Counterpoint: The Tea Parties Portend A Liberty Movement Ceasing Its Silence

This post is the second portion of a feature we offer here at The Liberty Papers called “Point-Counterpoint”. In this feature, Kevin argued the Point yesterday that Tea Parties are ultimately damaging to the libertarian movement. Today, Brad responds with the below.

My boss is a mainstream Republican in his mid-40’s. He’s got a small crush on Sarah Palin. He recently took the Political Compass and ended up with a score of (+7.00, -0.67). He’s an accountant by training and salesman by profession. He’s not a protester by nature. In short, he’s a part of Nixon’s “silent majority”, the group described by wikipedia as not having “the ability or the time to take an active part in politics other than to vote.” His wife falls under the same general heading. My boss couldn’t make it to the April 15th Tea Parties — work was more important at the time — but strongly wanted to attend. His wife was able to make it to a Tea Party. These are people who are NOT the type to protest the actions of the government publicly. They are, IMHO, much more representative of the types of people who attended these current protests than those who are protesters by nature.

This is not the protester you're looking for.

This is not the protester you're looking for.


Oh, you’ve heard of those groups, I’m sure. These are the types that Kevin alludes to when he says the anti-war protests became anti-Bush protests. These are professional protesters (by professional, I mean that they don’t have day jobs that get in the way). They get their protest groove on before they even know what they’re protesting. Anti-war? Go away, fascists! Anti-WTO? Fine, you dastardly multinational capitalists! Anti-GMO? Leave my food alone! Anti-Bush? Selected, not elected! Described in the movie PCU as “causeheads” by character Droz (Jeremy Piven), they’re the career protesters that you find more often on the left:

“These, Tom, are the Causeheads. They find a world-threatening issue and stick with it for about a week.”

The Tea Parties, at least traditionally, haven’t been dominated by Causeheads. They’ve been attended by regular people — like my boss’ wife — who see that in modern America, the train has derailed and they’re afraid of the carnage to come. It’s people who understand that something is very, very wrong — but they aren’t yet sure why or how to fix it. It is a protest movement in its infancy, and it’s largely populated by people who are more likely to eventually follow the side of someone like Ron Paul* than the “birthers”.

Yes, there are a lot of elements trying to grab hold of the Tea Party movement for their own purposes. But I believe that the modern Tea Party movement can largely ignore those elements, because the Tea Party movement is an effect, not a cause. It is not Joe the Plumber dragging people to Tea Parties; it is their own sense of morality and outrage at what is going on. It is a group of people who is sick and tired of government meddling, but endured in silence for several years while “their party” was in power. When Bush at the end of his term and Obama ever since have hit the throttle on government spending and control, they simply couldn’t take it in silence any more.

The Silent Majority is speaking up.

Stephen Gordon wrote a pretty expansive round-up of Tea Parties that he attended and that he had knowledge of for the Independence Day protests. Throughout that post, it’s clear that this is a grassroots movement, although that in some places it’s more dominated by the local GOP political establishment than in others. In many of these protests, elected officials were barred from speaking, allowing individual non-political Americans to speak.

That is a recipe for a true grass-roots movement. Of course, letting anyone with an opinion speak is also a recipe for a few of them to say things that you may not entirely support. Giving everyone who wants a microphone access to one makes for a bit of a messy message — just look at the blogosphere! When you get that many people together, you may not be 100% comfortable with everyone. Imagine if I’d attended a Tea Party protest. Would your typical mainstream Republican be happy being associated with a radical atheist anarchist who wants to legalize all drugs, let gays get married, and thinks Sarah Palin is the worst thing to happen to the Republican Party since the atrocious George W. Bush? I’d like to think of myself as a consistent advocate for liberty in the face of our government, but I would think that many mainstream republicans would be put off by the views I espouse.

But all that doesn’t change the fact that what is animating these protests is not birthers, or truthers, or Joe the Plumber. The animating force behind these protests is a latent hostility to big activist government that has been piqued by bailouts, stimulus, and the understanding that you must have confiscatory taxes or widespread inflation down the road to pay for it.

We are at a tipping point when it comes to these protests. April 15th was the first shot in a fight against obscene spending and painful taxes. The July 4 protests are a difficult case, however, because they were more of a protest to keep the fires stoked than anything else. On July 4, I think it was more about having a protest than it was about protesting a concrete action. That will soon change. There are strong rumors of a second stimulus**. We have seen the House pass Cap and Tax. We are watching Congress move forward on government health care. These are specific proposals that any advocate of limited government must fight vigorously.

