Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tea Party and the Left

For nearly a year Leftists have been trying to smear the Tea Party movement as an extreme, right-wing rebellion against the nation's first black President. Leftists have looked for the slightest sign that the movement's expressed disgust with Washington is a mere facade for racism. And, in typical Leftist fashion, if such facts are not forthcoming, they simply invent them. Take David Ortez for example.

Writing on his blog, Ortez states:

I was having a discussion with a friend about the TEA Party and what it meant to the political landscape of America. My friend was curious why the TEA Party was doing a bad marketing job of integrating folks other than Anglos to their cause....

Then, it dawned on me … this whole time we have been overanalyzing the TEA Party and assumed that their goal was to integrate Americans of all facets of society. What if their goal was not that but the contrary? They do not want to include other people.

The Tea Party movement, Ortez concludes, wants to return to the principles of the Founding Fathers because some of the Founders were slave owners. The Tea Party movement then, is not a reaction to excessive government spending or Washington's power grab; the movement is about returning to the "good old days" when women and minorities knew their "place" and white males dominated.

While Ortez is clutching at imaginary straws, his argument does illustrate my complaint against the Tea Party movement--its lack of a clearly stated, unifying principle. Without the principle of individual rights animating the movement, it is little more than a coalition of individuals fighting against Washington. Despite the movement's repeated references to the Founding Fathers, it--as well as Ortez--remains blind to the true principles of the Founders.

Ortez writes:
As a student of history I find the romantization of how are founding fathers set up our nation foolish. Our founding fathers were not perfect and they knew this and thus they created a living-breathing document that could change with time.
Ortez doesn't tell us exactly what this romatization is, but it is rather clear in his post that he believes the founding of America was about power and privilege, and specifically that of white males. That the Founders clearly stated their principles in the Declaration of Independence--the inalienable right of each individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--is casually dismissed. That the Founders laid the groundwork for the abolition of slavery is unimportant.

That the Founders did not fully apply the principles they advocated is not an indictment on those principles. Nor, for that matter, is it an indictment of the Founders. Given the historical context, to expect more of them is a gross injustice.

What escapes Ortez, and the Tea Party movement, is that the principle of individual rights applies to all individuals. Ortez sees social interaction as a battle between groups to secure political power. The Tea Party movement increasingly sees it in similar terms, with the battle occuring between state governments and Washington. Where Ortez has no problem violating individual rights in the name of "inclusion", the Tea Party movement has no problem violating individual rights in the name of "state's rights".

The fact is, individual rights apply to all individuals, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individual rights are "inclusionary"; the recognition and protection of individual rights limits the powers of Washington (and the states). In other words, the principle of individual rights addresses the stated concerns of Ortez and the Tea Party. It's too bad that neither knows this.


David O. said...


Thank you for taking the time to entertain my post.

First of all ... I completely agree with you.

That being said ... I would like to clarify some of my points.

My speculation of the Tea Party is, from what I have seen, not inclusive of other racial minorities. Is that a bad thing? Depends on who you are ... I personally do not think so. It is their choice who they want to attract.

My contention with some in the Tea Party is that returning to 1776 implies the return to some of the dark areas in our history ... at the end of the day I know that the Tea Party would not want that, at least I hope but then ... they really do not want to go back to 1776 ... to the way the founding fathers set up America.

When I refer to romantization ... I am referring to the constitution and the way some ignore the flawed version of 1776 ... you illustrate my point well when you assert that the founding fathers laid the groundwork for other changes that took place in our history. I give them credit for that. That is why I like our current constitution ... the living breathing one that will change with time as our founding fathers wanted it.

Finally, as a pragmatic progressive ... a liberal ... a leftist ... it is not my intention to smear the Tea Party ... I believe that have genuine grievances with the our current state of affairs but let us not be naive and ignore that this movement has attracted some who are there for racist reasons ... that does not warrant that the cause should be tainted.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks for the comments and clarification.

I find any claim that the Tea Party movement is not inclusive of minorities to be absurd. I attended one of the initial planning meetings for the local Tea Parties. As a white male, I was in a definite minority at the meeting. But the racial makeup of any movement is irrelevant--it is the ideas of that movement that matter.

I find no evidence that the Tea Party movement wants a return to slavery and dominance by white males. I doubt that I need to remind you, but a certain document written in 1776 stated that all men have certain rights--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The recognition and protection of those rights is what I am fighting for. In that sense, I want to return to 1776.

