The Tea Party movement has taken the nation by storm, in spite of attempts by the media and establishment to first ignore it, then dismiss it and now use all the tools in their Alinsky toolbox against it. Initially protesting high taxes, spending and bailouts, it is maturing into a political movement that advocates a return to a constitutional republic, fiscal prudence and restoration of liberties.
Tea Party Threat Made Good
How should the Tea Party address that? Protests? Voter education? Advocacy? Evaluating public officials and candidates? PACs? A third party? Turn out the vote?
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I wanted to be sure you saw this piece on the Tea Party Movement that I wrote as part of an online debate at Reason.com. Sincerely, Matt Kibbe President and CEO, FreedomWorks By Matt Kibbe I can't help but wonder what planet Brink Lindsey has been living on for the last 18 months. Lindsey's harangue against the good men and women who make up the Tea Party movement —utterly dismissive of their important work against an entrenched political establishment—seems disconnected from reality. This massive grassroots revolt against big government is the greatest opportunity that advocates of limited government have seen in generations, yet libertarian intellectuals like Lindsey seem content to sit on the sidelines and nitpick. While the Tea Party builds a whole new infrastructure to house a massive community organized in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally constrained government, Lindsey would rather quibble over the color palette of the wall tiles in the guest bathroom. His attitude is too typical, I fear. Lindsey views the world from the rarified vantage point of someone perched in a perfectly calibrated, climate-controlled Ivory Tower. From that high up he can't possibly see what is actually happening on the ground. Casually confusing the terms "conservative," "Republican," and "Tea Party," Lindsey borrows liberally from the left's caricature of knuckle-draggers to knock down one strawman at a time. He's made a hash of the whole thing, but I'll just make a few observations from the vantage point of someone who, as part of FreedomWorks, has been working with the Tea Party movement from its inception. Lindsey grants some value in our opposition to government-run health care, allowing that "at least some conservatives haven't forgotten their signature move" as the Loyal Opposition to the Democrats' wild expansion of government. But where was he when this movement was being born out of principled disgust with Republican spending, with the corruption of earmarks as a source of campaign financing, and most notably in opposition to the TARP bailout? What is now called the Tea Party was forged during the first bailout, when angry citizens actually killed the first TARP proposal on the House floor by standing up and pushing back against a Republican president. We all could have used more help then, before the bill became law, opposing the most outrageous expansion of government power in my lifetime. That genie's not going back in the bottle. When it mattered most, many think tank intellectuals were scarcely seen or heard from. Lindsey says that true libertarianism is far more "cosmopolitan" than the rabble-rousers he sees on the streets. That sounds more than a bit like a certain president I could name, a guy who wants America to be more like Europe. Lindsey even ridicules those of us who venerate "the timeless wisdom of America's founding principles." I for one hope we maintain our difference from Europe in continuing to live by the radical principles of individual rights and limits on collective government power. Is that trite? If so, I got my triteness from a guy named Howard Roark: "Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism, the principle of man's ‘inalienable rights.' It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness, to gain and produce, not to give up and renounce; to prosper, not to starve; to achieve, not to plunder; to hold as his highest possession a sense of his personal value, and as his highest virtue his self-respect." Call me provincial, but I always loved that speech. I suppose fictional characters are not serious intellectual leaders, though. But who is, exactly? Practicing conservatism in the worst sense of the term, Lindsey pines for the days prior to the Internet and talk radio when network oligarchs and taxpayer-funded television forced the right to rely on a few "intellectual champions" of "sheer brilliance" who covered for the inelegance of the unwashed masses behind them. Today, Lindsey worries, serious intellectuals "don't call the shots." The best of the bunch, like his friends Bruce Bartlett and David Frum, have been sacked by the enforcers of "intolerant groupthink." Bartlett, a former Reagan official, is quite popular these days in the White House and on the left because of his vocal support for a value added tax, which he defends on grounds that "the U.S. needs a money machine" to fund the spending requirements of big government. Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, was particularly outraged by the recent vanquishing of the "perfectly good" conservative Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) by the Tea Party hordes. Anticipating Bennett's defeat, state GOP delegates, mostly new to the political process, chanted "TARP, TARP, TARP!" from the convention floor. The now--lame duck senator had unapologetically voted for the Wall Street bailout, aggressively defended Senate appropriators' culture of earmarks, and introduced health care reform legislation requiring that all Americans buy government-approved health insurance. It may be intolerant to say so, but these are all intolerable policy ideas, and the Tea Party movement isn't tolerating them. Down here on terra firma, things look dramatically different from what Lindsey so dislikes. From my perspective, the Tea Party movement is a beautiful chaos, or as F.A. Hayek would put it, a spontaneous order. Ours is a leaderless, decentralized grassroots movement made up of people who believe in freedom, in the government not spending money it does not have, and in the specialness of our constitutional republic. They have arisen from their couches and kitchen tables and self-organized a potent countervailing force to the cozy collusion of political expediency, big government, and special interests. One of the virtues of this decentralized world today is that citizens are no longer dependent on old-school institutions such as Congress, television networks, and even think tanks for information and good ideas. Like the Tea Party movement itself, access to information is completely decentralized by infinite sources online. Like the discovery process that determines prices in unfettered markets, these informal networks take advantage of what the philosopher Michael Polanyi called "personal knowledge." Bloggers and citizen activists on the Internet now gather these bits of knowledge and serve as the clearinghouse for the veracity of facts and the salience of good ideas. Do Tea Partiers read? You bet they do, and with a focus and discipline fitting a peoples' paradigm shift away from big-government conservatism. One woman who marched in D.C. on September 12, 2009, had draped a big white banner, almost as big as she was, over the crowd control barricade. It stated, succinctly: "Read Thomas Sowell." They listen to Glenn Beck and study Saul Alinsky. They also read Rand, Friedman, and Mises. They even read the Constitution of the United States, as timeless as it is, risking the erudite wrath of their cosmopolitan betters. The Tea Party movement, if sustained, has the potential to take America back from an entrenched establishment of big spenders, political careerists, and rent-seeking corporations. The values that animate us all—lower taxes, less government, and more freedom—is a big philosophical tent set at the very center of American politics. Brink, you should come on down and join us. You might get your hands dirty, but the good people of the Tea Party could sure use the help. Matt Kibbe is president of FreedomWorks and co-author, with Dick Armey, of Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, to be published by HarperCollins in August. Read the Entire Online Debate Here! Lindsey's offending piece