America’s Best Hope

March 5th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

There’s a lot of fear out there that, come November, the Tea Party will be strong enough to draw a sizable portion of the vote, but not so strong as to draw its own majorities, thus hopelessly splitting the conservative vote between the Tea Parties and the GOP and letting the Democrats ride into an easy, undeserved victory.

But that’s not necessarily the way it has to come down.  After all, the Democratic Party has a long history of appropriating ideas from the left fringe, such as Social Security or universal health care, when those ideas drew too many potential followers away from the mainstream in general and the Democrats in particular.  There is absolutely no reason why the Tea Party cannot take a page out of the leftist playbook and do the same to the GOP.

The Tea Party, seemingly disorganized and inchoate though it may be, has by and large rallied around a few core principles — smaller government, lower taxes, and much lower spending primary among them.  More importantly though, they’ve done it in the name of a morality which, although it was the implicit base of this country’s founding, has been almost impossible to find on a large scale in this nation since the start of the Great Depression: the morality of individual rights.  This is essential because every single move to grow the size of government has always been done in the name of the good of society and the idea that human beings have a moral duty to give of their substance in order to help others.  It is the morality of the Democrats and the Republicans both, which is the fundamental reason why it so often seems that there is no choice between the parties.  It is also why the Republicans so often lose in a contest of morality.  Capitalism, the supposedly evil system supposedly championed by the right, is a system designed around the concept of individual freedom.  It cannot be rationally justified by the good of society as a whole, and any attempt to defend it on those grounds is thus a copout to the proponents of bigger government before the debate has even started. 

The Tea Party could solve this problem for Republicans by replacing the moralities of society, God and tradition (the other things the GOP attempts to form a moral base on) with the proper morality of America: individual freedom.  Not only would this have the immense benefit of making the GOP a stronger, more cohesive and morally consistent organization, it would also help to bring in more voters from Independents, Libertarians, and others who describe themselves as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” by shoving the Republicans’ stances on things like religion, abortion, and same-sex marriage to the tail end of their party platform.  Not that it would force conservatives who follow the Republican Party now in the name of such issues to abandon them, but it would give them a legitimate reason to shift their priorities away from such things.

Would the GOP lose some votes?  Yes.  There may be a few GOPers courted under the usual Republican platform who would not be able to countenance a GOP that had decided to stop taking a stand on such issues and leave them to be decided privately on an individual basis.  But not only would the GOP almost certainly gain more voters than they lost, but let’s face it — there really isn’t anywhere else for people who might be tempted to vote for another party over such issues to go.  The Democrats would certainly not be an option, after all, and I sincerely doubt they could create a pressure group strong enough to force the GOP to accept their views if the GOP decided to move them to the background.

Another reason a takeover of the GOP by the Tea Party could work is because it could provide the Republican Party with an essential quality that both parties have been singularly lacking in of late: longevity.  Because even if the Tea Parties do decide to compromise and vote Republican rather than risk having the Democrats win through lack of opposition, that’s no guarantee to the GOP that they will stay in power.  After all, the whole reason the Democrats are in power now is because people were mad at the Republicans!  Who’s to say that if the Republicans walk back into Congress dancing to the same old tune that they won’t just get voted back out again two or four years later?  What’s to stop the entire system becoming nothing more than a giant see-saw between two essentially similar forms of big government until the plank snaps in half and any pretense at legitimacy on either side dissolves altogether?

It’s possible that there are some traditional Republicans reading this and thinking, “Oh, that’s it?  But we already stand for all of those things; attracting the Tea Partiers to our cause should be a cinch!”  Well actually, no it won’t be a cinch, because for a very long time the Republican Party hasn’t stood for individualism and the free market any more than the Democratic Party has.  After all, look at the last eight years.  They may have complained about big government, but they also pushed for No Child Left Behind.  They may have whined about the welfare state, but they also passed Medicare Advantage.  They may have touted themselves as the proponents of the free market but that didn’t stop them from digging up trillions of dollars in bailout money when it looked like the free market was going to hurt someone (something Reagan was as guilty of as Bush, by the way).  If the GOP really wants to win the Tea Partiers over, they’ll have to start touching some of the proverbial third rails of American politics, and they’ll have to start doing it now because this cannot go on — and if they don’t take care of the problem via reforms in the direction of freedom, the more progressive of the Democrats will be happy to take care of the problem via reforms in the direction of collectivism.  Believe me when I say that even most of the rank-and-file Democrats who ordinarily support those people wouldn’t want that.

How could the Tea Party perform this maneuver?  Via one simple, incredibly difficult step: they cannot back down.  When push comes to shove, this is quite literally a game of wills between the Tea Partiers and the GOP to see whether the Tea Party will come back into the fold to avoid something worse, or whether the Tea Party will risk that something worse coming rather than cross the line they have drawn in the sand.  They have to let the Republican establishment know in no uncertain terms that the Tea Partiers would sooner inadvertently support Democrats than vote back into office a Republican Party that is going to make all the spending and big government mistakes of Bush et al. 

But the Tea Party does have one thing on their side: on a fundamental level, they know what they stand for.  The GOP does not because they’re too busy playing centrist, trying to appease everybody and appeasing nobody.  Which means that in a game of chicken the Tea Party has on their side the single most important factor in winning such a showdown, provided they can convince themselves of it.

