As the Tea Party movement has gained tremendous momentum over the course of the past year, Libertarians, Republicans, and Conservatives have all struggled for ideological dominance and leadership over the growing group of frustrated Americans fed up over high taxes and higher spending. While the protesters who comprise the various tea parties from Washington State to Washington, D.C represent a wide range of political and cultural principles, there is one thing that perhaps all of them can agree on: small government is good.
Thus, the core belief of the modern Tea Party movement is that limited government is the way forward for the country. Among the largest and most influential of the tea parties is Tea Party Patriots, who, on their website list three core principles of their party. Fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets lie at the foundation of the movement. These three principles are all fundamentally libertarian, and libertarian candidates have been running on them since long before anyone in any party had uttered the words tea party (in their modern context). In fact, Libertarians around the country have been quite upset since the Tea Party movement has picked up momentum. According to IndependentPoliticalReport.com, the Libertarian Party of Illinois came up with the idea for a Tea Party weeks before Rick Santelli, a CNBC reporter, publicized the movement on cable television, and transformed it into a Republican cause. Yet the National Libertarian Party still endorses Tea Parties and offers a “cordial invitation” to Americans to attend Tea Parties on their website.
However, as the Tea Party movement has grown into an anomaly of its own, the libertarian values upon which it was founded have begun to be buried under the zealous principles of the conservative movement. Groups such as AFA (the American Family Association) are now planning tea parties and encourage their website viewers to keep posted on upcoming rallies. AFA, a well known conservative group, touts on its website successes in helping to impose bans of same-sex marriage and pornography. Nothing on their website alludes in any way to a small government philosophy in regard to any fiscal, economic, or social policies. Similarly, recent leaders of the Tea Party movement have not been true advocates of small government, but rather ardent supporters of conservative social values. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has recently been selected to deliver a speech at the National Tea Party Convention. While it is undisputable that she is a charismatic and influential leader of the conservative movement in America, is there any real evidence that she is a true supporter of any of the core principles on which the Tea Party was founded? Remember, Gov. Palin was not selected as the VP candidate by the McCain campaign to restore confidence to supporters of fiscal responsibility within the Republican Party, nor was she selected to reassure Independents that a McCain presidency would curb the massive spending of the Bush Administration. It was Sen. McCain who championed the cause of eliminating all earmarks and pork-barrel spending approved by Congress. Gov. Palin was selected to shore up the culturally conservative base of the Republican Party, the wing of the party that opposes limited government in regard to individual liberties. Thus, the McCain team made little attempt to portray Gov. Palin’s record as an example of fiscal responsibility. Issues like the Bridge to Nowhere, a multi-million dollar earmark for an Alaskan Bridge to a sparsely inhabited island, drew controversy from fiscal conservatives who noted her support for it, before she opposed it.
Other organizations such as OCDB (Our Country Deserves Better), a PAC that was founded to oppose the Obama candidacy, has made regular appearances at Tea Parties. While OCDB claims it supports lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, it opposes any cuts to defense spending, which comprises by far the largest bulk of the federal budget. Rather than claiming to be a champion of limited government, OCDB advertises itself as a champion of “Reaganesque conservatism,” and while President Reagan may have been a hero to conservative America, one must not forget that with all of his tax cuts, spending during the eight years of his presidency rose, not shrunk.
So are Tea Parties staying true to the core libertarian values upon which they were created, or have they become a vessel for America’s conservative movement to voice concerns over social progressivism and a liberal president? The Libertarian Party has long dismissed both the major parties as castigators of individual liberty, and conservative leadership has begun to turn Tea Parties into an arm of the conservative movement, just as it did with the Republican Party, all under the façade of limited government. Rather than supporting and endorsing the modern tea party, the Libertarian Party should be wary of the threat they now pose to individual liberties and the role of government.