Are We Headed for Tea Party Armageddon?

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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)

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  1. “compellety”

  2. Can someone explain to me why social conservative issues continue to be so prevalent?

    1. Because it’s not human nature to mind our own goddamned business.

      1. No it isn’t.

        Social conservativism is reactionary (that’s not to say that traditional values are reactionary). It only exists in opposition to social progressives. That’s why Libertarians shouldn’t side with the left on social issues, but rather, expose their statist cultural agenda as well. Then “mind your own business” would be seen as a distinct approach, and most people would adopt it, because it’s clearly the proper position on soical issues.

        So don’t support gay marriage, that’s a leftist moral agenda that compromises your political neutrality. Rather, oppose government’s involvement in marriage, period.

  3. As long as people like Palin, Beck and DeMint are associated with the Tea Party, then it will be nothing more than a socially conservative grassroots movement.

    I don’t believe that they are serious about cutting spending. Would they, for example, support cutting spending on the War on Drugs? There’s a lot of savings to be found. Everything from incarceration costs to overseas interdiction efforts could be completely cut. That’s not going to happen because the government is there to save us from ourselves.

    We could save lots of money by taking troops out of places like Germany and Japan. But that would mean we weren’t somehow supporting the troops, so that’s out.

    I won’t even mention Social Security or Medicare, two government programs that won’t be around when I reach old age.

    Any organization like this that does not start out and maintain libertarian principles is ripe for a so-con takeover. I believe that’s what will happen – if it hasn’t already.

    I’ll believe they’re serious about cutting spending when they present comprehensive plans to do so. I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Any organization like this that does not start out and maintain libertarian principles is ripe for a so-con takeover. I believe that’s what will happen – if it hasn’t already.

      If you prescription is that libertarians should avoid the movement, doesn’t that guarentee that it will (if it hasn’t already)?

      1. I seriously think there’s something wrong with the r key on my keyboard.

      2. I’m not suggesting that libertarians avoid the tea party. I just don’t think that libertarians should be astonished when the tea party begins promoting so-con principles.

        They are for limited spending in the abstract – ask them for specifics and you’ll get nothing much of substance.

        1. I don’t know. I’d guess ninety five percent of them would agree that the Department of Education needs to be shut down.

    2. As long as people like Palin, Beck and DeMint are associated with the Tea Party, then it will be nothing more than a socially conservative grassroots movement.

      I don’t believe that they are serious about cutting spending

      One of these things is not like the other…

      Honestly, DeMint is interested in cutting spending. It’s far more plausible to believe that you, Stephen, aren’t serious about cutting spending and are simply trolling because you want more than anything to prevent spending from being cut.

      I don’t believe you’re serious about cutting spending. You’re not holding your breath because you’re a troll.

      1. Your opinion on whether I’m serious about cutting spending or not is of no consequence to me. You obviously did not read my original post in which I suggested ending the war on drugs and ending American occupation of foreign countries, both of which would have a tangible effect on overall spending. I’m in favor of lopping off entire Cabinet-level departments. What’s your plan?

  4. The way out is obvious. If government stops being such a huge part of people’s lives, the culture war crap can fall by the wayside. If people actually had school choice – they could choose if they wanted their kids at a school that had Heather Has Two Mommies or a school that had the Left Behind series, (or one with both) the culture war crap around schools goes away. Remove government funding from other issues, and see how often the culture war bullshit goes away.

    1. This assumes that social conservatives have never engaged in culture war about issues like music, cable television, books, movies, ordination of gay or female priests within a private religious institution, or any number of things have have nothing to do with the government or tax dollars.

      In fact, if you just glance at the headlines at the website for the American Family Association, you’ll see that they have complaints about the action of private companies like Sears and Home Depot, and anger about private religious institutions that differ with them.

      1. Yeah, I remember when the social conservatives got all incensed about Harry Potter. That sure made a dent in the American public’s opinion, didn’t it? Sears and Home depot don’t seem to be sweating over the disapproval of the AFA, do they?

        Without government as a bully pulpit, the only people that give a crap about social conservatives are other social conservatives.