Americans are seeing the Democrats move forward with the same big-government agenda and top-down central planning that we know does not work. We watch as the Republicans either compromise by only enacting the big-government agenda 80% as fast as the Democrats want, or by cutting pork-laden deals to get something in exchange for going with the flow. Nobody in this debate is standing up for the taxpayers, and that means that you can expect more of these Tea Parties in the future.

Will these Tea Parties be good for liberty? These Tea Parties are the effect of liberty-minded individuals expressing their ideals in concrete action, not a cause of those ideals. Thus, for all the efforts of Joe the Plumber, the birthers, or avaricious politicos to manipulate the Tea Parties for their own ends, the fact still stands: the Tea Parties aren’t about these sideshows. Their presence doesn’t change the ideals of those who attended, and in the grand scheme of things, will not materially affect the fight for liberty.

The Tea Parties have one benefit that hasn’t been discussed. If my account is accurate — that these protesters are the “silent majority” speaking up — the Tea Parties are working to mobilize and connect a group of people that largely exist below the political radar. The biggest difficulty I had as a libertarian prior to widespread internet activity was the feeling that maybe I was the outsider and that nobody else agreed. But through blogging (in general, and The Liberty Papers in particular) I am now connected to like-minded people and am building the networks and connections to make real change. The Tea Parties have the same affect on those who believe in small government. In these protests, friendships are made. Connections are forged. The on-the-ground networks that will one day help us to rein in the excesses of our leaders begin to take shape. This, above anything else, is what I hope we will see as the legacy of the Tea Party movement.

As for whether the Tea Parties will ultimately be successful, I cannot be sure. There is a large contingent of this country that wants the government to be their nanny and has no problem forcing the rest of us to pay for it, and I’m not entirely sure that they can be stopped at this late stage. If that contingent is successful, we may someday point at the Tea Parties in hindsight and say “if only they did X, or Y, we might have won.” But as it stands today, they’re one of the only concrete ways for us to get Congress’ attention, they’re one of the ways that the movers and shakers of the future will forge their networks, and they’re serving their purpose despite Joe the Plumber and the “birthers”.

* The boss I refer to was almost ready to support Ron Paul, but his mainstream Republicanism wouldn’t allow him to come over to Paul’s non-interventionist side of the argument. But I’m working on him — he’s got my copies of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and The Machinery Of Freedom to turn him in the right direction.

** The second stimulus might be in trouble already. Democrats are concerned that they can’t get both a second stimulus passed along with a massive health care proposal. They are already feeling the heat of increasing the deficit (likely due partly to Tea Party pressures) and they know that public opinion will heavily be opposed to a second stimulus (again likely due partly to Tea Party pressures). Public opinion, partly public opinion demonstrated through political protest, is making them at least pick and choose their priorities. They might be conceding defeat on Stimulus II, which would be at least an incremental success for small government types.

  • southernjames

    My boss is a mainstream Republican in his mid-40’s. He’s got a small crush on Sarah Palin…He’s not a protester by nature. In short, he’s a part of Nixon’s “silent majority”, the group described by wikipedia as not having “the ability or the time to take an active part in politics other than to vote.” His wife falls under the same general heading. My boss couldn’t make it to the April 15th Tea Parties — work was more important at the time — but strongly wanted to attend…”

    Sounds like a kindred spirit.

    I knew several people who attended the (4000 people, when organizers were expecting 1000) April 15 Tea party.

    And my sister and her husband live in NC and have now attended two of them.

    These are being attended by crowds of people who have NEVER gone to a political rally, let alone a protest, in their entire lives.

    Even if they end up being a complete waste of time and energy, that, in and of itself, makes these events unique.

    “Would your typical mainstream Republican be happy being associated with a radical atheist anarchist who wants to legalize all drugs, let gays get married, and thinks Sarah Palin is the worst thing to happen to the Republican Party since the atrocious George W. Bush?”

    Answer: Probably not. But the attendees have, in large part, NOT been forced to rub shoulders with atheist Palin haters. So that is pretty much a non-issue, it would appear to me.

    I don’t know about the Tea Partys you’ve attended, but the ones I am familiar with, are mostly populated by mainstream political conservatives who disliked McCain, were greatly disappointed in Bush and felt betrayed by him, but who like Sarah Palin, and hope (probably foolishly and naively) that she may bring back the party from the ashes, and be a Maggie Thatcher/Reagan…..and NOT people who will eventually flock to Ron Paul or Bob Barr or become Libertarians. Even if you do end up “converting” your boss. But keep on keepin on with that wishful thinking of yours.

