When the Tea Party came onto the scene a few years ago I liked their stated principles…but I had worries, worries that they weren’t the deeply principled conservatives they claimed to be. I worried that as they grew they would sacrifice the principles of conservatism– which when held to will always be good for society as a whole and for the future, but sometimes be hard on the individual in the present—would be sacrificed for the ease of populism.
Time has proven that my worries were correct. I hate it when I’m right about things like this.
So what do I mean by Populism? By Populism I mean a system of political belief that endorses anything that seems to offer a short term benefit to the masses which it attempts to play to. This depends on a lot of us vs. them mentality because it has to attack people who appear to be against the Populist agenda. But unlike liberalism which also has to rely on this us vs. them mentality, at least when compared to Populism, liberalism has at least some ideological consistency. Populism will take any short term solution available so long as it provides immediate benefits to the constituents of the Populist group, damn whatever the long term consequences of that position may be. Populism is the party of “stay out of my life” and “don’t take my money in taxes”…”but feel free to do so to anyone else, in fact feel free to impose my beliefs on everyone else”. It’s cronyism for the people who can’t afford lobbyists…and it is just as vile and destructive as corporate cronyism.
“But the Tea Party isn’t a Populist Party! It’s conservative!” The Tea Partier claims. But in reality it’s not a conservative group…it may have been when it started as anti-Obamacare, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-big government group…but as it’s grown it has become something else entirely.
Don’t believe me?
Okay let’s look at the facts.
Now first off I will state up front that part of the problem is that there is no core to Tea Party. It’s a diffuse group of vaguely joined individuals. It has no single head, no single organization, no single direction (this is part of the problem and I’ll get to that later). This is part of what makes it Populist, by remaining as 3000 groups under a general banner, each subsection can play to it’s own little group and doesn’t have to worry about any consistency in philosophy.
Then there is now a pervasive anti-corporation tone in everything the Tea Party says and does. “Common Core was funded by big business” “Congress needs to choose between Big Business and the people” “Big Business only stands for corporatism!” Implicit in all of this is the central core of populism that the government must side either with the people or the corporation. That it must choose those with money or without. That it is the haves or have-nots. Workers of the World, cast off you chains you have…wait a second. Did that just really, and I mean really quickly, and rather easily devolve into Marxism? You know why I was able to do that in only a couple sentences? Because it’s the same mentality at the root of both populism and every form of liberalism. That government should be for me* and when it is for me it has to be against someone else. Meanwhile if you’re a conservative you realize that there is little difference between a person or a corporation…in both subsets you will find good and bad, ethical and unethical, harmful and helpful…but most of all you will find among both groups a short term thinking that looks only to their own needs disregarding the needs of anyone else. A person will take every government handout they can and end up with a take home pay almost 20 grand more than I make working 50 hours a week—but this is no different than a corporation looking to put up tariffs or rules to help itself from having to deal with competition. Both are full of people and organizations that only look out for their own interest. And there is no picking between the two, and there is no changing the underlying human nature that causes both excesses. But there is limiting government so that it cannot pick winners or losers. There is limiting the powers of government so that while a needed safety net for individuals (and yes it is needed, even the gods of Capitalism, Friedman and Hayek, would point out that a safety net is needed) and forgiving bankruptcy laws to help corporations be productive feature of capitalism’s creative destruction rather than just an unending source of misery to all associated. Conservatives say that the choice is not pick between the two but to limit government’s ability to pick between the
two. Go listen to any Tea Party spokesperson…do they sound like they’re on the not picking side…or do they make it a choice between the corporations and the people.
You see populism with the Tea Party in it completely forsaking capitalism in favor protectionism. With the recent TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) agreement you see a very strong Tea Party/Populist move against the trade deal because it doesn’t offer protections for American products. Now any capitalist be they from the Chicago or Austria school will tell you the important thing is that you lower taxes if you have two countries with tariffs on each others products and only one country drops it tariffs and the other doesn’t it doesn’t matter because there will be more trade and everyone will prosper because of that in the long run. It would be better for both nations to drop their tariffs, but to say I’m not going to end mine unless you end yours is not only economically suicidal but pathetically immature. But the Populists are throwing a conniption fit over the fact that in this trade agreement Japan is keeping tariffs to protect their farmers (all this shows is that Japan is still idiotic when it comes to understanding macroeconomics). Who cares. Now I have not been over every line of this trade agreement and there may be many reasons to hate it that I am not aware of, but if the only argument against nations all over the Pacific lowering tariffs and trade barriers is because the politicians of one nation are being particularly daft in playing the Populists for their constituents doesn’t mean we should shoot ourselves in the foot over this. But just watch the Populists drive this one home just like they did with NAFTA.
