Why the Tea Party isn’t right-wing extremism,… or moderate

There seems to be mass confusion over the Tea Party movement. One of the most common myths is that no one ever complained about government expansion and massive deficits before Obama; that this Tea Party business is not protesting government, but the president, due to partisanship, racism, or both.

A few points need to be made clear: A) They aren’t partisan, B) some of them are racists, but it’s irrelevant, and C) There was plenty of anger to go around before Obama.

Much of the confusion stems from not understanding the difference in a political party and a political philosophy. Because it looks radical, is demanding radical changes, and supports generally Republican principles, the Tea Party has been labelled the “fringe-right.” Such an inaccurate characterization reflects linear thinking, and ignores the group’s small but present left-leaning representation. It would also be wrong to say they are moderates, as even many of its advocates claim. Rather, they lean toward a third and typically invisible ideological pole, which I described in a previous post on the political ideology spectrum: They are driven more by liberty than any other collective goal.

I say they lean “toward” because for many of them, social issues are a close second. As such, the Tea Party is made up largely of disenchanted Republicans. The movement was ultimately a response to a Republican party that had lost its bearings on fiscal issues and a Democratic party that had none. If they voted at all in ’04 it wasn’t for Bush, but against Kerry, and in 2008, believers in the virtues of small government felt they had had been ignored.

That there was frustration among the populace over the waywardness of both parties was evident in Ron Paul‘s narrow but passionate support. Among most conservatives, Paul represented that quirky uncle who has lots of wise things to say about the way things ought to be, but ends every lecture with the story of his personal UFO encounter. People like me, who knew that Paul was not electable, put their chips on the better numbers. Nevertheless, the campaign gave the liberty-oriented voice a chance to put issues on the table in a national discussion, lighting the pilot for what would become a blazing movement.

On November 2, Republicans will either regain a majority or come very close. Some compare this election to 1994, when the GOP gained a majority for the first time in 40 years, but theres a major difference—this time, the Republican majority will reflect less of a Jerry Falwell temperament, in favor of the kind fought for by the late Christopher Buckley. For the first time since the 1920’s, or even earlier, the U.S. Congress could be dominated by constitutional conservative Republican majority. Even if they are unsuccessful at gaining a majority, they will have considerable influence.

Reagan was certainly a constitutional conservative, but this time the push is coming from beneath; the people are grasping the founding documents, ideas and people in a fresh and bold way. Unlike the 1980’s, which preceded two decades of government expansion, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are front and center in today’s political dialogue. Annual visitors to the The National Archives, where these documents are held for viewing, jumped from 3.2 million before the 2008 election to 3.9 million after.

The direction both parties have taken has left many Americans disappointed for too long. They were reluctantly acquiescent during the Bush years, but the 2008 presidential campaign, and particularly the weakness with which John McCain attempted to represent conservatism, led to a rallying cry for a new set of political leaders who could stand up to the mounting pressure of statism. I am encouraged that it will last, and that Obama’s election will in fact bring the Change I’ve been Hoping for.

Postscript: I want to share a couple of videos—about 10 minutes each—that do a fantastic job of explaining the “constitutional conservatism” that the Tea Party generally embraces, and that I myself support with few reservations. The speaker, Bill Whittle, isn’t exactly charismatic, but the ideas are there in full force. Enjoy.

This one was released after my initial post. It’s more about economics than politics, but since our political concerns are usually based on who’s getting who’s money, it’s fitting.

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National Archives data from: http://www.archives.gov/about/plans-reports/performance-plan/2011/2011-performance-plan.pdf

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