Tea Party

Movements, Not Candidates

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Andrew Sullivan reads my article about Saul Alinsky and zeros in on this passage at the end:

If [Tea Partiers are] serious about building a real alternative to the Bush/Obama megastate, as opposed to merely being used by the Republicans and discarded as soon as the GOP is in a position to relaunch the K Street Project, the activists need to build countervailing power of their own, rooted not merely in talk radio and the Internet but in the indigenous institutions that shape people's everyday lives. In some areas—bank bailouts, eminent domain, the crackdown on civil liberties, America's imperial foreign policy—they might even reach across the invisible lines that separate their favorite segments of civil society from the churches and councils that mobilize people on the grassroots left, to work together on issues of shared concern even when they aren't about to back the same candidates.

Writes Sullivan: "If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?"

My answer: The issue isn't whether "the" Tea Party will do those things. The Tea Party isn't an actual party; it's an extremely decentralized movement with room for several different points of view. It is not libertarian in itself, but it has opened a space for libertarian ideas; it includes good guys like the Campaign for Liberty, and it includes its share of scamsters and authoritarians as well. And it includes a lot of people who are not pure libertarians but are motivated by a libertarian take on one or more pressing issues. So my reply to Sullivan is that there are people down at the grassroots, meeting in restaurants and rallying outside county courthouses, who will "do any of these things." And they're the people my passage is addressed to: the ones who are "serious about building a real alternative to the Bush/Obama megastate."

Sullivan asks me to "name a tea party candidate" who supports a laundry list of libertarian positions—you can click through to his post for the whole litany. It's a curious question to ask when I've just urged activists to mobilize "on issues of shared concern even when they aren't about to back the same candidates." I'm more interested in building movements that can pressure elected officials who don't agree with me than I am in electing officials who do agree with me. Sure, I'll cheer for the Ron Pauls and Gary Johnsons who are out there, and for that matter for less libertarian pols whose flaws are outweighed by the flaws of their opponents. But in general it's more effective to assemble coalitions around issues than coalitions around candidates.

NEXT: Loathsome Columnist of the Month: Courtland Milloy

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  1. Why in God’s name should any Tea Party person take advice from a syphilitic fatass liberal like Andrew Sullivan?

    1. You’re missing the point, Reason Mag exists as a social function, not a search for truth. This so called left-libertarian movement is fake. Nobody listens to liberals anymore so call yourself a libertarian.

  2. If the Tea Party has a website, it would probably be Pajamas Media. This story made Pajamas Media today. And none of the comments I have read are in favor of the cops.

    It is the usual Radley Balko cops kill an innocent person kick in the balls. But you can at least take heart that maybe someone besides Libertarians are starting to listen.

    http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/g…..rik-scott/

    1. Wrong comments section?

    2. Thanks a lot for reminding me of this story, John. You dick.

      I am so fucking paranoid now about accidentally revealing my concealed weapon, even just reaching up for some groceries. Because it used to be “oops, I have a permit, my bad” and now it’s a fucking SWAT team assassinating you.

      1. I would be paranoid. They shot a West Point Graduate Duke MBA. You can’t get more mainstream white America than that. A lot of people don’t care about police brutality because they think it only happens to poor people and minorities. Well maybe twenty years ago that was true. But not anymore.

        1. Jesus, I just read about this now. That is fucked the fuck up.

      2. Shoulder holsters may be less tactically sound, but they at least obviate this particular problem.

    3. I especially love (hate) the part where he tells the po-po “I’m disarming” then gets shot for his trouble, then takes a few in the back just because the cops couldn’t wait to play with their toys.

      Fucking rat bastard, gunslinging, chickenshit police scumbags.

      I think I’m going to go play some San Andreas.

  3. I wonder if Andrew Sullivan will fixate on O’Donnell’s vagina like he has Palin’s? The man is insane. Reason should not be encouraging him or engaging with him.

    1. So far, he’s busy asking about whether she’s been in recent intimate contact with it.

      1. This O’Donnell diddling thing is so tired and retarded. She’s not proposing the criminalization of treating your swimtrunk area like an amusement park; she said that her religion considers it to be a sin. You’d have to be a retard not to understand the differ– oh, right, we’re talking about Andrew “Milky Loads” Sullivan here.

