Monday, October 14, 2013

The libertarian illusion that is the Tea Party

The face of the Tea Party is often associated with libertarianism. Smaller government, markets and industries free of regulations and maverick political positions and statements. Sarah Palin is perhaps the most famous of the Tea Party politicians. Famous for her tough talk and catchy remarks, Palin captured the imagination of a significant segment of the electorate unhappy with the stereotypical conservative politician.

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are currently leading an effort to defund or repeal Obamacare. The premise they offer for their struggle is to protect the American people from the dangers of the kind of health care reform offered by the current administration. They have expressed and acted on a willingness to shutdown the government in order to delay, hinder, or eradicate Obamacare. Both men have offered principled explanations for their opposition to Obamacare.

Yet, when we look at the supporters of Cruz, Lee and Tea Partiers in general, we find quite a different mindset than that offered for consumption by American voters. I have found two studies (here and here, I'm sure there are more) that show rather consistently, that Tea Partiers are overwhelmingly older and white, fairly evenly split between men and women, express racist tendencies, a strong desire to put God back into government and schools, are against the teaching of evolution in schools, and the vast majority of their members are self-described Republicans.

I myself used to be libertarian. I still hold some libertarian views, particularly with regard to intellectual property laws concerning patents and copyrights - note that I don't subscribe to the views of Ayn Rand on the subject of intellectual property rights. My point is, I know a libertarian when I see one. Libertarians do not support the kind of government intervention into private life that Tea Partiers support.

Critical analysis of the Tea Party also shows that their members want the government to impose their own religious beliefs upon others, outlaw the teaching of evolution, punish homosexuals, and forbid abortions. These are not libertarian views, not even by a long-shot. They are authoritarian.

Further evidence of authoritarianism in the Tea Party includes dogmatism, the blind belief of anything their leaders say (just watch FOX News to get an idea), and double standards. There is more but the biggest point I want to make is that fanaticism is rampant within the Tea Party. Sitting members of Congress who describe themselves as Tea Partiers are enthusiastic in their efforts to damage Obamacare, and President Obama, in particular. They were often seen making threats to the Obama presidency, stating that they wanted to see him as a one-term president prior to the last presidential election.

This fanaticism has helped to contribute to the current shutdown we see today. But what adds fuel to the fire is electoral confidence from new district lines drawn after the last census. The new districts were drawn by Republican majorities in many state legislatures, giving these men and women a safe platform from which to lob their attacks against a sitting Democrat president.

The redistricting of our nation has created an interesting condition. Consider that president Obama won the popular vote in many states where Republicans won seats in the house. Now we have House districts drawn so that at least 84% of the seats are considered safe from attack, while the seats in the Senate are not safe due to the threat of the popular vote. In fact, there are more than a handful of Republican senators now who have expressed a willingness to deal, to vote on a clean continuing resolution and a debt ceiling limit without any conditions on Obamacare. They know that redistricting isn't going to help them, keeping them honest about their prospects for re-election after a prolonged shutdown.

I also see that the some members of the Tea Party have been comparing Obama to Hitler. Hitler was not just a fascist. He was an authoritarian. The German culture prior to World War II was a very authoritarian culture and the world has learned much from that period of history. But apparently, the Tea Party has not. I say that in the vein that authoritarianism is not a path to freedom, despite their efforts to paint it as such.

The current political climate precipitated by the Tea Party may well have been predicted by Barry Goldwater, former senator from Arizona. Goldwater is famous for the following quote:

"Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them."

Goldwater's observations ring true to the unwillingness of a small minority of House members to negotiate on Obamacare. So confident are they are of their convictions, they are willing to allow the shutdown of the government for one political objective: the elimination of Obamacare.

These Tea Party Republicans remind me of Iran and Iraq, two nations completely dominated by religion in politics. A government dominated by religious leaders will not be fun for anyone, even if they happen to be "good Christians". If the Tea Party rises to power, they will be seeking to impose their sense of order upon the rest of us. To what end, we can't be sure, but we have seen the suffering citizens, particularly of women, in nation states that are dominated by religious leaders in politics.

Worse still, if one religion rises to the top and secures it's position, it won't last for long as other religions will surely line up for their piece of the action. Instead of talking about how to keep the government functioning for everyone, we will be talking about how to extract maximum benefit from the government for one religious sect at the expense of the others.

Were the Tea Party to impose their will upon the rest of us, their vision of God would be everywhere in government, in schools and in business. The Tea Party, given a real shot at power, is willing to bring their fanatical attitudes and beliefs to government, and ultimately, to impose them upon the rest of us - despite the 1st Amendment. That is a truly frightening prospect.
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