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

If you’ve ever been frustrated, confused or irritated at trying to figure out what political “team” you’re supposed to play for, join the club. Even the politically savvy have a hard time explaining exactly what one group believes and why. It’s enough to make a lot of people shrug their shoulders and opt for easier choices in life, like whether you want mayo or mustard on your burger.  Therefore, I’ve attempted to provide the most accurate and shortest explanation known to mankind.

The reason for the complications is simple: there are way more opinions than there are names for them. Before going any further, it must be understood that political parties and ideologies are two completely different things. I’ll explain this a little further in a moment, but political parties are nothing more than a vehicle by which ideas become policy through the cooperative effort of like-minded individuals (for more on parties go here). So throw out the Democrat/Republican paradigm for a minute. What we’re really concerned with is understanding what influences political opinions and how they differ. First, let’s look at a couple of popular spectra:

LIBERAL VS. CONSERVATIVE: THE OLD MODEL
Though people act like this is the only way to look at ideology, it’s quite wrong. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say that this spectrum was created over 200 years ago under a whole different set of issues, but we’ve been trying to apply them to modern times for decades—without success. People will tell you the “left” (lib’rals!) want radical change, usually in the form of equality and moral freedom. The “right” (the Neo-Cons!) want low taxes for the wealthy and traditional values. These are both oversimplified and frankly inaccurate.

THE CAPITALIST VS. SOCIALIST MODEL
This one gets a little closer to reality, but it’s too narrowly focused on money. One viewpoint thinks the government ought to stay out of people’s pockets, the other thinks the government ought to take or hand out money however it wants. But what about the moral issues? Any model that tries to graph political ideology has to account for non-economic values.

Some ideology models will try to combine social and fiscal issues, but they make it appear as though a person can believe in a completely free market, yet also believe in complete government control of your personal life. That simply isn’t possible. I’ve yet to see a spectrum that truly captures—both theoretically and visually—the full breadth of social and political thought, and why different ideologies are in such conflict with one another. It took me nearly two years to put one together, but when the end result of my research was presented to several Political Science professors it was received quite well. I’ve constructed a unique Political Ideology Spectrum that looks at ideology as a system of social values and beliefs about the freedom of the individual in relation to common goals.

A TRIANGULAR APPROACH
All of the colors on your television or computer monitor are generated from very tiny dots. These dots only come in three colors—red, green and blue (RGB). The colors you see are based on which dots light up the most relative to other dots. In the same way, political views are determined by the particular balance of three distinct social values. Thus, a triangular spectrum is evident.

At the top I have placed Liberty, which represents a belief in the freedom of the individual. A person in this camp would tend to distrust government and prefer market solutions to solve most problems. At the very tip are the extremists who would advocate no government at all. Of course, we have a word for that—anarchy. It isn’t a sustainable situation, so more moderate individuals will attempt to pull toward the other poles.

Both of the bottom poles are statist in nature, meaning that they value collective power to individual power, and view personal choice as inherently opposed to what is “good” for society.

The left corner represents the value of Unity. Those who embrace Unity desire a world in which there is no conflict, and no division among people. According to this view, the differences between humans are merely man-made. Thus, if we can unmake them we can eliminate the things that cause conflict. This group will argue for policies which are said to end war, universalize incomes and opportunities, and eliminate judgments of merit or morality. This agenda, also, is unsustainable. It acts against natural forces in such a way that drives society into poverty, while at the same time removing individual liberties to the point—in extreme cases—of genocide (take China and the USSR for example).

While those in the right corner also seek state control, their objectives are radically different. They are primarily concerned with the Vitality of the nation. The difference rests primarily on a view of human nature in which differences among people are not invented, but inherent, and that humans naturally act according to self-interest, including conquest. Therefore, a strong and secure society must use the arm of government to promote that which strengthens society, and outlaw that which weakens it. The exact things that are promoted or outlawed depend on the rulers. The ancient spartans left undesirable newborns to die in the forest, and the Nazis tried to exterminate a whole race/religion. To use a less horrifying example, America has outlawed certain drugs, pornography and liquor sales on Sundays.

BACK TO POLITICAL PARTIES
When we look at this spectrum, we can see how it applies to modern parties. Currently, people who lean toward the left corner call themselves Democrats. People who are closer to the right carry the GOP banner. But what of those at the top? People who desire small government, and who distrust the whole political system are less likely to form strong political parties. Many of them simply vote for whichever candidate is the least likely to expand government, particularly in the manner that concerns them most. However, many liberty-minded people are affiliated with the Libertarian Party, which waxes and wanes depending on the political climate. When citizens get upset with both parties for overreaching, libertarian principles tend to get more attention.

Determining our political values means determining our social values. To what extent should the freedom of each person be sacrificed for the good of society? And if state power is desirable, should it be used to unify us at the cost of prosperity and security, or to protect and strengthen us, even if it means there will be casualties? These are not easy questions, and as we each reach our own conclusions about them we will be faced with others who have concluded otherwise. This can make for a very messy debate, but the key is to always be willing to dialogue, and perhaps even change your mind.

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This post was adapted from a research paper I completed in May of 2010, and presented at the 2011 meeting of the Southern Political Science Association. For a pdf of the full document please email wgant@hbu.edu


Fox News released an article today showing that commencement speakers at universities across the nation this year were almost entirely Liberal. In fact, this is nothing new, since Academia has practically banished all conservative thought for the last 30 years. But it’s good to see the numbers from time to time and be reminded of the war that is at hand.

Here’s the article.

It seems, though, that in recent years the push against this trend has been growing from the bottom up. A documentary film Indoctrinate U, released in 2007, sought to expose the ideological power-structure in higher education. If you have conservative beliefs and opinions you can forget about an “A” in the class, forget about getting a job, forget about getting a promotion. The film gained some attention, but nothing like what a generic brand anti-republican documentary gets.

Ben Stein’s movie, “Expelled” hit the educational system for refusing to allow concepts of “intelligent design” into the dialogue of human development. Darwinism is taught as a matter of irrefutable fact and the only possible explanation for humanity’s existence.

Then there’s the group, Students for Academic Freedom, an organization of students who are committed to preserving the intent of universities – not to mold young minds into a particular worldview, but to allow those minds to grow and search on their own.

It is encouraging to see these things coming around, though equally discouraging is the fact that they get so little attention.