        1. Is the government attempting to prevent private religious worship on private property at the Park 51 site? Did the government stop South Park from showing Muhammed, or stop Family Guy from even making the abortion episode? Does the government care about the lyrics in the CDs that Wal-Mart sells? Companies bow down to pressure from social conservatives all the time. Our whole screwed up movie rating system is all about private censorship. The argument never stops with “I don’t want my kids to see this”, it’s “I don’t want *anyone* to see this”, and there are often many purely private avenues to achieve that goal.

          It’s part of the way the market works and it’s their own expression of the 1st Amendment. But it’s ludicrous to assume that social conservatives have a “live and let live” attitude that never has an impact on people outside their group.

          1. T & Sviluppo – good points.

          2. Did the government stop South Park from showing Muhammed…Companies bow down to pressure from social conservatives all the time.

            Non sequitur. Social conservatives didn’t prevent South Park from bashing them; the people who prevented South Park from showing the Mohammed episode aren’t generally considered social conservatives.

            But perhaps this is simply the old habit of calling anyone you don’t like conservative, like when the radical leftists in the Soviet Union who resisted Gorbachev were called conservatives.

            1. I would posit that the opinion of “Don’t show X because it offends my religion” is, at least, religiously conservative, and historically American Muslims have found common cause with social conservatives on issues like pornography, homosexuality, and traditional roles for women.

              I could have used the example that Comedy Central stopped airing reruns of the Virgin Mary South Park episode under pressure from Catholics, but I wanted to make a point that social conservatives who use private pressure to suppress private enterprise aren’t just your stereotypical white Christians.

              Or are you attempting to argue that fundamentalist Muslims are actually liberals when it comes to offensive religious art?

        2. This. And social constructionists who want to see all religious morality go by the wayside in order to promote a whole new moral point of view in their image.

    2. I’ve noticed something a while back, and I propose a rule of thumb: If there is a cultural or social issue that is dividing people (e.g., abortion, gay marriage, school curriculum, etc), and each group has a legitimate point, that is strong evidence that that area is NOT a legitimate area for the government to be involved. Separation of state and church, school, marriage, etc. is the way to go. The discord stems from each group using the power of the government to foist their ideas onto others. Just a small thought. (That’s all that can fit in my head.)

  5. This, not the tiresome Red v. Blue dumbshow, is the political conflict that will decide the next generation of politics.

    If the social cons prevail, then the Tea Party dies and America will stagnate under a bloated government and failed currency. If the crypto-libertarians prevail, we have a chance.

    They have to force a choice: which is more important to you, driving back the Total State, or your social con agenda? Because you can’t have both. Pick one.

    1. I agree. And that’s why libertarians should be involved (at least) in trying to keep the movement purely focused on economic issues.

      After 10 years or so of this tacit alliance some of the social cons might even soften their views on drugs and gays.

      1. I think this will be a difficult task, given the decentralized nature of the tea party. To accomplish this, libertarians will have to get involved literally at a block-by-block, zip code-by-zip code basis. Is there enough energy and commitment from libertarians to steer the tea party movement in a solely economic direction?

        1. Of course it’s difficult. It’s difficult to get anyone, even oneself, to do anything. But why would this be any harder for libertarians than for trads (traditionalists, social conservatives)?

          1. Because morality issues tend to fire up passions like nothing else. If you asked the average so-con to choose between lower taxes/spending and one of their hot button issues like a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they’ll pick the gay marriage ban every time.

            It’s not in human nature to live and let live. That’s why it’ll be difficult to keep the tea party organizations focused on economic issues

  6. I heard that interview. That Fischer dude sounded to me pretty much like a standard right-wing, neocon bible thumper. He used the term “homosexual agenda” at least twice. I’m still trying to determine precisely what that “agenda” is.

    Is there a “heterosexual agenda”?

    I liked what Walker had to say a lot more. She emphasized that they were largely libertarian and their single issue was limited government and fiscal responsibility, period.

    1. “Is there a “heterosexual agenda?”

      Yes. It’s the same as the homosexual agenda: convince people you find attractive to sleep with you.

      Different people have differing levels of success in enacting their agenda.