And I would love for you to show me one Tea Party person in the Midwest who hates ethanol/agriculture subsides. Yes those Tea Party folks hate big government…unless it benefits them and their constituents.
And how can we forget that wonderfully Populist idea of us vs. them when it comes to the idea of the people vs. “the establishment.” “The establishment” a group more shady and secretive than the Illuminati, and possibly with goals more nefarious. Now I can never get a full list of “the establishment”… now it certainly involves Boehner (despite the fact that he keeps getting his hands tied by the Tea Party) and McConnell (despite the fact as Ann Coulter points out you’d have to be absolutely clueless to not think Mitch McConnell is a conservative)…and most likely Eric Cantor, although I can’t think of anything he’s done to undermine conservatism. It may or may not include Paul Ryan depending on whether or not it’s high tide or low tide. It certainly can’t include lifelong RINO John McCain because supreme divine goddess Sarah the infallible endorsed him over a Tea Party candidate in 2010, and Sarah wouldn’t endorse anyone from the establishment, so he and his al-Qaeda supporting ways can’t possibly be part of “The Establishment.” After that I’m a little fuzzy on the roster.** But “The Establishment” is the all powerful force that controls all the strings in the Republican party and they must be taken down…though it’s unclear exactly who must be taken down. But strangely it must be taken down with candidates who make the most insane statement you can find. And Democrats seem to like these challengers…but the fact that our enemies love these people apparently has no bearing on anything.
And finally, Populists like their liberal counterparts are very big on emotion and very poor on logic. Just look at how anyone in the Tea Party reacts to a suggestion that we should use some strategy in how we go about trying to win a campaign. No. No. None of that strategy bullshit. There is no such thing as the moderate or swing voter there is only rallying our base and getting them to vote…because I don’t care what numbers you throw at me, we lose only because our base doesn’t come out to vote. No. No. NONE OF YOUR NUMBERS AND FACTS THAT MIGHT SHOW THIS TO BE UTTER FANTASY. We should never appeal to the middle with the things we agree with the middle on (economics, liberty, small government, pro-entrepreneurial laws and regulations, less red tape, lower taxes, getting out of their lives and taking less of their money), NO! We must only talk about social issues and support candidates who hold to these issues 100% of the time without fail (and I can’t find justification for these social issues in the constitution). There must not be any compromise at any time for any reason (even if that reason were to actually further our cause). THERE MUST BE NO COMPROMISE! BECAUSE WE MUST ONLY ACT ON PRINCIPLE AND EMOTION. THERE MUST NOT BE ANY REASON OR STRATEGY, that way lies RINOS and “The Establishment.”
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. If we wanted to get into every issue I could show the populist overtones in the Tea Party are more prevalent than the conservative ones.
And I blame the fact that the Tea Party has degenerated so far on a very few in the GOP, certainly Palin, DeMint, Levin, Malkin and Hannity have all done more than their share to fan the fires of idiocy, but more than anyone I blame Michael Steele (see I don’t rely on some mysterious “Establishment” I can tell you exactly who I blame). He got so annoyed at the idiots like DeMint and Palin who started the whole movement going off the rails by endorsing really preposterous candidates that he worked to cut them off from funding entirely in 2010 rather than begrudgingly bringing them into the fold and making the Tea Party just the grassroots part of the GOP, Steele and his subordinates tried to distance the GOP from the Tea Party. Way to go Michael…I see that got you a cushy job over at MSNBC, I see they reward hurting the GOP well over there. Had we cared more about strategy back then we would have embraced the Tea Party (even though they had some populist undertones even back then) which would have prevented this divide, prevented them from going full Populist, and would have actually worked to quash the Populist themes of the Tea Party.
But that is over. And it cannot be changed. The only thing I can say is that for real conservatives we can only make it our goal to appeal to both the Tea Party and the moderates, the conservative beliefs are what needed to prevail. We need to be even more aggressive in our ground game than the Tea Party during the primary season to prevent the craziest candidates form winning and we need to do our best to make sure that they don’t sulk and stay home come October and November. Remember that no matter who get the nominations for all the offices, “Establishment” or Tea Party either is probably BETTER than a Democrat.
*You know a lot of libertarians hate Lincoln for his Constitutional violations and war crimes, a lot of economists hate him for his complete lack of understanding of economics, a lot of principled people hate him for the fact that the had none…but if there is one thing that I loathe Lincoln for it is the phrase “For the people.” You can find “Of the people” and “by the people” in the Declaration and Constitution…you can’t find “For the people.” It is Lincoln who first brought the vile populist idea that government is there for you into general thought. And for that and that alone he should never be listed as one of the good presidents.
** I will just have to ask for a members list next time I’m at the monthly “Establishment Virgin Sacrifice to Ba’al”…listening to the Tea Party I assume we do that sort of thing here in “The Establishment.”