The Tea Party House Roller Coaster


So Speaker Boehner decided that the danger of the fiscal cliff destroying the economy was a graver risk than letting Obama and the Democrats collapse America into a statist nightmare of never-ending deficit spending and ever-higher taxes. Tea Party darlings Paul Ryan and Grover Norquist both supported the fiscal cliff deal, and they had some legitimate arguments: taxes were permanently lowered for most Americans, taxes went up only on the rich, and the Tea Party House can use the automatic sequestration, in March, and the coming debt ceiling showdown in February, as leverage to extract spending cuts from the Democrat-controlled Senate and Obama.

But what does it all mean? I think there is no reason why the showdowns to come later this year will be any different from the fiscal cliff, New Year's Day drama. We are headed for a hellish roller coaster ride on which we face dangerous, potentially disastrous duels between the president and the Tea Party House over whether America is headed toward bigger or smaller government.

Obama's ultimate goal is a less free, more state-controlled economy, of which Obamacare was only the beginning. The Tea Party was our best chance at stopping his socialist agenda. But because anxiety and fear are always resented, and the Obama vs. Tea Party House confrontations are portrayed as scary by the mainstream media, the American public will probably come to hate the Tea Party House, and the Tea Party may pay a steep price for brinkmanship in the 2014 Congressional elections.

Who will win in deciding America's future? I think Obama has already won. The Democrats will always use the scarecrow of the supposed disaster that will happen if the federal government shuts down to pressure the House into raising the debt ceiling and ending sequestration. Speaker Boehner, by bringing the Senate deal to a floor vote over the Tea Party's objection, has already proven that he buys this argument. If the federal government's vastly bloated bureaucracy is viewed as "necessary," then the debate over America's future is over before it has begun. Look forward to a coalition of the House Democrats and the “moderate” House Republicans, with the Speaker's help, neutralizing the Tea Party-conservative alliance for the next two years, with truly disastrous results for the United States and our economic policy.

The Tea Party may be able to get some spending cuts, but can it seriously alter the structure of American statism? I doubt it. At this point only a series of electoral victories by the Libertarian Party to give the LP legitimacy would pose a true challenge to the dominance of the American Left, and that seems implausible. The Tea Party consists of good people, but the Republican Party as a whole is too soft to win this duel, and the Tea Party has not yet been able to realize its goal, taking control of the GOP from within.

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Jon Harrison

The Tea Party is falling in popularity and . . . the mainstream media is to blame. Of course! Look, like it or not, the majority of Americans don't want the social agenda put forward by Tea Party social conservatives, nor, on the economic side, do they want free market health care or privatized Social Security. These are just facts. Granted, most Americans want to have their cake without paying for it. But we will either go bankrupt or start paying more to keep those programs and services coming. The idea of a return to anything like a pre-New Deal society is just hogwash; it's not gonna happen.

There's a reason why the LP, with the best candidate in the 2012 presidential field, got only 0.9% of the vote. Most Americans don't buy the economic message, and they never will!

Tea Party social conservatives stand for anything but liberty, as they seek to ban gay marriage, restrict women's ability to control their own bodies, keep marijuana and other personal choice matters illegal, and so on. Tea Party free marketeers (many of whom are actually beholden to corporate interests) have a message that a majority of your fellow citizens don't agree with. It's not the media's fault -- the Tea Party just doesn't command enough votes to prevail.

Russell Hasan

Mr. Harrison,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I disagree with you in two areas:
1. The Tea Party is mainly conservatives, but their flagship issue is the economy and fiscal policy, not social conservatism. Calling them "Tea Party social conservatives" is highly misleading; they are mainly libertarian conservatives, i.e. "conservatarians."
2. You say: "The idea of a return to anything like a pre-New Deal society is just hogwash; it's not gonna happen," and "Most Americans don't buy the economic message, and they never will!" You do not have a factual basis to prove this claim. You cannot see the future. It is not impossible for human brains to be persuaded to embrace liberty. And it remains to be seen whether libertarianism can catch on and become hugely popular. Socialism began in the late 1860's and did not gain power until the 1930's, and it was weakened again in the 1980's but made a comeback recently under Bush and Obama. Only roughly 50% of Americans are on the Left, and many Americans still believe in freedom. It took Rome hundreds of years to build the Roman Empire, and human evolution took millions of years to evolve the human brain. The libertarian movement is still relatively young and has not proven its potential. Until you tell me why you can see the future, I believe that your pessimism is uncalled for, and we should cling to hope as a reasonable possibility.

Lori Heine

Mr. Harrison is absolutely correct that the Tea Party has come to represent social conservative issues -- regardless of the claims Tea Partiers like to make.

In my home state, Arizona, not long ago a local chapter invited a speaker who, as a matter of public record, called for the death penalty against gays and lesbians. When I asked for an explanation of this, I got...silence. The indifference of the arrogant. At the time, the Tea Party was riding high in the polls and sure of its power.

When Tea Party people claim they have no social agenda, they are either being less than truthful or they are naive. They had no problem with the Bush II Administration's numerous grabs for power. They suddenly and conveniently decided they were "libertarians" when a Democrat was elected.