  7. That Fischer is quite the stategerist. You can’t divert precious energy away from the economic disaster when you have teh gays going around with state-sanctioned marriage contracts that morally sanctify sodomy and pedaphelia. Only priests should be able to engage in such things.

    Fischer is smart, like Fredo.

  8. The s exactly why I think it’s foolhardy for libertarians to avoid the movement. Not being involved just further guarentees that the social conservatives will drown out the libertarians.

    We’re in this borderline situation where it could go either way, and libertarians aren’t making much effort to influence it. Stupid.

    1. Oh, we excel at that.

      1. We excel at what, standing on the sidelines bitching as the world goes to hell?

        I guess we should continue to play to our strengths.

    2. I’ve said on many occassion that the social nonsense from that portion of the R’s will eventually just die, you can find some success convincing R’s (younger) that we can’t afford militarism, and that the War on Drugs is useless and harmful. Most people just have a conditioned reaction, done quite well by Uncle Sam, that drugs couldn’t possiby be legal. They haven’t thought about it anymore than government being in charge of roads or schools.

      BUT, you will never get a statist to quit advocating a delusional, unicorn-riding, expert, profligate bureaucracy to control every aspect of human behavior – for the good. They’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Ultimately, as noted earlier and often, the economy can’t keep heading in the direction that it is.

      OR, people just embrace Hope and Change. Hope and Change is just off to a slow start. It might take a generation….

    3. How do you know libertarians aren’t making much effort to influence it? We started it, and I know Ralph Fucetola spoke at a tea party about a year and a half ago.

      BTW, when did “tea party” change from being the name of an event to being a label for an organiz’n, or a non-organiz’n? Was it due to a misinterpret’n of the word “party”?

  9. The baggers (the GOP base) will be afraid of whatever Rush and Glenn tell them to be afraid of.

    The gays are out. Socialism is in.

    1. You want to deny gays socialism? What kind of gay socialist are you?

    2. Socialism is always in.

  10. The transcript is funny, thanks to that Fischer cat. It feels like he’s afraid of being left in the dust.

    Instant classic:

    Mr. FISCHER: You know, for myself, I don’t think it’s been that intense because I think a lot of people in the Tea Party movement do not realize that the leadership of the Tea Party movement is at a fundamentally different place than they are when it comes to social issues. And that’s why I think the Tea Party movement is no longer they’re not going to be able to claim the mantle of the founding fathers unless they affirm that morality and religion are indispensible supports of political prosperity.

    False premise, anyone?

    Also, is his claim (Tea Party is 10-20% libertarian, 80-90% social conservative) based on anything?

    1. Wait, didn’t we argue yesterday about whether or not the Tea Party had leadership? Somebody send Fischer the memo.

      1. Next time maybe Walker will bust him on that.

        “What leadership?! Now end this interview so I can go make payroll. Matching FICA bullshit.”

        I’ve always liked the vibe coming out of Waco.

    2. Fischer is a fraud as are the jerks I hear calling cspan identifying themselves as Tea Partiers then reeling off a minute of preaching. Although the cspan callers could be Democrats trying to give the impression that the Tea Party is nothing but social conservatives. A pox on both of them, usurpers or infiltrators.

    3. 10-20% is more influence than libertarians have anywhere else.

      1. Depends who/what yo count as libertarian. Do you mean only radical libertarians, or do you mean all persons who weigh liberty more heavily than does the avg. person in public policy considerations?

  11. This reminds me of the moment in “Cabaret” when the kid stands up and starts singing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and Fritz the Baron realizes that the aristocracy has lost control of the movement they’d hoped to coopt to deal with the communists…

    1. Max the Baron

    2. So, Tonio, where is your socially liberal movement that would advance libertarian goals?

  12. Hard-core ‘social conservatives’ are now the short-end end of the GOP stick. That doesn’t mean people won’t have strong opinions on ‘hot button’ cultural/social issues; feeling strongly about abortion, etc. doesn’t mean one is a ‘social conservative’. However, the deepest shades of ‘social conservative’ are on the outsies.

    Predictably, folks like Fischer are desperately trying to claw ‘social conservatism’s’ place back to the head of the table, cause’ that’s where their particle roll gets buttered. Guys like Ramesh Ponnuru represent the more upscale of the breed.

