I’ve been hearing more and more references lately to the Tea Party movement as a third political party. Rasmussen even polled a generic three-way ballot for congressional races, finding D-36%, T-23%, R-18%. T is for The Tea Party, the fictional third party that could be imagined arising out of the movement bearing its name. And it’s beating the Republicans.
I’m very sympathetic to this movement, because I share with it a common cause — defending liberty and the American way against a power-hungry and increasingly-gluttonous federal government. But just to be clear, I doubt that a third party will emerge from this movement, unless it is large enough to supersede the Republican Party, in which unlikely case it would just be the second party. No, Tea Partiers will mostly vote for Republicans, because that’s the party out of power and the party that used to be somewhat sympathetic to their cause, and because they know that dividing the electorate amongst these three groups would only cement their worst case: total Democratic control for years.
There’s a lot of anger all around directed at the federal government, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Pres. Obama, and former Pres. Bush, among countless other power-wielders inside and outside the government. Many of the angry people at these rallies are not overeducated pundits carefully articulating their grievances. They are consequently easily caricatured by a media hostile to their causes, and a widespread belief has emerged amongst the elites that they are not a movement built on coherent beliefs, but rather on rage. This is a grave error that the elites could suffer for making.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that there were such a Tea Party. We already have a left-wing party and we already have a right-wing party. The Tea Party is not some new party that falls in the middle of the two, or to some farther extreme. The Tea Party is generally right-of-center, but does not have to be (in many ways it’s not… there are strong anti-war and anti-corporate factions). You’ll notice before that I did not say it was despised by the left, but by the elites — and therein lies the difference. The Democrats and Republicans may be on different sides of the left/right, progressive/conservative split, but they do align, at least in their leadership (which is what counts at the end of the day), on an altogether different axis. Some years, the Democrats run the government. Other years, the Republicans run the government. They volley back and forth for one thing: power. The other axis is about the allocation of power — collectivism/individualism, totalitarianism/anarchy, tyranny/liberty. Being close to the side of collectivism/totalitarianism/tyranny is beneficial if you’re one of the guys sharing power, one of the elites, the tyrannical totalitarians directing the collective. Some years it’s Democrats, and other years it’s Republicans. The leadership of both parties benefits from being near the totalitarian side. The rest of us suffer.
The Tea Party may be right-of-center, but that’s not the reason it exists. Its members may not all be able to articulate it clearly yet, but they do understand this. I talk to people all the time who tell me they are angry and afraid, that they feel duped by the system, that at the end of the day, no matter who’s in power, they’re getting screwed. The Tea Party isn’t about anarchy because it recognizes that government is necessary, but it is about being closer to that extreme than to the other, it’s about valuing the individual, it’s about restoring liberty. The Tea Party wants to back away from a powerful government and restore personal liberty. History has shown that the two simply cannot coexist.
The top Democrats and the top Republicans want to control our lives. The Tea Partiers don’t want to control anything except their own destinies. And that, my friends, is the real difference. And that’s why I’d vote for them any day, even if they are gun-totin’, Bible-clingin’, unrefined hillbillies. Sounds like my kind of people.
Federalism is a bedrock principle underlying American government — keeping different layers of government with different powers in competition with one another was supposed to prevent a republican form of tyranny from arising. Barry Weingast identifies five features of federalism that create “market-preserving” (read: power-limiting) conditions of competition between governments:
- Each level of government has a delineated scope of authority
- Each government is autonomous in policy
- Sub-levels of government have primary regulatory responsibility over the economy
- Free trade and free movement of people are ensured by the central government
- Governments face hard budget constraints (no inflation and no bail out of the lower levels by the central level)
Since the Civil War, and especially following the reforms of the Progressive Era, we have seen this glorious institution eroded to the point that state governments are rarely much more than administrative arms and budgetary cop-outs of the federal government. This degradation of federalism has recently reached a new height of intensity.
In an April opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett proposed to cut off the expansion of federal power right at the source, in the very Constitution that ostensibly defines the scope of federal power, by passing a Federalism Amendment. Included amongst its provisions was the strict prohibition of intrastate regulation by Congress, an expansion of Congress’s regulatory power over interstate activity beyond commerce, a repeal of the income tax, and an explicit declaration that the Constitution’s words are to be interpreted “according to their public meaning at the time of their enactment”. This seemed like an awfully messy conglomeration of ideas, which, after a period of public commentary, he would recast as a 10-amendment Bill of Federalism, with sections entitled:
- Restrictions on Tax Powers of Congress
- Limits of Commerce Power
- Unfunded Mandates and Conditions on Spending
- No Abuse of the Treaty Power
- Freedom of Political Speech and Press
- Power of States to Check Federal Power
- Term Limits for Congress
- Balanced Budget Line Item Veto
- The Rights Retained by the People
- Neither Foreign Law nor American Judges May Alter the Meaning of Constitution
How would a Bill of Federalism ever be adopted? It would seem to only be possible by the states threatening to or actually calling a Constitutional Convention. That, of course, has never occurred before and probably never will. But suppose it were to — why would we expect our government to follow these amendments any more than it follows the rest of the Constitution? A written constitution was a magnificent experiment that has failed because we have allowed our governments to ignore the restrictions we once placed upon them — we are living in a “post-constitutional” nation now, where we mostly only refer to the Constitution for electoral procedures and public relations.
This well-intentioned effort to save federalism is tragically in vain.
I think it was Glenn Beck who first introduced me to the film Network. But it was Bill O’Reilly exploding at the Banking Queen that gave me my own Mad as Hell moment and convinced me the film was frighteningly topical. For those who haven’t seen it, this film is set in a fictional 1970s depression, during which an angry news anchor at wit’s end, Howard Beale, takes to the airwaves to preach his message of raw and righteous anger and discontent to the people. And so the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves is born.
After watching it a few times, I’ve picked up on two scenes in particular that have really captured the shifting mood of the nation since the SHTF last fall. The first is about releasing the pent-up anger we all felt at the time: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!!
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.
We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!
We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy.
It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”
Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.
I want you to get mad!
I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.
All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.
You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”
But since then, that anger has worn off, and so it would with Beale in the film. A people can’t stay outraged and furious for very long — our oppressors know this, and it gives them patience. They know that we will eventually grow weary, and cease to passionately defend our life, liberty, honor, and property. We will cease to defend our individual humanity:
[A]t the bottom of all our terrified souls we know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept writhing in its final pain.
I don’t mean that the United States is finished as a world power. The United States is the richest, the most powerful, the most advanced country in the world — light years ahead of any other country.
And I don’t mean the communists are going to take over the world, because the communists are deader than we are.
What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it.
It’s the individual that’s finished.
It’s the single, solitary human being that’s finished.
It’s every single one of you out there that’s finished.
Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It’s a nation of some two-hundred-odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods.
Our overlords are rushing along, seizing upon our ennui to fast-track our transition to collectivism. These bastards are usurping our sovereignty and trampling over our God-given right to our own individual personhood. Such systems always fail, often spectacularly, because no force on earth can succeed in destroying what God continually gives to each and every one of us: humanity.
But until that day, we’re finished. Grab your ankles, America, because we’re not just in for a recession, or even a depression. No, what awaits us is shaping up to be something far more agonizing– total collapse. Buy guns. Not to fight off the government — because you can’t — but to fight off the mobs. Convert a large portion of your savings to physical gold and silver. Learn to be self-sufficient. Prepare while you still can.