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2. Reject Cap & Trade
3. Demand a Balanced Budget
4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform
5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government
6. End Runaway Government Spending
7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care
8. Pass an “All-of-the-Above” Energy Policy
9. Stop the Pork
10. Stop the Tax Hikes
You may object to some of those items. (We get the vapors when the phrase all-of-the-above is mentioned anywhere near policy.) But there is no doubt about the overall philosophy: It’s the spending (and the Constitution), stupid.
Although unquestionably a right-of-center movement that overlaps to a large extent with the GOP, the Tea Parties have been able to pursue this focused agenda by showing a willingness to take on and even sabotage the Republican Party. Any GOP incumbent deemed soft on spending was fair game for a Tea Party–backed primary challenge in 2010, even if it required backing such not-ready-for-general-election candidates as Alaska’s Joe Miller, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell. Most terrifying for the party regulars, Tea Party activists demonstrated early on—in a special House election in upstate New York—a willingness to back a third-party candidate even at the cost of giving the election to a Democrat. Nothing shakes a major party to its core more than when the refrain of “yeah, but the other team might win” no longer works.
Such independence has tactical value that is surely not lost on what remains of the anti-war movement on the left. Having followed their original champion, Howard Dean, into the bosom of the Democratic Party, where they overwhelmingly backed an allegedly anti-war presidential candidate, anti-war progressives now have no organizational infrastructure to challenge Obama’s new wars.
Where will the next political smart mob, the next online swarm, come from? Look wherever there is too broad a gap between the two major political parties and their bases. One good short-term bet is the issue of rolling back the drug war, which professional Democrats from the president on down openly mock while a growing number of Republicans (such as presidential candidates Ron Paul and Gary Johnson) gain surprising support by uttering the unspeakable. Other swarms will likely be much more hostile to libertarian policy aims (free trade is forever open to populist attack, and attempts to reform Medicare are likely to draw anger from across the political spectrum), but each new wave will succeed at doing to two-party politics what technology has done to the rest of the economy: undermine the gatekeepers who want to control your life.
Political independence has individual virtues as well. Thinking for yourself requires much more work than setting your compass by the direction of the tribe, but, oh, the liberation. Suddenly the political bully boys look a good deal more ridiculous, tawdry, and intellectually beatable. There are other hyphenated weirdos, just over there, who have genuinely interesting things to say. Voters free from the affiliation of party membership are more inclined to view political claims with the skepticism they richly deserve, to hear the atavistic dog whistle of partisan politics as a deliberate attack on the senses rather than a rousing call to productive action. By refusing to confer legitimacy on the two accepted forms of political organization and discourse, independents (especially of the libertarian flavor) hint strongly that another form—something unpredictable, fantastical, liberating—is gathering to take their place.
Matt Welch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor in chief of reason and Nick Gillespie (email@example.com) is editor in chief of reason.com and reason.tv. They are the co-authors of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (PublicAffairs), from which this essay was adapted.