Tea Party Strategy Anyone?
Tibor R. Machan
My involvement in Tea Party matters is virtually nil. I follow the movement’s doings by reading both pro and con comments on its candidates and leaders, as well as listening to what some of the active members say in public forums. (Let me tell you the snooty Left is scared stiff of the Tea Party and rolling out its heavy guns to demean it, with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin serving as convenient targets whose lack of academic erudition is held against them in massive articles in prominent magazines like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books!)
As far as I can determine, the Tea Party is a kind of Right Wing populist assembly of people who have disparate ideas and objectives but are united in being disgusted with the leadership in Washington. There is among them room for nearly anyone who shows a positive attitude about main street America. Social conservatives, especially, seem to be welcome, what with pretty heavy moralizing as their central pitch; free market champions, too, tend to be accepted but not if they are also committed civil libertarians who might stand up for illegal immigrants and oppose the vicious War and Drugs; certainly members of the religious Right are not only welcome but often take leadership roles; and there are others, including those loyal to the American Founders and their central documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. (Sometimes they express themselves in questionable terms, such as swearing loyalty to the U. S. Constitution; but that document is now so watered down, so far from the principles stated in the Declaration, that it scarcely says anything about what the country’s political system and public policies ought to be all about.)
I am no spin doctor and do not have my finger on the pulse of the electorate, although I do try to keep abreast. It occurs to me that if the Tea Party is to have a solid chance at influencing American politics and public policy it will have to pare down its message to certain fundamentals and express this publicly in palatable ways.
The one principle that is truly representative of America as the Founders conceived of it is limited government, limited by the principle of individual liberty. Perhaps turning to this message with a clear emphasis on not trying to impose anything else on the country could be successful. If a Tea Party candidate or leader is pressed for views on matters other than the proper scope of government, the answer should be: “No comment on that since it isn’t a part of politics proper, not in a free country!” Yes, it is judicious, prudent to simply refuse to get caught up in all the issues that people may bring to the political table by teaching the lesson that they really aren’t political, even if they are on the minds of millions of people.
Tea Party members, leaders, candidates and the like may well succeed by adhering to this strategy of not allowing their detractors to involve them in everything. They could point out that this country isn’t supposed to be a totalitarian system in which politics takes over everything, addresses all issues on the minds of the citizenry. No, one need not have an opinion on creationism, intelligent design, child reading, drug use, and yes, even abortion. Let most of these topics be part of our social discourse, not our political thinking. That way the central Tea Party theme of reigning in the scope of government is kept in focus and the pluralism of the movement can also continue to flourish but within its proper domain, namely, the variety of social positions the huge tent of those who love liberty makes possible.
Yes, this way of going about things might link the Tea Party too closely with its libertarian faction but that could be a political asset if intelligently put (during interviews, press conferences, etc.). Do not permit the detractors to draw Tea Party people into discussions about matters that are not the proper concern of politics and public affairs. Therein might lie a way to victory, especially now that suspicion with governmental meddling is rife throughout the citizenry.
And this attitude can easily be linked to the central, crucial tenets of the American political tradition, the founding documents and the thinking of the Founders. That they may not all be entirely palatable in our age will not matter if discussions and proposals are kept to essentials. What is exceptional about America is its limited government tradition and moving away from this is wrong, inefficient, and, yes, un-American.