The Tea Party’s ideological Balkanization is its Achilles’ heel and may enable the reelection of President Obama. That is the key lesson to take away from mixed reaction over Mitt Romney’s pick of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan for vice president.
Grassroots activists from disparate wings of the Tea Party have a variety of complaints about Ryan’s record. He’s voted for bailouts. He’s voted for stimulus. His proposed budget actually increases spending. The list goes on.
In a recent piece for Reason, Judge Andrew Napolitano warns that a Romney-Ryan administration would be a return to the era of George W. Bush. “The Bush years were bad for freedom,” he writes; “without them, we would not have had an Obama administration.”
The problem with such criticism is that it appears in a laboratory vacuum without regard to the context of an actual election with only two viable alternatives. It takes a sober mind to see the forest from the trees. But Tea Partiers who think contextually about a ticket that’s less than pure risk the ire of their ideological brethren.
Consider the example of Dave Nalle, national chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, an organization working within the Republican Party to steer it in a libertarian direction. Nalle addressed his fellow activists regarding the Ryan pick, lamenting Ryan’s record while nonetheless urging libertarians to score Romney’s choice as a win in the broader political context. He wrote:
From [the GOP establishment] viewpoint, selecting Ryan as the vice presidential candidate is an enormously bold move and a major concession to what their very limited worldview tells them are the concerns of the grassroots. Ryan is more fiscally conservative than they are comfortable with. He is more of an initiator and policymaker than they feel safe with. He’s effective enough that they find him somewhat threatening. From the establishment’s myopic point of view Paul Ryan is an absolute flame breathing radical. He may not seem that way in comparison to Ron Paul, but most of them are not even capable of understanding the ideological views which drive Ron Paul. They don’t take his views or the views of those who support him into consideration at all, because they dismiss them as aberrant and outside of the political mainstream.
The skill Nalle employs here is empathy, the ability to see things from the perspective of others without necessarily agreeing with them. It’s a skill far more activists need to develop, because it enables a clarity of both thought and action.