        1. That’s exactly right. Sullivan’s spends about half of his waking hours trying to reconcile being gay and Catholic. This gal in Delaware does the same thing and she must be crucified. You fake libertarians should really come up with some new angles on how to attack Christians and conservatives, this is getting old.

  4. “The Tea Party isn’t an actual party; it’s an extremely decentralized movement with room for several different points of view. It is not libertarian in itself, but it has opened a space for libertarian ideas; it includes good guys like the Campaign for Liberty, and it includes its share of scamsters and authoritarians as well.”

    I give Reason writer flak for cosmopolitan ass-hattery, but let me fairly award Jesse Walker 100 shiny new internets for an actual productive take on the Tea Parties.

    Culture, politics, and ideology are different beasts. Culture and politics dominate the world of voters and government; ideology and philosophy are interesting but ultimately limited-scope variables outside of the small world of academic/political wonkery.

    The Tea Parties, like all real-world cultural/political movements, are a messy thing. Glimpsed through an ideologically pure lens, it doesn’t come up to snuff. However, there is an enormous space opening in our culture for libertarian-leaning ideas to become ‘cool’ or somewhat mainstream. This only happens if libertarian-leaning folks put some skin in the game, which may mean a harsher personal or political environment for them. However, that’s the price that is paid to effect changes in politics. You can have a nice, easy beltway life playing too-cool-for-school. Get invited to all the hip social functions. Win the hell out of policy arguments in internet articles a few hundred people read. Or you can tread into the ugly, messy realm of culture/politics and actually make a difference (or try).

    Andrew Sullivan’s stance is the same as many pundits; at the end of the day it’s a lot more personally fulfilling to safely cut bait (by bemoaning the lack of some mythical well-reasoned, hyper-educated mass of citizens smoothly adopting political change that has never, and will never, exist) and ensure smooth sailing in one’s social life.

    1. It’s amazing how pervasive the “cosmotarian” concept is in some conservative libertarians’ minds. The hatred of “too cool for school”; the fact that some of us want nothing to do with tea partiers who scream “keep your hands off my Medicaire”.

      Maybe this divide is too much to overcome, because a number of you just will not drop it. It’s KULTUR WAR within libertarian circles, and is just as fucking stupid as the TEAM RED TEAM BLUE war.

      1. It’s actually the same war, to a large extent.

      2. What do you see as an effective current avenue for libertarian-leaning political change? Comment threads on Reason? Books sales of ‘The Fountainhead’? Drew Carey internet podcasts?

        From where I sit, things like the Tea Parties are the best things around that are opening large cultural openings for libertarian ideas. That doesn’t mean you rush out to join one, or slap on a GOP sticker. You can forgo the political angle, and still engage culturally.

        I get the ‘to hell with the world if it doesn’t match my ideological ideal 100%’ attitude if one is 18. Outside of that, welcome to politics.

        1. “Welcome to politics” is a load of shit. That’s the whole problem in a nutshell. I’m not doing politics, because it is the antithesis of everything I believe in.

          You’re basically making the argument that to win, one must become what you’re fighting. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the point?

          1. “You’re basically making the argument that to win, one must become what you’re fighting. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the point?”

            I can rebut that the whole ‘Sainted, few pure vs. the mass of the tainted’ absolutist way of looking at life and cultural got old after freshman year.

            There are 350 million people in the US, each with a myriad of beliefs and values. At no time in history, past, present, or future, will there exist some great mass of mannered, reasoned folks adhering to whatever you or I happen to believe in. So if you want to effect change, you have to either get in the political game or the wider cultural game.

            If you don’t want to jump in with the GOP…fine. I really don’t either. But that doesn’t mean interested libertarians still can’t engage culturally. You can engage and support general ideals (such as limited government)without overtly attaching a big shit-eating grin to the political side. You can support the opportunity of the Tea Parties vis-a-vie limited government ideals without praying to sweet, sweet Jesus and Sarah Palin every night.

            There are levels of engagement, it’s not a zero-sum game. If people are truly invested in the political directions of this country, it would seem the absolute worst time for libertarian-leaning folks to start playing the Ivory Tower game.

            1. I guess you’re not understanding me. I’m not playing “the Ivory Tower” game (though your choice of words there says a lot more about you than you think); I’m sticking to my principles. I hate politics, so much so that I cannot stand to be involved in them. I realize that this doesn’t get me very far, but then I realize that to get anywhere I would have to become a creature that I detest.

