Tag: Tea Party

The ‘Tea Party’ Smear

One sign of the tea party movement’s success is that the term “tea party” is becoming an all-purpose smear term for any more-or-less right-wing person or activity that the writer doesn’t like. In fact, I think “Tea Party” is replacing “neocon” as an all-purpose word for “the people I hate.”

Take a look at this article, teased on the cover of Newsweek as “France’s Tea Party” and online as “What a Tea Party Looks Like in Europe.” When I saw the cover on the newsstand, I thought, “A tax revolt in France? Cool! And about time!” But what is the article actually about? It’s about the National Front party of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who

for decades has played on the inchoate fears, xenophobia, knee-jerk racism, and ill-disguised anti-Semitism of many of his supporters.

Is that Newsweek’s view of the “tea party”? The article went on to explain that at 82 Le Pen is yielding party leadership to his daughter, who is “a passionate advocate of its core message: strong French nationalism, relentless Euro-skepticism, and a lot of hard-nosed talk about fighting crime and immigration.” And lest that you think that such culturally conservative and unsavory attitudes simply go hand in hand with a belief in lower taxes and smaller government, the authors point out that

she’s also a big believer in the state’s ability and obligation to help its people. “We feel the state should have the means to intervene,” she says. “We are very attached to public services à la française as a way to limit the inequalities among regions and among the French,” including “access for all to the same level of health care.”

That combination of nativism and welfare statism seems very different from the mission of the tea party movement. The Tea Party Patriots website, the closest thing to a central focus for tea party activists, lists their values as “Fiscal Responsibility, Limited Government, Free Market.”  In fact, I note that writers Tracy McNicoll, Christopher Dickey, and Barbie Nadeau never use the term “tea party” in the body of the article. So maybe we should only blame Newsweek’s headline writers and front-page editor.

In another example, the Guardian newspaper of London wrote sensationally about “Lobbyists behind the rightwing Tea Party group in the US” arriving in London for “an event organised by the UK’s controversial Taxpayers’ Alliance.” (Why is it controversial? Apparently because it agitates for lower taxes.) These groups, it is said, have “close links to the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch” and “have lobbied … to maintain tax breaks for the rich” – and for everyone else, a point that author Phillip Inman inadvertently omitted. And, contrary to the article, Cato didn’t sponsor a taxpayers’ conference in London; we cosponsored the venerable European Resource Bank, a networking conference for free-market think tanks across Europe.

Inman writes, “The Cato Institute, which promotes its views on Fox News and other rightwing media, is one of the Tea Party’s main backers.” That’s sort of true, except for the point that our scholars have appeared more often on CNBC than on Fox. And that we don’t back any political or grass-roots movements, though many of our scholars have written generous – and sometimes more cautious – articles about the tea party movement.

My colleague Aaron Powell suggests that that many left-liberals, including many journalists, have a Manichean worldview that posits a fundamental conflict between corporations and government. And so if you dislike corporations, you perforce stand on the side of government. And when it’s energy corporations, like the Kochs, then anything they touch becomes The Enemy. And “Tea Party” is now, to some people, the generic name for The Enemy.

For more sensible views of the tea party movement from journalists, see this John Judis article that I praised before and a new analysis from Jonathan Rauch in National Journal.

More Surprises from the Kentucky Senate Survey

You may have heard about the new survey in the Kentucky Senate race that shows Rand Paul up by 15 points. The disaggregated data from the survey are almost as surprising as the overall result.

About one-third of likely African-American and Democratic voters support Paul. He attracts solid majorities of young people, of college graduates, and of people who “almost never” attend religious services. Among the one-quarter of voters neutral toward the Tea Party movement, Paul receives 60 percent of the vote. He gets majority support from every region of the state. Paul’s support is the same from voters who make more or less than $50,000 a year. Paul’s weaknesses? People over 65 and women, both coming in around 45 percent.

Pretty amazing stuff, but there’s a caveat (there’s always a caveat).

One time in twenty, a well-done poll will return a misleading result. The 15 percent number may be wrong because of sampling error.

If not, Rand Paul might want to think about whether he really wants to keep his practice open on Mondays considering all that stuff he will be doing in DC. But maybe he’s not looking to make a career in the capital.