According to my understanding, libertarians advocate freedom even for those they may dislike. People who want only enough freedom for themselves and those they like do not meet that definition.

Russell Hasan

Ms. Heine,
I personally am pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-homophobia, and also anti-death penalty. I am sorry that your local Tea Party chapter is homophobic. But so are many libertarians, and many liberals as well. Being a social conservative does not prevent a person from being an economic libertarian. One can believe in economic freedom and social control at the same time. This merely rehashes a debate that countless libertarians have had before over the meaning of "libertarian", but if your assertion is that one must believe in gay equality in order to be a libertarian, I think many libertarians would disagree, Rand Paul first among them.

Jon Harrison

Thank you, Ms. Heine. One need only follow the daily news to know that the Tea Party harbors extreme social conservatives (even more extreme than I knew, apparently).

I mentioned in a piece I published here back in 2009 that the Tea Party appeared to be a rather lowbrow, emotional movement that was long on slogans and short on thoughtful policy prescriptions. The movement has gone down hill since that time.

Jon Harrison

The Tea Party has two wings. There is a libertarian wing, and there is a social conservative wing. In some places they blend, in others they are rather distinct. The fact that you don't believe it doesn't change the reality. You live in Connecticut, is it? There may be only a libertarian wing there. But go to Kansas or Texas or Indiana and you'll discover the truth.

They "don't buy the econiomic message, and they never will!" -- no factual basis for this? Try reading the election returns and the polling data since the founding of the LP in 1972. Or stop blogging on your computer and get out and meet people -- you'll find that in the real world, most grownups don't share your views.

Russell Hasan

The comments section of an article isn't really fun until someone starts throwing ad hominem attacks at the author. Thus, I appreciate your follow-up comment. But I stand by what I said. The Tea Party are conservatives. Most of them are social conservatives. Some of them are completely off-the-charts crazy, such as the idiotic beliefs about rape which doomed several Tea Party politicians. But the Tea Party's main, central issue, at the national level, variations in local groups notwithstanding, what motivates them, is the economy. That is what Glenn Beck cares about the most. That is what FreedomWorks, one of the main Tea Party umbrella groups, cares about the most. They are not true libertarians, but one cannot expect perfection from everyone. The Tea Party is good enough, at least they won the House, which the Libertarian Party did not. And the Tea Party House has at least tried to fight statism, as with the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff crises, although they eventually failed. What libertarian has had a bigger contribution to the cause of freedom recently?
And, by the way, Rand Paul is a Tea Party darling, and both Rand Paul and Ron Paul are social conservatives on abortion, and Rand Paul hates gay marriage, although Ron Paul is more of a true libertarian on other issues. Polling data on the Libertarian Party does not prove that the USA public is anti-freedom, because pro-freedom Tea Partiers won many House of Representatives seats within the last two election cycles. Also, my question was your factual basis for predicting the future, particularly in the distant future. Nobody can really know what human society will look like in 100 years, so pessimism is not justified. Your pessimism certainly won't help motivate people to become pro-freedom activists, whereas a more positive attitude might be more helpful.

Lori Heine

Mr. Hasan, while I agree with your views on many other matters, your opinion of the Tea Party seems to have become pretty much the GOP standard. If we're citing what it's won and what it hasn't, as some sort of proof of its viability as a movement, it doesn't hurt to recall what it did not win. Barack Obama will be president for four more years.

I don't care what someone like Rand Paul thinks of gay marriage. As a libertarian, I believe I shouldn't have to. One crucial difference between a libertarian and a social conservative is that the former's views on that subject -- whatever they are -- are merely permitted to remain in the realm of opinion. A soc con tries to use government power to force his opinion on others when given the chance.

When someone tells me he "hates" gay marriage, my only question would likely be, "why is that relevant, to me or anybody else besides yourself?"

I'm not a gay leftist, so I don't worry about other people's opinions, as long as they are content to remain opinions by which they govern their own lives. It's that no-knock raid in the middle of the night -- because social cons have gained the power to force their particular interpretation of Scripture on others -- that worries me.

Jon Harrison

I could say I'm sorry for urging you to get out into the real world, but I'm not. It clearly needed to be said. Is an ad hominem attack still ad hominem when it's true? If so, well . . .

Thank you for re-stating my point that some Tea Partiers are social conservatives. The clarifications you provide in this latest comment are somewhat helpful, but you've still got a way to go. The fact that some Tea Partiers won seats in gerrymandered districts tells us little or nothing about national sentiment. Moreover, if you examine closely the views of individual voters, you will find that many Tea Party supporters are all for cutting government -- until, that is, their own benefits go on the chopping block. In any case, the fact is that the popularity of the Tea Party is hitting new lows. It's just another flash in the pan; we've seen similar types of movements in our history, rocketing into prominence only to fizzle like a Fourth of July firework. The American system has an almost unique ability to co-opt or defuse such groups.

It's quite true that predicting the distant future is, generally speaking, a foolish thing to do. But in this case, I think not. The history of pigs tells us that they don't fly. It may be that, in the distant future, random mutations will provide them with serviceable wings. But I'm willing to go out on a limb and predict this will never happen. You get the point, I presume?

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