Movements, Not Candidates


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.