The Tea Party’s success has been due in no small part to its avoidance of social issues. By focusing on economics and the rule of law, the movement maintains a broader appeal than previous conservative coalitions.
It is so taboo to discuss social issues within the Tea Party that activists sought for comment fled from this author. Some feared that exposing their positions on social issues might undermine their viability within the movement.
Nevertheless, Tea Partiers do have positions on issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, and drug control. Those positions differ one Tea Partier from another, and can be diametrically opposed. Rather than engage in those arguments, Tea Partiers seek to preserve their coalition by focusing on points of agreement.
That said, it’s interesting to consider what a Tea Party social policy might look like. How does the movement’s political philosophy apply to social issues? What makes a pro-life Tea Partier pro-life? What makes a pro-choice Tea Partier pro-choice? And how is it that both agree on economics?
It all comes down to morality. It’s tempting to differentiate social issues as moral questions as if economic issues are not. However, economic issues are every bit the moral consideration that social issues are. It’s not just practical to let people keep what they earn. It is the right thing to do. The uncomfortable truth underlying the social issue taboo is that fundamentally different moral codes can lead separate people to similar conclusions.
An evangelical Christian, an agnostic libertarian, and a Randian objectivist may all agree on repealing Obamacare. But it is unlikely that they arrive at that position in the same way. The differences among their moral codes are not readily apparent so long as their conversation is confined to economics. However, when you throw issues like abortion or drug control into the mix, the differences become stark and arguments result.
For this reason the question of what a Tea Party social policy might look like quickly reaches an impasse. The simple fact is, there is too much philosophical diversity within the movement to craft a coherent social policy. Otherwise, it probably would have been done. Nevertheless, the principles embraced by the movement can be applied toward how social policy is made.
Most applicable is constitutionally limited government, the notion that federal power is strictly enumerated. This single idea, if applied according to the Framers’ intent, would sap much of the controversy out of national debates. Should a woman be free to terminate her pregnancy? Let the states decide. Should a cancer patient be able to smoke a joint? Let the states decide. Should a union of two men be recognized as marriage? Let the states decide.
Appealing to states’ rights may seem like a cop out, as it sidesteps taking a position. However, a greater concern than any particular social issue may be the overall health of our republic.
Our constitutional framework has endured for more than two centuries while many others have come and gone. The secret of our success is the durability inherent to our system. On one axis, there is the separation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. On the other, there is the division of power between the federal, state, and local levels. Taken together, these combine into a kind of basket weave which is strong but flexible, able to endure social change by bending without breaking.