Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - A Defining Year for the Tea Party Movement

2010 was the year that the Tea Party Movement flexed its political muscles.

It has been almost forgotten, but the Tea Party erupted as a rebellion against Republican policies in late 2008. Later adopting its name from the “Santelli Rant”, it gathered steam in 2009, turning its sights onto the Democrats. Within a year of Obama’s inauguration, a series of public Tea Party demonstrations culminated in 9/12/09, NJ and Virginia had replaced Democratic governors with Republicans, and Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat was also captured by a Republican.

The rebellion continued with the 2010 mid-term elections, as the Tea Party propelled Republicans into control of the House of Representatives and a larger minority in the Senate. The vote was primarily anti-Democrat, not pro-Republican. The Republican wave was largely the voice of the Tea Party expressing itself. As I’ve said before, the movement is driven by and for independent-minded people. Going into 2011, the Republicans would do well to remember this.

The big political lesson to be learned from 2010 is that the Tea Party is a force to be reckoned with. How big and effective a force depends, of course, on what set of philosophical principles it coalesces around. Groups ranging from religious conservatives to libertarians to economic conservatives to pro-individual rights Ayn Randers are vying to define those principles. Which of those competing ideological factions takes hold will determine the movement’s fate, longer term.

The big story of 2010 has a corollary – an end to aggressive Obama statism. His forward momentum has likely been stopped, and he and the Democrats will now have to spend their time protecting and consolidating their horrifying big government gains. Far from being a setback, however, this strategy of enact and hold has served their statist agenda quite well, thank you. As I previously wrote, the 2009-10 time period parallels 1965-66, politically. The massive welfare state gains made then were held and even built upon in the ensuing decades, despite 1967’s GOP wave, as they awaited the next chance at one-party legislative control. That chance emerged these past two years.

So, stopping Obama is not the primary goal and will not signal victory, any more than stopping President Johnson in 1967 signaled victory over statism. It is only a start.

Looking forward, 2011 could turn out to be a defining year for the Tea Party. Will it begin to forge specific principles regarding man’s rights, the Constitution, and the proper role of government and its relationship to the people? Will it be co-opted by “Right” wing statism, the authoritarian Religious Conservatives? Will it remain too ideologically diverse to present a meaningfully anti-statist force? Will it be able to initiate a process of repeal and roll-back of statism? The Right remains in ideological flux. As long as that’s the case, statism will be the ultimate winner.

The Tea Party has earned its stripes as a political force. Now, the really hard part begins. It needs to hold the Republican Party’s feet to the fire, after leading it to victory in the recent elections. More importantly, it must cast off the moderate, bi-partisan, compromising fog permeating what today passes for the Right, and take a bold stand on the principles implicit in the movement’s rallying cry, Don’t Tread on Me!

That’s the big challenge. We can not afford a repeat of 1967, when the GOP merely stalled the statist advance. It did not have the philosophical firepower to do anything else. And make no mistake, the battle is philosophical. Politics is secondary, and is merely a reflection of the dominant cultural ideas. The dominant philosophical ideas – in particular, the moral ideas – continues to favor statism and omnipotent government, even though their cultural hold is beginning to weaken. There’s a lot of intellectual work to be done.

Without the proper foundational ideas on the Right, the statists will consolidate their gains under the noses of the Republicans. The last two years of aggressive Obama statism was no surprise, except perhaps for it virulence. The statists have been winning for more than 100 years. Will the forces of freedom be able to finally mount an effective counter-force? 2011 will begin to provide an answer.


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