If the movement has attracted racists, then that is all the more reason for the movement to explicitly and consistently embrace individual rights. Racism and individual rights are incompatible.

Steve D said...

The idea of a ‘living breathing’ constitution makes absolutely no sense.

If the constitution changes in any fundamental way how can it have any meaning at all? Then it could mean anything you want it to - why bother having one at all or at least you might as well write a new one every few months.

If the only changes are small and unimportant, all right then, but that wouldn’t seem to be what the term ‘living breathing’ means.

If it is somewhere in between then please define what is unchangeable about it and what is fundamental and cannot change. If there is some fundamental principle that allows some change but forbids others then that has to be defined.

As far the tea party goes, who the heck cares what races of people attend, or what the color of their hair or skin is? If political change is their goal then I would think that the best plan would be to attract as many people as possible. I somehow doubt that they push people away because they happen to be green or albino or whatever. However, they can’t attract people who do not agree with them. Somehow I wonder what is wrong with people who automatically bring race into the issue and automatically assume that other people are doing the same thing (and smear them for it). Good Grief!


I agree with your comment that the Tea Party lacks principles at least so far as I can tell. I haven’t followed this movement very closely. I was hoping that it might at least be a platform for right thinking individuals and Objectivist who may attend these demonstrations and very possibly educate people. It would seem that most of the Tea Partiers have at least some appreciation for liberty (or at least perhaps it is not a dirty word for them) and that this might serve as way to open a conversation. I am however, plausibly being too optimistic.

Brian Phillips said...

I attended one of the initial local planning meetings for the Tea Party. One of the organizers made a comment about needing an idea to unify the coalition they hoped to form. I made an argument for individual rights to be that principle, and was summarily dismissed. It wasn't an encouraging sign. I have since made other efforts to promote that point, with similar results.

Jackson said...

As Brian said the make up of the Tea part movement is irrelevant. You seem to be more focused on "racial diversity/ skin color" than you are on ideas and principles David. I also don't like your use of the term "minority". I do not consider myself a minority but a concerned American citizen.

Regarding the presence of racism and fringe elements in the Tea party movement sure justice demands that such elements be pointed out but justice also demands that you do not smear an entire movement and hurl insults, smears and character assassinations at it. I don't vote for those who insult me and insult my intelligence.

What the movement needs is a transition from the emotional sense that something is wrong and that our rights are being eroded day by day to an intellectual leadership that stresses on individual rights and reason. If they don't then the tea party movement is fruitless

And finally regarding the constitution there is a lot I want to say about that topic that can't be said here.

Jackson said...

Well I couldn't keep myself away so I decided to comeback on the issue of the constitution.

The concept of a "living" or "evolving" constitution is such to say that constitutional values are evolving like a motion picture, constantly updating to reflect current social mores. In other words the constitution must draw its meaning from evolving social standards of a civilized and mature society. To me this suggests that rights are social privileges; that they are subject to the social will. As a result specific actions might only be permissible if they are permitted under the “will” of today’s society. I find that to be very disturbing. For when it comes to violation of rights it matters not the social opinions of political majorities or minorities.

However I could be totally off mark with my understanding of this issue.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree with your comments. The idea of a "living" constitution implies that there are no specific principles underlying that document. If that were true--which it isn't--then rights are, as you say, subject to the changing tastes and desires of society. Which means, the entire concept of rights is obliterated.

Rights are not derived from or awarded by either society or God. They are derived from metaphysical facts.

Steve D said...

“constantly updating to reflect current social mores”

When I look back at history I see some pretty awful social mores. That thought is definitely very disturbing. Take for example the issue of racism - if most people become racist that would suggest the constitution should reflect this.

Something has to be solid. If not the principle itself then the more fundamental principle upon which the other was based. Otherwise it seems to me that there is no constitution at all.

“I made an argument for individual rights to be that principle, and was summarily dismissed.”

I’m curious about this; I’ve had similar experience when I mention subjects like individual rights or even liberty and I get no response either positive or negative. It’s as if it doesn’t even register with people. Have they read the Declaration?

Do you know what they eventually chose as a unifying principle?

Brian Phillips said...

Yes, the idea that the constitution should be interpreted to reflect current opinions is very dangerous.

As best I can tell, the local Tea Party hasn't adopted a specific unifying principle. They are just anti-Washington.