America’s best hope is if the GOP takes the chance the Tea Party is giving it to shift its focus and its moral justification and truly start standing up for free minds, free markets, and the rights of the individual.  The GOP must start standing for true freedom, including the freedom to fail.  It must also start justifying itself on the morality proper to freedom: not the common good, but individual rights.  Its candidates must demonstrate a willingness to move their social views (religion, same-sex marriage, abortion) to the back burner — not necessarily to change them, but at least to promise not to make any attempts to legislate their morality from their offices while serving.  And then, once they’re elected, they have to actually live up to those promises and deal with some of America’s third rails, or see themselves voted out again two or four or six years later.

What will happen if the GOP listens?  Nothing easy, and nothing fun.  America has walked much too far down the road to serfdom to extricate herself from its clutches without pain.  There will be economic woes on every scale.  Unions, minorities, the poor, and every other group who has grown overly dependent on the government will rage with fury as they see the easy living purchased on the backs of future generations (aka debt) slip out of their grasp.  In addition, many who are innocent of wrongdoing will also be forced to go through hardship as the country rights itself economically.  Anyone under the age of 40 who paid into Medicare and Social Security will likely end up being cheated of those funds.  And the amount of upheaval to businesses both large and small will probably make the old fears about the failures of AIG and General Motors look like child’s play.  But make no mistake, the day of reckoning will eventually come no matter what anyone in America does.  Our current trend towards the welfare state is like a cancer; the sooner it is caught and arrested, the better our chances of a cure.  The chemotherapy will still be Hell; we’ve progressed too far for it to be anything else.  But on the other side of the pain, we would find our Republic again. 

Let the GOP side with the Tea Party and stand up for the rights and freedoms upon which this country was founded, including the right of an individual to his paycheck and the freedom of a business to fail.  Then we might see some real hope and change in this country.

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6 Responses to “America’s Best Hope”

  1. Tom |

    Brianna, this is an excellent piece of political analysis. I’d never considered the question of “wither the Tea Party” from this standpoint.

    However, as logical as your reasoning is, there’s no way the Republican Party is going to move its key issues to the back burners in order to make common cause with the tea partiers. There’s no way it’s going to go after the third rails, embrace strict fiscal management, and adopt policy positions that recognize first and foremost the principles of individualism and free market economics. If the GOP were ever really there, it would have been a long time ago, and there’s no going back.

    In fact, by the very nature of American political parties — decentralized bunches of individuals going kind of in the same direction at least some of the time — it isn’t possible for any one person or group of people to make and enforce those kinds of decisions for all Republicans. The first fact of politics is that politicians want to stay in office, and it’s very rare to find one who won’t do what’s necessary to achieve that goal as many times as possible.

    I think there will be some of the movement you suggest, at least in terms of the GOP co-opting some Tea Party positions, but it isn’t going to represent dramatic change. Tea partiers need to recognize the fact that the GOP is the best alternative they have. Try to influence it, yes, but mounting a third-party challenge is a losing proposition, assuming they don’t want continued Democratic Party governance.

  2. Clarissa |

    “The Tea Party, seemingly disorganized and inchoate though it may be, has by and large rallied around a few core principles — smaller government, lower taxes, and much lower spending primary among them.”

    -I wonder why you forgot to mention the tea partiers’ belief that 9/11 was organized by the US government. Debra Medina in Texas made her position on this issue very clear. And she is the most successful tea-party candidate this far.

    I can’t wait to see what else the tea-partiers will blame on the US. Probably the Holocaust.

  3. Brianna |

    The reason I didn’t mention it is because I don’t believe that the majority of the Tea Partiers actually think something so incredibly stupid. Or did you not pay attention to the part of my sentence about how the movement was “disorganized and incohate?”

    Every movement has a lunatic fringe. What matters is whether or not the lunatic fringe dominates. Unless of course, you want me to start saying that everyone who is against education budget cuts or the degredation of the environment thinks it’s okay to smash windows and trash shops?

    Violence at Copenhagen protests:

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  4. Lisa |

    I agree that the Tea Party movement may not meld with the Republican Party. I do think that the movement represents a cultural change where many Americans are questioning their own beliefs vis a vis party lines. Hopefully we are entering an era where citizens will hold their elected official’s feet to the fire and will purposefully go to the voting booths in droves we have never seen before.

  5. Tom |

    The unfortunate fact is that there are lots of folks among our citizenry who aren’t too closely tethered to logic and common sense. These people almost always gravitate to the extremes of the political spectrum, left or right. Most “truthers” tend to be on the far left, it seems, and most “birthers” tend to be on the far right, just as two examples. No matter how much we might disagree with extremists of left or right, it probably isn’t fair to characterize them in terms of the loonies who gather out there with them.

    Although the Tea Party movement is on the right, and in many senses to the right of the mainstream Republican Party, I don’t think the movement itself is extremist. Unrealistic, probably, but not extremist.

    Lisa is exactly right and consistent with Brianna’s analysis of the influence popular movements can have on the two major parties. And in this case, it isn’t just the Republican Party. A goodly number of moderate/conservative Democrats are listening and responding because either they agree or they have to face an electorate in November that agrees. Beyond that, moderates and independents are watching closely, and they can swing elections either way.

  6. Brianna |

    I agree with you both that a full-fleged scenario of the one I lay out above is very unlikely. I called it America’s best hope not because I viewed it as particularly probable, but because I think it is the least-painful way this country can solve the fundamental problems facing it right now.

    But whatever criticisms anyone might have of my supposed ideal scenario of the GOP using the Tea Party as their opportunity to shift their views for the better, I don’t think you can criticize my predictions about their likely longevity in office if they don’t do anything. Whatever else people want right now, they are truly sick and tired of the same old game, and until and unless politicians do something about that, I think they will start to find their average runtimes of political party dominance to be very short.

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