Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Republican Debacle and its Consequences for the Tea Party

If you want an abject lesson in what happens when you try to fight a political battle without philosophical ammunition, the government shutdown battle provides it.

To start with, the Republicans attempt to use the government shutdown as a means of stopping ObamaCare's implementation was a politically senseless strategy to begin with because it was doomed by a failure to offer a sharply defined free market alternative healthcare reform plan. Oh, sure, they did offer up a wishy-washy plan in September that contained a few good ideas. But, that plan was not offered as a pro-individual rights path to a fully free market to counter the Dem's vision of single-payer. It was merely a set of "common-sense reforms" intended to achieve the Dem's goal " without adding to the crushing debt Washington has placed on our children and grandchildren." The stated goal? Not more freedom. Just lower costs of healthcare.

It went down hill from there. The Democrats ended up looking like the responsible party; the Republicans like a bunch of irresponsible, clueless idiots, swinging from one "compromise" proposal to another, with each one representing another letter in the word SURRENDER. Worse, the Democrats—the unabashed collectivists—came across as morally confident. And the Republicans? What do you expect from a me-too party?

The worst part is, they discredited the Tea Party Movement, at least for now, handing the Left the opportunity to paint the movement as a callous band of renegades that "threatened to sabotage the economy to gain political leverage. They put a knife to the nation’s throat." The Tea Party can recover, but only if it adopts an unequivocal stand in defense of individual rights.

But that's the problem. The Tea Party never did congeal around a consistent philosophy. Many of us tried to seed the movement with the right ideas. But we were just one small faction of a fractious conglomeration that ran the gamut from the Religious Right and social conservatives to economic conservatives to pragmatic libertarians to single-issue groups like the pro-Second Amendment activists to defenders of Medicare shouting "Down with ObamaCare." What was needed was a movement anchored to a philosophy of individualism and capitalism. What we got was a blown opportunity to stem the statist tide.

Am I being too pessimistic? Perhaps. But the spectacle was nauseating. The one silver lining may be that the Republicans can at least claim that they took a politically risky stand against runaway government—and build on that. They can use the shutdown to highlight how vast a hold the government has gained on Americans' lives, jobs, and businesses; i.e., how much government now violates their rights.  But they're not going to get very far if all they can do is to muster philosophically empty alternatives to ObamaCare like their "Common-Sense Reforms to Lower Health Care Costs."

In a TOS blog post, I said:

As Ayn Rand observed: “A political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; a philosophical battle is a nuclear war.” The Democrats are waging nuclear war on behalf of collectivism. If Republicans want to win, they must respond in kind and embrace the true, the moral, and thus the invincible principle of individual rights.

While the Republicans quibble over utilitarian details, the Democrats fill the moral vacuum and seize the moral high road by default. When will the Republicans—and the Tea Party—wake up and realize what kind of war they are in?

Related Reading:

Will the Republicans Wield Muskets in a Nuclear War?

My Challenge to the GOP: A Philosophical Contract with America

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