I Don’t Trust the Tea Party

This was run at LewRockwell.com today. -A.S.

I Don’t Trust the Tea Party

By: Allan Stevo

I don’t trust the Tea Party. I’m distrustful of new movements and remember how for eight years of Bush II, people who once had smaller government views suddenly abandoned those views in blind devotion of the president. I realize that it’s easy to believe in freedom for just a few years. My distrust is aided by the fact that the idea of freedom is a momentarily politically expedient idea to some.

Today it is a political expedient for some Republicans – a temporary means to an end. The banner of “freedom” is currently serving as a vague, and therefore effective, uniting statement among the opposition now that there is a Democratic president in power. One day when there is again a Republican president, it is likely that freedom, liberty, or some rhetoric having to do with the Constitution will be the vague political expedient used to unite those that oppose that president.

Each time a new president is elected, the opposition freedom movement crumbles as the party votaries step in line. The hangers-on often follow the power. To some, any president is distasteful. For those who desire to be around power, however, a powerful president from his or her own party is less distasteful than a powerful president from the other party. After eight or more years away from the teat of power, some will take any opportunity to make their way back into the presence of the most powerful people in the world.

The exodus away from ideals and towards power that follows an election is repeated almost cyclically. Having a memory is my main “impediment.” It’s the main reason that I’m not able to think highly of the Tea Party movement. I recognize a man must not be judged based on his words, but instead on his actions. Therefore, I see recent Johnny-come-latelies to “freedom” as untested. If the Tea Party movement lasts a few election cycles, I’ll start to take an interest in them.

Until then, I’m going to simply enjoy watching the political mayhem that takes place in the upcoming months. In a stable society the drama of political shifts can be amusing to watch. That the two parties believe in virtually the same ideas does not detract from the entertainment, because the media doesn’t seem willing to admit that, nor do some Americans, which will make for good manufactured drama. I’m not saying that it’s my job to test anyone and offer a stamp of approval, but it’s good for everyone involved to recognize that freedom is commonly a temporary alluring idea that is often forced to take the backseat to pursuits of power, or influence, or even just a feeling of being in the “in crowd.”

No matter how we try to avoid being pulled into a desire to be on the winning team, it’s sometimes hard to recognize changes in ourselves. I watched a good friend turn into a Bush II devotee a few years back, and who has amazingly lost all recollection of the rage he had for the former president. He was in the Army (on reserve) and angry that a moron had started a war and that that moron regularly used loose political language to talk about that war. The man was a Protestant pastor, proficient in Arabic and well-studied in Islam. He privately preached the idiocy of Bush to me for nine months. Six years later, we got together again and he told me “George Bush is the best thing since sliced bread.” Neither he nor his wife could remember any other opinion ever having come from his mouth. This story is not unique.

I’ve also watched beloved peace activists turn into Obama devotees, forgetting that they once despised anyone who would not preach and act in the most peaceful of ways. I remember specifically the weekend when Obama’s pro-war policy became news. For most of 2008, it only took about 3 clicks and 5 minutes of reading on Obama’s campaign website to see that he had officially zero interest in pulling troops out of the Middle East. They were there to stay. Maybe not 140,000 troops in Iraq for all time, but he’d keep them somewhere in the Middle East. Of course, he had many, many supporters who did not actually know what his stated policies were, nor even what his Senate voting record was like. Some of his supporters were proud peaceniks. Then, over a weekend in the fall of 2008, McCain was, as usual, saying that we must stay the course in Iraq and Obama started saying that the U.S. must stay the course in Afghanistan. His peacenik supporters had loved the man, not the policies, but they never realized that. Once the weekend was over they continued to love the man, not the policies. They were no longer peaceniks.

Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, which is not that great of a thing when we also tend to be very forgetful of our past beliefs and behaviors. That aspect of human behavior leads me to not take the Tea Party too seriously.

Scott Rasmussen – listening to the heart of the movement?

Regardless of the name put on the movement, whether it be Tea Party, or the Pink British Scones, the principles at the heart of the movement are meaningful to me. In the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, pollster Scott Rasmussen claimed to be able to use three questions to identify a person as a member of the “political class” as opposed to a member of the “mainstream public.” Those who identify with the government on two or more of the following questions are defined by Rasmussen as a member of the political class.

  1. Whose judgment do you trust more: that of the American people or American political leaders?
  2. Has the federal government become its own special interest group?
  3. Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers?

These questions show a clear bias. Rasmussen claims that it is a bias that is growing in the U.S. “The major division in this country,” says Rasmussen “is no longer between parties but between political elites and the people.”

Rasmussen claims that less than 10% of Americans are part of the political class. About the Tea Party, Rasmussen commented. “Americans don’t want to be governed from the left or the right. They want, like the Founding Fathers, to largely govern themselves with Washington in a supporting – but not dominant – role. The Tea Party movement is today’s updated expression of that sentiment.”

“The political class overwhelmingly supported the bailouts of the financial and auto industries, the health-care bill, and the Justice Department’s decision to sue Arizona over its new immigration law. Those in the mainstream public just as intensely opposed those moves,” stated Rasmussen.

You know the political elites that Rasmussen is talking about. You recognize them. You know how they react to the newest government solutions for improving our lives. They are the type of people who like to wear shackles binding their wrists because it makes them feel secure.

