That's what Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association argued in an NPR segment yesterday. Fischer and Waco, Texas, Tea Party leader Toby Marie Walker offered what could be a preview of a larger debate that's likely to intensify if the Tea Party gains greater electoral traction.
Walker argues that the Tea Party is a big tent movement in which people from across the political spectrum share their enthusiasm for small government, low taxes, fiscal responsibility, and government accountability. "The tea party is about the economy," she says. "We stay away from social issues because they're so divisive. If it's a gun issue or an abortion issue we send people somewhere else." Fischer, on the other hand, says the Tea Party presents a "holistic conservative view" and is about "[claiming] the mantle of the founding fathers." Fischer adds, "If the the Tea Party movement ever sends the signal that the gay agenda is OK with them, that gay marriage is OK with them, that abortion is OK with them, the energy's going to bleed out of the movement."
Both argue that the other's concept of the Tea Party movement is completely incompatible with their own. Fischer says that a true conservative movement must promote socially conservative principles, and must therefore be overtly pro-life and anti-gay, while Walker likens a gay-bashing Tea Party movement to a gay-bashing NRA. This means that at least some Tea Partiers conceive of their movement as sort of a popularly-supported, nominally-libertarian special-interest group. Fischer thinks that such an attitude could actually doom the Tea Parties, and believes that insufficient social conservativism will signal to the movement's "rank-and-file" that it's more interested in appeasing the 20 percent of followers who are social libertarians than in representing the beliefs and interests of its anti-gay, anti-abortion majority.
If the Fischer viewpoint wins out, the Tea Party movement will likely become little more than the pissed-off grassroots right wing of the Republican party. And as long as the faces of the movement are figures whose "holistic conservatism" drowns out the movement's more libertarian voices, Walker's vision of the Tea Parties as a libertarian rallying point might be wishful thinking.
(HT: Emily Church)