Why the Tea Party’s Failure is Not Political

Some polls show support for the Tea Party increasing in the wake of the IRS scandals, in which the Tea Party was singled out by the Obama administration for special questioning because of their political views.

While this might seem like good news to those with a limited government perspective, it really isn’t, not all that much.

Why? Because you don’t champion an important principle by merely being a victim.

If support for the Tea Party were more widespread, the IRS scandals would only intensify and strengthen that already existing support. Instead, we have watched the influence of the Tea Party wane in the last several years, and only a scandal in which they’re viewed as the victim seems capable of reviving it.

Imagine if the American Revolution had played out this way. It would never have been fought, much less won. The American Revolution was primarily an idea. The idea was best expressed by Thomas Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence. This document was more than a declaration of independence from the royal tyranny of Great Britain. It was essentially the introduction, to the world, of the concept of inalienable individual rights. Nothing great that ever followed in America would ever have occurred without that concept.

The Tea Party, like the Reagan and Gingrich “revolutions” before it, is based on a combination of negation and supernaturalism. There’s a problem on both counts. Negation of Big Government may be valid, but it’s not enough—any more than negation of Great Britain was enough for the colonists to give rise to the greatest civilization in human history.

Supernaturalism does not inspire people to rational action, either. Religious belief refers to eternal life after death, and following principles derived from spiritual revelation (whatever that means) rather than through rational, intelligible methods. Like it or not conservatives, religion does not have a whole lot to do with freedom. The whole point of political freedom is to enjoy the benefits of a scientific, economically expansive civilization. Freedom is about property, money, science, love, sex, and a whole host of other secular, human values. Supernaturalism is about anything but those things. How on earth — quite literally — are we supposed to embrace freedom if love of an abstract supernatural being and eternal life after death are what really count?

Unlike many members of the Tea Party, I’m in favor of freedom on earth because I cherish life on earth — as THE top and ultimately the only value. Absent some resolution to this contradiction, I don’t see how freedom and individual rights will ever triumph, at least not in a sustained way. The Tea Party hasn’t even been able to generate any meaningful spending cuts, despite controlling the House of Representatives.

I realize that many conservative and Tea Party types will cite what they see as evidence that the founders of the United States, including Jefferson himself, were religious men. But the founders also owned slaves and did other things inconsistent with the Constitution they generated. The point about the American Revolution is that the things so amazingly right about it were right enough to correct the errors and contradictions their heroes held.

Just as bad ideas drive out good ideas (kind of like the intellectual equivalent of cancer), the opposite can also be true. Great ideas can ultimately drive out bad ones. That’s how slavery eventually disappeared from the United States. The idea of inalienable individual rights — not “civil rights” or group rights as we talk of today — was ultimately too powerful for slavery to sustain itself.

It seems pretty obvious that the triumph of the American Revolution’s idea is no longer a dominant influence in the United States. Simply look at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration from the 1930s, even before you look at today’s Obama Administration, and you’ll see what I mean. Laws are passed with the stated intention of upholding the Constitution, but the Constitution was written to uphold individual rights, not the ‘right’ of people to have a guaranteed income, or a bank subsidy, or an auto subsidy, or an IRS to throttle their higher income neighbors into submission, for that matter.

Freedom is not completely dead in America, but it is waning and becoming scarcer all the time. Mass numbers of people are in denial about this, not especially liking it (based on poll after poll) but assuming if they don’t think or speak of it, it won’t get all that bad. And the politicians are very happy to exploit this state of mind, the Tea Party notwithstanding.

The Tea Party tried to counter this trend, and will likely continue to do so, at least so long as we have freedom of speech. However, without the fundamental questioning of deeper philosophical matters, I don’t see how the Tea Party can have any more impact than it has to date.

Real revolutions take place not in Congress so much as in the hearts and the minds of individual people. If our culture ever becomes one in which a great majority of people wish to live by rational and principled values, for the sake of a life on earth — not God or an afterlife — then the stage will be set for a restoration of liberty. But no sooner.


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