              Sorry, not going to do that.

              1. There should be an ‘Emo liber-teen’ tag that people can apply to the name-field. Seriously, that view is like the ‘Hot Topic’ in the mall of ideas.

                I mean that good-naturedly, but I’ll never understand why people who resign themselves to ghosting out of the process get so angry at events. If a person checks out by choice, what’s the point of getting so wrapped up in politics?

                1. KT: Epi looms large here, and is a long-posting and respected member of the commentariat.

                  You are either a clueless n00b, or a punk trying to make a big noise. Good luck with that.

                  1. When you get home from Junior High today make sure you post a list of the cool kids who are off limits for debate/questions/ribbing owing to them having hung out longer in internet comment sections. That would be a big help to both the noobs and punks out there.

              2. “I hate politics” but love engaging on a libertarian magazine’s website????????????

                1. We talk politics here? I thought it was all Dune and Phoebe Cates nude scenes?

                2. Politics means different things in different contexts. Us libertarians love us some ideology and philosophy, but tend to detest politics as used in the phrase “office politics” — bullshit peddling, ass-kissing, deal-making, power brokering, backstabbing, self-aggrandizement, thoroughly un-self-aware partisan hackery and the like.

      3. It is a question of whose ugly girlfriend do you want to let into the party. People like Taco and I show up with the Tea Party types as dates. We can tolerate them and thing they won’t get too drunk or puke on the floor or make much of a scene. People like Brink Lindsey show up with liberals as dates. You hate our dates and we hate Lindsey’s dates.

        But you know what? Without dates it is a fucking boring sausage fest. So we have to figure out someone’s date to tolerate.

        1. I wouldn’t mind a sausage fest.

          No homo.

          1. Me neither.

        2. Skwisgaar Skwigelf: This is a complete and total, you know, sausage festival.
          Toki Wartooth: I love sausage festival!
          Skwisgaar Skwigelf: What?
          Toki Wartooth: Like in Vienna.
          Skwisgaar Skwigelf: No – no, Toki, that *was* a sausage festival.
          Toki Wartooth: Yeah, that was good.
          Skwisgaar Skwigelf: Yeah. It was the Vienna pork saus – um, no, this means that there’s no good-looking ladies to put you-know-what intoside of them.
          Toki Wartooth: The sausage?
          Skwisgaar Skwigelf: [short pause] Yeah.

      4. New definition time: Cosmotarians are those who see libertrianism as a cultural thing. It’s about who you hang out with, what blogs you read, and what kind of chemical you ingest. Paleotarians are all about the ideology, to the point of casting 0.001% impure pols into the outer darkness.

        1. What if it’s a personality thing?

      5. Do you know why they say ‘my’ medicare and ‘my’ social security? Because they have been forced to pay into it for their entire working lives, that’s why.

        And they know that most of them weren’t paying ‘into’ anything–they were paying for people who were already getting it.

        So they know fixing it means someone’s gotta get fucked over, someone’s going to pay and get nothing. And they’re old–they don’t have 40 years ahead of them to sock away cash for when they can’t work anymore.

        So they say ‘my’.

          1. That’s what I was thinking. Take away Medicare and you’ll end up with a shit-load of old people without access to healthcare. From my perspective, Medicare sucks, but Obamacare is down right Satanic.

        1. they don’t have 40 years ahead of them to sock away cash for when they can’t work anymore.

          Thats what the last 40 years were for.

        2. -1000

          ‘Their’ money was pissed away by the politicians they kept electing. One for all, all for one.

          Alright, let’s be fair, let’s say the first year they “discoverd” Medicare was going to fuck future generations. When was that, 08? Let’s be generous – if you were 30 when this discovery was made, you’re shit out of luck.

          Ok, ok. I am just younger than 40, how about people 40 and up are grandfathered in, except everyone that doesn’t absolutely need Medicare or SS now, gets off immediately. And we remove government entirely from health care (make Medicare a wellfare voucher program) and repeal all taxes except one flat or sales tax. Fair enough? The New New Deal.

  5. The issue isn’t whether “the” Tea Party will do those things. The Tea Party isn’t an actual party; it’s an extremely decentralized movement with room for several different points of view. It is not libertarian in itself, but it has opened a space for libertarian ideas;

    DING! DING! DING!