    I actually think it’s to the Tea Partiers credit that such a large, decentralized movement have shown a rather mature attitude about putting government size and fiscal concern above all other issues. As mentioned, it’s going to be a bit of a tussle as hardened ‘social conservative’ activist try to wrest momentum back. It’s a damn good thing libertarians have been supportive and willing to engage the Tea Party movement,-thus winning cultural momentum battles- rather than sitting on the sidelines in the D.C. corridor and bitchily snipping about anything that doesn’t meet some Ivory Tower standard that’s never existed. Oh….wait…

    1. I won’t support the Tea Parties or the GOP in general until they can convince me that invading Iran is NOT their #1 priority, because I think their just trying to ride the wave back into power, so they can get back to business as usual.

      1. Did you ever consider that your support would help decide whether invading Iran is their #1 priority? You don’t want to play the game unless you’re guaranteed to win?

    2. the left is also promoting the Tea Party as so-cons in order to discourage particularization by libertarian-leaners.

  13. How about we just focus on rolling back Caesar right now, so that we can render less unto him? After that we can work on which of God’s many diverse gnosises (gnosi?) Caesar should adopt.

    1. See that’s the kind of short term thinking that has libertarians voting Republican in order to roll back the power of Democrats.

  14. One thing that would help keep the movement focused on small government would be if the press would highlight individuals who were trying to relate that message instead of looking for social conservatives within the movement. Unfortunately the liberal press will go out of its way to find the nuts in the movement in an attempt to discredit it.

    1. To be fair, many of the crazier and weirder comments (like O’Donnell’s bit about mice with fully human brains) were made in media venues that were decidedly favorable to the guest. See also Sharron Angle’s pro-theocracy comments on Christian news programs.

      There’s also the legitimate difficulty that, with no official leaders or spokesmen, the media is left with those who are either the loudest or really want to be on TV. An official party structure doesn’t avoid all craziness (Michael Steele), but it can be useful in controlling some of it (Trent Lott).

      When a corporation gets involved in a news story, do they send an official spokesman who will make the company look good or do they just let the media talk to the paranoid night janitor hopped up on caffeine pills? Groups that praise the free market should take a cue from marketing and understand the public relations game.

  15. It does no good to point out that removing the state ends the culture war since neither the left, nor the right, wish to remove the state. Libertarians thus can’t evade the culture war but have to side with whichever side is promoting freedom or sit it out on the sidelines.

    1. Both sides are promoting freedom, and both sides are attacking freedom. They want things their way, and if they can’t force people to do things their way, second best is to make it that people are allowed to do things their way — because worst is for people to be forced not to do it their way, as the other side wants. The way one side wants it is the opposite of the way the other side wants it.

  16. While the movement itself may be neutral on non-economic matters, it’s irrelevant to voters — they aren’t voting for a candidate’s fiscal views and banning them from voting on gay rights and drugs, they’re buying the whole package, warts and all. As long as the TPM pushes candidates who are strong social conservatives, social moderates will have to weigh that against their fiscal views.

    Now, in these dire times, maybe the fiscal conservatism is a more important consideration. But a cynic understands that if a candidate has one belief that empowers the government and one that restricts it, when he’s in government he’s going to have more of an interest in pushing the pro-power agenda. There’s no reason to expect that professional politicians (“outsider” or not) are going to put the economy first when there’s so much culture warring to be done.

    1. But each side in the culture war is in such a position right now that they’re fighing in favor of liberty for certain things and against it for others, those being the respective cutting edges. So usually social activist views of either “left” or “right” type are a mixed bag on the liberty-authority scale, tending toward a wash, and that being the case, why not back the candidate who wants to relatively disempower gov’t on business-economic matters?

  17. Are there any “Tea Party insurgent” candidates out there that are not social conservatives? It’s a serious question — if there are some, I’d like to hear about them.

    The California senate primary still rankles me. Tom Campbell, a fiscal conservative Milton Friedman disciple with liberal social views, was exactly the sort of candidate the Tea Party should have embraced. Instead the Tea Party crowd vilified him as a RINO.

    1. They’re all somewhat conservative socially, but how much emphasis do they give that vs. their good fiscal ideas?

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