few years. We must remove the radicals from office, and we must reestablish limited government based on the U.S. Constitution. If we donâ€™t win that battle, nothing else matters. For every social issue that we insist on polarizing the electorate with, we can automatically cross off a subset of alienated potential supporters. We gain nothing by polarizing the electorate in this manner. There is no upside. It is all downside. It will only collapse the tent of our otherwise broad coalition, tent post by bloody tent post.
We need to establish a new Contract with America based solely on the principles of limited government. We need to stick with it this time. We must link arms in a broad coalition around this Contract, and carry it forward through successive elections and administrations, until it becomes the mainstream of America again. For this coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and fiscally-conscious moderates and independents to be successful, we need to reinforce our unity, not accentuate our divisions.
The political platform of this coalition would be built upon the â€œTrue Northâ€ principles of limited government, individual rights, individual responsibility, and the U.S. Constitution. Such a platform would:
Embrace fiscal responsibility, which means advocating a dramatic downsizing in government spending, entitlements, and involvement. It means recognizing that individuals are responsible for their lives, not the state. It means refocusing the state on protecting individual rights rather than on transferring wealth from one citizen to another. Limited government is inconsistent with entire classes of citizens being dependent on the state for sustenance.
Embrace economic growth. A growing prosperity is the only way that our society will be able to support an improved standard of living for the next generations while supporting the commitments that we have already made to the current generations. Free markets, not governments, should allocate capital and labor, price assets and resources, and choose economic winners and losers. Strong economic growth offers the potential for all people to come out ahead, not just certain groups. It promotes trade, which is the amicable and voluntary tie that binds not only citizens in America, but also countries around the world. Limited government is inconsistent with state intrusion in economic affairs.
Embrace a strong national and civil defense, but only for the purpose of protecting, with extreme prejudice, our citizens, our property, and our interests from attack by rogue nations, terrorists, and criminals. Our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuing happiness are worth nothing if we cannot protect ourselves. Limited government is inconsistent with nation-building and occupying foreign lands.
Insist on a judiciary that adheres to the Constitution, rather than one that seeks to unilaterally change the Constitution. The role of the judiciary is to ensure our unalienable rights are protected from the majority or an intrusive government, not dissolved by the majority or an intrusive government. Limited government is inconsistent with an activist judiciary inventing powers for the state not defined in the Constitution.
Embrace immigrants coming to America, as is our tradition, but only if they do so lawfully and can carry their own weight. Limited government is inconsistent with taking on waves of illegal immigrants dependent on the state for sustenance.
Embrace a limited-government perspective on social issues. This may run counter to the intuition of certain conservatives, but it is incongruous to demand less government in most things, while insisting that government stick its nose in moral, ethical, or religious affairs. In the context of limited government, civil libertarianism will not threaten social values held dear by conservatives or liberals. If civil liberty is properly honored, all people should be free to live their lives as they choose, according to the values that are dear to them, as long as they respect the similar rights of others. Limited government is inconsistent with the state legislating morality.
Unless the Tea Party movement takes control of the GOP and insists on a platform of limited government, not only for the purpose of winning elections but also for the purpose of actually administering the country, then the success that we have earned thus far will melt into the bitterness of lost opportunity and the gut-wrenching frustration of continuing to stand on the sidelines as the radicals and Big Government apologists from both parties ruin whatâ€™s left of America.
We are passing through a life-altering fork in the road as a nation. In the 2008 elections, we headed much further and faster down the wrong fork. It is not too late (yet) to backtrack and change direction. However, if the 2010 and 2012 elections result in America continuing down the socialist fork it is currently on, then all is lost for conservatives. Itâ€™s all or nothing for us, with an immediacy that canâ€™t be ignored. This is not the time for faintness of heart or half-measures. Our time is nowâ€¦or never.
James R. Keena is aTea Party activist and speaker. Author of the books â€œWeâ€™ve Been Had: How Obama and the Radicals Conned Middle Class Americaâ€ and â€œInsurrection Resurrectionâ€. Creator of the pro-liberty website www.pathlessland.net.