“Elites” is a word that makes people unhappy at present. That’s an area of contempt that I’d like to spend a few minutes looking at.

Some Elites Should Be Loved and Admired

“Who are the elites and why are they so bad?” is a question that occurs to me when I hear raging tirades against these elites. As far as I can tell, the elites are those who believe that people should be controlled and not left to their own decisions. This puts them in a dastardly category of “those deserving of raging tirades.”

Believers in democracy think that the majority should be allowed to abuse minorities in society. They belong in that category. So do proponents of socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, who believe that the state is justified in interfering in the lives of others. They all belong in the same boat because they don’t acknowledge the full spectrum of rights that free individuals have.

Whether or not there are people spouting off raging tirades against you, it’s good to be elite. Not the kind of elite that Rasmussen talks about, however. Being elite shows that you have talent. Some people try to surround themselves exclusively with the elites of their respective fields. Being elite shows you’ve done something right and know how to repeat it. By being among elites, and learning from their successes and failures, maybe you too can one day be considered elite.

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player. He’ll be remembered for a long time. John Paxson, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate, won’t be remembered by anyone in 40 years when my generation dies off. Jordan is the elite. We want to be elite. We want our children to be elite. Because we hope the best for our friends, we even want the people around us to be more elite. We want this according to Webster’s definition of the word – “The choice part or segment; esp: a socially superior group.”

In anything that we do, if we had a choice between effortlessly being elite or effortlessly being mediocre – most of us would choose to be effortlessly elite. It’s not only good to be elite, it’s great to be elite, and it’s desired to be elite.

The type of elite that Rasmussen speaks of is one who uses his superior social status to attempt to control others. Rasmussen’s elites are not the Michael Jordans of the world who are trying to win games and sell you shoes. These are people like Mark Kirk, Michael Jordan’s Lake Forest, Illinois congressman who wants to force you to carry chipped ID cards, wants to force you to fund lots of foreign escapades, wants to force you to obediently goose step in whichever direction the state points.

Michael Jordan is one kind of elite – the overly-hyped American success story of a person who achieves a long sought after goal through hard work and determination despite years of failure. Through much sweat elites like MJ built themselves each a pair of wings. These are the flying elites who want nothing but a chance to be left alone and succeed. Watch them and be inspired.

Mark Kirk is a different kind of elite. He’s the kind who has also likely experienced years of failure, but his successes rely on successfully forcing you to follow his will. This is not the great American success. This is the classic slithering elite. Watch your ankles for them; watch your legs when you walk through tall grass. Only by crawling up your leg against your will will they be able to get themselves out of the mud. Keeping the slithering elites at bay and making room for the winged elites to succeed is the role of government.

When government is used to help the slithering elites attack the winged elites, the law is perverted as the French parliamentarian Frederic Bastiat wrote in the early 1800’s.

A gray area between the two

Surely, there is a gray area between the two definitions. Who can, with certainty, say where influence ends and control begins? Where does force begin? Some might use the convenient artificial distinction that where your choice ends and begins is where the line is to be drawn. I agree with that definition for simplicity sake. However, I recognize a few of the shortcomings that it brings.

So much energy is invested into studying the mind and the ways to manipulate it. In a world where the power of suggestion is widely understood and utilized to almost uncontrollably bombard each person with hundreds of messages a day, it is hard to always know what it is that you really want and when it’s an invasive voice seemingly in your head, but actually from outside, whispering to you “drink up, you’re thirsty and need a Coke.”

Drawing a clear line is hard to do, but is also unnecessary when attempting to distinguish a slithering elite (Mark Kirk) from a winged elite (Michael Jordan). It is especially clear when one of them is a congressman. One wants to be left alone in order to succeed. Sometimes he wants to convince you through sales campaigns. The other, with the force of government, wants to force you to bend to his will.

The slithering elite that Rasmussen seeks to identify is understandably a topic that draws rage. It’s unfortunate that we use such an admirable word – “elite” – to describe both Michael Jordan and Mark Kirk. The winged elite are not the problem when the slithering elite get out of hand. As Rasmussen points out – Democrat and Republican have ceased to be meaningful distinctions. Both groups are filled with the slithering elite. (Rasmussen’s “political class” and “mainstream public” seem to be good monikers for the division that many have intuitively noticed.)

Will those who seek to control us be shown the door?

Some will say that the Tea Party’s success can measured on Election Day, which means the key question is – Will those who seek to control us be shown the door on Election Day?

And my answer to that key question is – No, I doubt it. It’s more likely that they will continue to control us just like some of the communist parties of central and eastern Europe controlled their societies for five decades last century – with their single digit percentage party membership. But Rasmussen’s data gives me a good feeling by informing me that more people are getting keen to the idea that DC is not run in our interest.

For right now, I simply see the Tea Party as a safety valve in our system. People use the Tea Party as a way to let off steam. If it lasts through a few bi-partisan movements (BM) of power, then I’ll start taking this whole talk of freedom that comes from them a bit more seriously. Until then, it’s free entertainment.

November 2, 2010

Allan Stevo [send him mail] is a writer from Chicago who just pledged $100 to see the Keynesian Krugman and Austrian Murphy debate. For the rest of the month of November, every dollar spent atwww.AllanStevo.com will be pledged through “the point” to the New York City Food Bank. Click here to learn more.

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