Are the Anti-War Left and the Tea Party Just Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Responding to my POLITICO Arena post this morning about the Tea Party’s potency as a notional political force, David Biespiel, poet, editor, writer, and founding executive director of the Attic Writers’ Workshop in Portland, Oregon, points to opposition to the Iraq War as he argues that “the anti-war left were tea partiers before being tea partiers was cool!” Look here and scroll down a bit for Biespiel’s argument and my response.

The Tea Party Is About More than Government

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Is Joe Miller’s win in Alaska a sign of the tea party’s potency as a national political force?

My response:

Joe Miller’s win in Alaska isn’t simply a sign, but one more in a long string of signs of the Tea Party’s potency as a national political force. From Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts to the massive Beck rally on the National Mall on Saturday, forces are stirring in the nation as they haven’t for years. And as that rally showed, they aren’t entirely or even mainly political forces. Nor are they mainly religious in any narrow sense, as the mainstream media seem to be saying, once again missing the point.

Rather, the Tea Party movement, like the original Tea Party over two centuries ago, is a rebellion against overweening government and a call for the restoration of individual liberty, individual responsibility, and limited constitutional government. That there should be a religious element in this should not surprise. After all, America’s three great revolutions – the first whereby we declared ourselves free and independent, the second that ended slavery, and the third that ended legal segregation – were all supported and inspired by religious beliefs and institutions.

And for good reason: In America, at least, religion is a private affair, free from government coercion, a domain where individuals can and must assume responsibility for themselves – the very virtue that is crippled by dependence on government. Alaskans and Americans more broadly are increasingly rejecting the Murkowski view that government is instituted to provide goods and services. It’s instituted to ensure our freedom, including freedom from forced dependence on government.

Spending and Deficits

E. J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post today that many Republicans think the George W. Bush administration was “too ready to run up the deficit.” But, he says,

That the deficit increased primarily because of two tax cuts and two wars was not part of most conservatives’ calculation because acknowledging this was ideologically inconvenient.

That’s one explanation. Of course, spending did rise by more than a trillion dollars during Bush’s eight years, and it wasn’t all military spending.

And as Michael Tanner writes today, “The Deficit Is a Symptom, Spending Is the Disease.”

Traditionally, federal spending has run around 21 percent of GDP. But George W. Bush and (even more dramatically) Barack Obama have now driven federal spending to more than 25 percent of GDP. And as the old joke goes, that’s the good news. As the full force of entitlement programs kicks in, the federal government will consume more than 40 percent of GDP by the middle of the century.

The real objection of libertarians and many conservatives to Bush is the massive increase in federal spending. As Tanner says, the deficit is just the symptom of an out-of-control, overspending federal government.

Libertarian Politics in the Media

Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian-leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts – including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op-ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:

In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.

I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self-reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.

Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.

And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:

Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.

You can see in both the Paul op-ed and the Johnson interview that major-party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation – or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee – believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian-leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.

The Not-So-White Tea Party

USA Today is out with a new poll on Tea Party supporters. Near the top of both the article and the accompanying graphic is this point, also singled out by Howard Kurtz in his Washington Post report on the study:

They are overwhelmingly white and Anglo,

Not too surprising, perhaps. Economic conservatives, we hear, are more white than the national average. But wait — here’s the rest of Kurtz’s sentence:

although a scattering of Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans combine to make up almost one-fourth of their ranks.

“Almost one-fourth of their ranks” is “a scattering”? Sounds like a pretty good chunk to me, especially in a country that is after all still mostly white. Let’s go to the tape. The data-filled graphic says that 77 percent of Tea Party supporters are “non-Hispanic whites.” And this 2008 Census report says that the United States as a whole is 65 percent non-Hispanic white. So the Tea Party is indeed somewhat more “white” than the country at large, but not by that much. Twelve points above the national average is not “overwhelmingly white,” and 23 percent Hispanics, Asian Americans and African Americans is not “a scattering.” At a rough estimate, it represents about 14 million non-Anglo Americans who support the Tea Party movement.

How does this compare to the demographics of other movements? Strangely enough, I can’t find any real data on the demographics of the enviromental movement. Maybe pollsters and mainstream journalists don’t want to know. But here’s a report that 84 percent of the visitors to the Sierra Club website are Caucasian. Similar implication here. And here’s a story on the environmentalist movement’s desperate attempt to seem not so “overwhelmingly white.” Yet somehow journalists don’t focus on that obvious fact about the environmentalist movement.

Instead, they keep describing the Tea Party movement as “overwhelmingly white,” even when the data suggest a different conclusion.