Friday, April 17, 2009

Tea Parties and Coalitions

I attended the Houston Tea Party on Wednesday, and along with a dozen friends distributed 150 copies of Atlas Shrugged and a similar number of pamphlets such as “Man’s Rights”.

At an organizational meeting for the Tea Party, the organizer stated that she is trying to build a coalition, and this was evident by the signs in the crowd. For example, I saw signs stating “Audit the Fed”, signs calling for state’s rights, signs promoting the Second Amendment, and of course, signs protesting government spending and taxes. This diversity of signs in the crowd, which seems common to the Tea Parties, illustrates the ultimate weakness of the Tea Party movement.

The anger displayed at the Tea Parties is real and justified. But anger can be a motivating force for only so long. Fighting against something cannot sustain an individual or a movement—one must be fighting for something.

Coalitions, by their nature, are fragile entities. They attempt to draw groups and individuals with disparate views and priorities together under a common umbrella. Strength through numbers is the operating premise. And while this can be effective, it seldom is because those disparate views ultimately lead to discord within the coalition. Those most concerned about gun rights grow disillusioned with discussions of the Fed, while those most concerned about monetary policy will grow weary of discussions about the Second Amendment.

This is the direction in which the Tea Party movement is headed. As best I can determine, the current unifying principle of the movement is opposition to government policies. While such opposition is appropriate, it does not address the fundamental issue—the violation of individual rights. The violation of individual rights is the only principle that applies to any legitimate concern under the Tea Party umbrella.

Historically, we have a precedent for a coalition that embraced this principle and endured. That coalition was the Founding Fathers.

The Founders had many disparate interests, and those interests often seemed in conflict—small states versus large states, northern states versus southern states being the most predominant. Yet, the Founders agreed on one fundamental principle—the right of individuals to be free—and this principle served to unite them. Indeed, the political/ moral principle of individual rights is the only principle that can unite a coalition for the long-term.

If the Tea Party movement is to endure, it can only do so by advocating individual rights. Because individual rights apply to all individuals—male and female, black and white, gay and straight, young and old—they transcend the differences that drive coalitions apart.

Certainly there are those who say the movement is about returning to the principles of the Founders. But I suspect that, if asked, those making such statements would be hard pressed to provide anything beyond a superficial answer. Therein lies the ultimate weakness of the movement—those principles have not been clearly and explicitly identified and stated.

More importantly, individual rights cannot be defended while simultaneously clinging to a morality that demands that the individual be subservient to the group. The moral right of each individual to his own life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness is incompatible with a morality that demands that he sacrifice his values to others.

While many pundits have predicted that the Tea Party movement will duplicate the Republican Revolution of 1994, I am doubtful. First, that revolution was electorally successful because it had a clearly stated set of principles. Second, when that revolution abandoned those principles it fell apart and ultimately gave control of Congress back to the Democrats.

They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I’d prefer that we learn from one era of our history—the American Revolution—and repeat that by declaring an intransigent devotion to the principle of individual rights. If the Tea Party movement does that, it just might realize its potential and launch the revolution that is truly needed—a moral revolution.


Burgess Laughlin said...

Bravo for your analysis in terms of fundamentals!

As well as I can tell, the Tea Party movement is a movement of "againsters." Many individuals in it might be allies in ad hoc advocacy -- such as protesting a new, proposed sales tax increase. But I see no reason to hope that the Tea Party movement as a whole promises greater and more explicit support for capitalism and its moral foundation in rational egoism.

Handing out books and pamphlets is an excellent way to attract individuals to a better cause. Thank you for doing that too.

Brian Phillips said...

You are right about many of the tea partiers being potential allies on an ad hoc basis. The sad thing is that if they thought in principles, they would see that the real issue is individual rights and the movement would have some real power.

Myrhaf said...

I just heard a clip of Mark Levin talking to the man who was interviewed by Susan Roesgen. Levin's moral of the Tea Party Movement: conservatives need to take back the Republican Party. He thinks a bunch of squishy moderates have ruined the party.

I think the problem is that religious morality cannot support laissez-faire capitalism, and therefore conservatives are led inevitably to the pragmatism Levin abhors.

Brian Phillips said...

The Republicans certainly have themselves in a pickle. If they continue with their pragmatism, they are just "me-tooing" the Democrats. If they turn to religion, then they are just offering altuism in the name of God instead of "the people". In either case they are offering no real alternative, and they certainly aren't fighting for capitalism.