    I am kinda shocked to see this spelled out so clearly for once. Everyone tries to decipher what the Tea Party is about in terms of libertarianism, but this should explain it.

    BRA-FARKING-VO Jesse, well done.

    1. yeah, Jesse seems to be the only reason writer around here lately that seems to pretty much get it, or at least sum it up in a very good way.

      1. Jesse seems to be the only reason writer around here lately that seems to pretty much get it,

        Yeah, fuck Gillespie and Welch, those retards.

        Actually, the increase in attacks from freak pundits like Sullivan, Chait and Serwer points to an overall increase in the ability to sum up the libertarian point in a good way.

  6. I wonder if Andrew Sullivan will fixate on O’Donnell’s vagina like he has Palin’s?

    I think only used vaginas trigger his psychoses.

    We could try pointing out to him that she’s named after a Jew. That’ll set off at least a twitch.

    1. [Chirp…]

  7. The biggest problem with the Tea Party is not that it results in a few goofballs gaining high office, but that it fizzles out in a few years without accomplishing anything.

    Popular anger naturally has a way of subsiding, while the people who make a living off of the political process are in it for the long haul.

    1. The only way it fizzles is if the economy gets better. People forget about politics when times are good and they have other and more fun things to do. As long as the economy sucks, it is not going anywhere.

      1. That’s a good point.

      2. Well even the Obama adminstration now admits unemployment will stay high for the next few years.

  8. Every time some knob says “the Tea Party”, or “Tea Party candidate” or “Tea Party leader”, they have self-identified as someone who doesn’t understand what is going on. At all.

    1. Or maybe they know they’re the target.

  9. You are being generous to Sullivan, Jesse. He doesn’t listen.

    1. I hope he does listen, but even if he doesn’t, I hear the same sort of stuff from many other people. So at the very least his post is a convenient foil.

  10. “If only a left/right alliance would cooperate to end the drug war, get a grand compromise on the debt, and rein in defense spending and police state creep. But seriously, does Jesse really believe that the Tea Party would do any of these things?”

    Seriously, does Andrew really believe that the left would support those things? Other than reduced defense spending (but only while the right is in charge) the left is generally opposed to them. End the drug war ONLY if they get to raise taxes; reduced debt means reduced spending which is BAD; and the left practically invented the police state.

    Sullivan needs to stop confusing the left with classic liberalism.

    1. The big problem is that the Left is still tied to the idea of the New Deal and the Great Society. It’s going to take the collapse of those programs before they come around.

      I think young liberals may be particuarly receptive to libertarian ideas, if they could be made to realize that Boomer liberals are stealing from them to prop-up programs like Social Security, that will obviously not be around when they retire.

    2. I don’t know if you’re jousting with some bogeyman vision of the Left, because most of the far leftists I know would disagree with you. I went to what is often voted the most left-wing college in the country and I’d say almost all people there opposed the police state, the drug war, the military-industrial complex, the Patriot Act, etc. They were mostly hippie stoners and it WAS during the “Bushitler” years, but still…I was an outspoken libertarian, but found a largely receptive audience even when we completely disagreed on economic issues. I think libertarians could start a similar movement to the Tea Party with the Left against war, the police state, the drug war, etc. But we’ll probably have to wait until after the Left is out of power.

      1. I think so too. Young liberals don’t care very much about programs like Social Security and Medicare that will probably never benefit them.

      2. You know what the left’s response to the War on Drugs is?

        “Regulate and Tax.”

        They’re just replacing one form of statism with another.

  11. But in general it’s more effective to assemble coalitions around issues than coalitions around candidates.

    This is why arrogant pundits like Sullivan act like grass-roots activism requires top-down organizing. He and his arrogant ilk are simply incapable of getting it.

  12. I think this post hit it square. A personal example: Whenever Elizabeth Warren, whatever her faults and ideology, starts to talk about the lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and mismanagement of TARP funds, I’m in full agreement.

    But as a candidate, or as Consumer Protection czar, how would I/can I support her? We’re completely at odds.

  13. the activists need to build countervailing power of their own

    Last i checked the Tea Party just knocked establishment republican Castle off the November ballot.

    If that is not “power of their own” i don’t know what is.

    1. Not to mention Crist running as an independent in FL and Murkowski still making noise about a write-in campaign. Arlen Specter would rather be a Democrat.