    I do agree with you 100% on this, however:

    “But all that doesn’t change the fact that what is animating these protests is not birthers, or truthers, or Joe the Plumber. The animating force behind these protests is a latent hostility to big activist government that has been piqued by bailouts, stimulus, and the understanding that you must have confiscatory taxes or widespread inflation down the road to pay for it.”

    In addition to the protests not being generated by Joe the Plumber, birthers, or truthers, the people I know who are attending are not going because of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News either – in spite of claim to the contrary from the MSM, a/k/a Ministry of Truth.

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  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Brad,

    After reading your post, and Kevin’s, as well as other coverage of the 4/15 and 7/4 tea parties, it seems clear to me that the tea parties are populist in nature, rather than libertarian.

    They’re more a 21st Century version of the type of Middle American rage that manifested itself in the candidacy of George Wallace and the Nixonian “Silent Majority” that you refer to in your post.

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  • The Commander

    Pick a day, pick a topic. Fact is, every day this administration tries something worth protesting – from ridiculous environmentalism to overt dictator-coddling.

    We do not ahve to agree on every item to understand that the train has, in fact, derailed, and that it is time for a concerted move towards smaller government, less taxes, and more liberty.

  • Nick M.

    I just wanna say, Mad props for using PCU in a discussion. Such an underrated film.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    Nick M.

    I agree 100%, Brad is to be commended for using that good movie.

    Doug,

    I agree. The tea parties are something, just not libertarian. I would argue in fact that populism is a greater threat to liberty than Barack Obama on his worst day.

  • http://www.teapartynation.com Robert Kilmarx

    I just wanted to report that Tea Party Nation had a fantastic Independence Rally on July 2nd in Nashville TN. We dubbed it a Patriotic Revival and it was truly just that. Great speakers that included many of our local talk radio hosts such as Ralph Bristol & Steve Gill. Highlights of the evening included Shaka Mitchell from the TN Center For Policy Research, Laurie Cardoza-Moore from Proclaiming Justice For The Nations http://www.pjtn.net, and a keynote from Rev. Jessie Lee Peterson of Bond Action http://www.bondaction.org. Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips also addressed the group and internet blogger Ken Marrerro served as our host. We also recorded a video shout out that was used during the Dallas event at Southfork Ranch. Please visit http://www.teapartynation.com for pics and event coverage.

  • http://the-classic-liberal.com theCL

    “When you get that many people together, you may not be 100% comfortable with everyone.”

    Absolutely! And I’d go a step further too, noting you can’t even get 2 people in a room who will agree 100% on everything! Let’s be real here … libertarians argue with libertarians, conservatives with conservatives, on and on and on …

    As far as I’m concerned, the Ideological Puritans on the right (or however you wish to describe them/yourself (because there isn’t 100% agreement here either)) are every bit as much to blame for Leviathan in Washington, as anyone else!

    Tea Parties too populist? Perhaps. Too much GOP influence? Probably. But all the same, the people in the crowds represent to libertarians, traditional conservatives, miniarchists, et. al., the unique opportunity (target market) to teach them why limited-government makes more sense, and act upon it too.

    Brad is right, “The Silent Majority is speaking up.”

    Keep attacking them and we lose. But hey … when we’re all bending-over for our Overlords inspection, at least you can brag about staying Pure!

    PS – Libertarians attacking Tea Party protestors is like giving a sales rep one of your biggest corporate accounts, but since he doesn’t get along with everyone over there, he refuses to do business until the account is lost to someone else.

    Or … a new prospective client moves into town, so you advise your new sales rep to go over there and start sellin’ … but he declines saying, “Nah … they’re not gonna listen to my ideas … they’re stupid anyways.”

  • julia

    I have attended the last two rallies in Minneapolis and found that there were some speakers that yelled and screamed things I did not think were helpful to the cause…but then again, that may have been all I heard (the yelling and screaming and not the content of the messge).

    I feel it is important to remember that as the silent majority is learning to stand up and be heard, it takes time to get the heart, mind and soul on the same page with the words that come out or one’s mouth!!! Let alone united with other people on the specifics of the issues. It is a process and we need to be patient with each other. And stand up to say if someone is too out of line, representing an undesirable perspective of our cause of liberty and constitutional freedoms. But not divide and conquer…that will bury the cause quickly!