      Seems to me that the Tea Party has already thrown the go-along-to-get-alongs out of the party.

    2. Look at what they did to Bob Bennett. An 8o%+ lifetime ACU rating, 3 terms, winning all of them easily, running unopposed in the primary for the last two. Yet he gets the boot this year because he voted for TARP.

      1. He also proposed (or sponsored) a health insurance reform bill that was similar in important respects (e.g., individual mandate) to Obamacare.

      2. He also proposed (or sponsored) a health insurance reform bill that was similar in important respects (e.g., individual mandate) to Obamacare.

  14. Poor old leftist wannabe Jesse Walker has mistaken white anxiety about changing demographics for a significant political movement that offers hope to his irrelevant libertarian ideology.

    1. Max, I somewhat identify with the Tea Parties. I’m in my twenties and have previously voted for Democrats. This is due to my disillusionment with both political parties, not because I suddenly noticed there were dark skinned people living here.

    2. Gee-whiz I’m clever. Pat myself on back now.

      1. Whitey, Whitey I been thinkin’
        What will keep your race from extinction,
        If you vote the GOP way,
        That will keep the darkies away.

      2. Damn. Made that up on the spot. This Max is definitely patting himself on the back.

  15. “I’m more interested in building movements that can pressure elected officials who don’t agree with me than I am in electing officials who do agree with me.”

    It’s a common misconception people have with libertarians–the idea that libertarians need their hands on the levers of power in order to have influence.

    Especially when we’re talking to people who are all about elections and party politics, trying to communicate what we’re trying to do just falls on deaf ears…

    I’d be really happy if libertarian ideas had the same influence as, say, the environmentalists. Another example, your local animal control department probably can’t do much without having to contend with the SPCA or PETA–but I can’t point to any politician who was elected to office because of the support of PETA or the SPCA.

    If only we had the same kind of influence on issues we care about!

    Also, I saw a poll that suggested that 20% of the American people identify with the Tea Party now. If only a quarter of them are disaffected Republicans, then whether any particular politician espouses purely libertarian rhetoric is completely beside the point.

    If they change the outcome of primaries and elections, the politicians will take a more libertarian oriented approach to win.

    Elections are decided by swing votes on the margins–so the people on the margins tend to have more influence than their numbers. Sullivan knows that!

  16. The rise of the Tea Parties…for lack of a better expression, has seemed to change the political narrative. Before it was welfare (Democrats) versus warfare (Republicans). Which side of statism do you like/hate more?

    Now that Obama has successfully embodied both, the narrative has changed to big government versus small government. The Tea Parties have helped make Americans aware about issues we care about. Hopefully it’s not a fleeting thing…

  17. Last time I checked, Fenty and Rhee were Democrats, and Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration had just given them $75 million in federal money to implement their agenda.

    You are confused if you think that the scale is anywhere near being balanced. On one side, you have two individuals and a small sum of money coming from the Federal Government, and on the other side, the destructive history of Democratic power struggles and promotion of various educational movements (remember the New Math) over the past three generations cultivating in the promotion of ignorance and weighing down any chance these kids have in life.

    Osiris is not impressed. The entire left in this country deserves to drown in a river of shit.

    1. I must have missed that right turn at Albuquerque.

  18. Trying to get Sullivan and his ilk to understand the Tea Parties is a lost cause. But Walker gives it the best shot I’ve seen yet.

  19. “The Tea Party isn’t an actual party; it’s an extremely decentralized movement with room for several different points of view.”

    Really? What a fascinating “decentralized movements” this is, primarily funded by a reclusive reactionary billionare who funnels the money through a handful of Astroturf lobby shops headed by the likes of Dick Armey.

    I know it’s too much to expect you to commit actual journalism, but the work’s already been done for you and it’s just lying around on the internets waiting for you to Google it.

    The Tea Party is no more a decentralized or independent movement than the CPUSA was.

    1. I know it’s too much to expect you to commit actual journalism, but the work’s already been done for you and it’s just lying around on the internets waiting for you to Google it.

      I know it’s too much to expect you to click on the hyperlinks, but there is a reason why the phrase “extremely decentralized” is highlighted. Follow the link and some actual journalism will reveal itself.

  20. Exactly!! Shadowy money being funneled in by billionaire ,you mean like George Soros? NAHHH

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