Tread Upon: What's Next for the Tea Party?
On the night of the election, once it became clear which course the nation chose, I received an email from a fellow activist with the subject line “1776-2012,” a pronouncement of death for the idea that was America. While many may dismiss such proclamations as sour grapes, reflection confirms more truth than hyperbole.
Consider: If the quintessential American idea is the one articulated in our Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” then the developments of the past four years culminating in the re-election of the most radical executive in the nation’s history is its eulogy.
The passage of Obamacare demonstrated that the Democratic Party was willing to abandon all pretense of representative government in order to secure power over individual lives. The upholding of that law by the Supreme Court demonstrated that the Constitution is effectively meaningless. Tragic as those developments were, this -- the electoral affirmation of President Barack Obama -- is a crowning catastrophe. It signals more than political or legal corruption. It indicates a cultural sea change whereby the People have rejected the Declaration. To survive and one day thrive, it is critical that the Tea Party accept this reality.
Instead, there is denial. PJM’s Rick Moran tells us not to worry, pointing to exit polling data as evidence that this latest election is just another ebb in the normal flow of national politics. That data suggest that 53% of Americans believe government has become too activist. Never mind that these are the same voters who just doubled down on the status quo. Some local coordinators attending Tea Party Patriots’ first post-election conference call imagined a conservative plurality which could make a third party viable. Never mind that the most successful third party in the country secured less than 1% of the popular vote. Others renewed their prescription to take over the Republican Party. Never mind that Tea Party-favored candidates were systematically rejected by primary voters in states from coast to coast, or that the Republican National Convention took an intentional step away from grassroots organization to ensure future conventions are neat little coronations for the presumptive nominee.
All this grasps at straws. The central presumption underpinning Tea Party resistance in the Obama era has been that a rabid majority of “We the People” is chomping at the bit to “take our country back.” While there have been remarkable local successes, noteworthy down-ticket primary victories, and frequent rattlings of the establishment cage, the movement’s ability to reshape the political landscape has been blunted by a grim reality. This government, essentially unchanged after November 6th, is of and by the People even as it treads upon the Individual.
In the aftermath of the election, we wonder what we could have done better. However, seeking to improve upon failed means will only perpetuate defeat. The Tea Party needs to fundamentally reevaluate its cultural posture and its methods of activism. The popular comforting belief that there exists a silent, center-right majority eager to be led to political victory must be abandoned. We must somberly accept that a century of patient, persistent, planned cultural corruption by self-styled progressives has rotted out from within what no external enemy could breach.
That does not mean that we give up the fight. It does mean we must change our rules of engagement to fit the facts on the ground. In war, you would not enter battle assuming that conditions in the field were somehow better than your intelligence suggests. Yet that is what many of us did throughout the 2012 election season. Never mind the polls, we’re winning! Perhaps no group was more emblematic of this mindset than the diehard supporters of Ron Paul, who proceeded so convinced of their inevitable victory that successive defeats were regarded as sure evidence of fraud.
We have to get real, and the reality is bleak. It prescribes a task far more difficult than crafting “the right message” or finding “the right candidate.” We have to fundamentally transform minds. We have to counter the culture. We have to construct and coordinate a wide-ranging movement as pervasive and unrelenting as the Progressive insurgency of the previous century. Above all, we must subordinate our disparate brands under a banner of common cause.
Reviving a conscience of liberty will require us to embrace means and methods which are outside our comfort zone. PJTV contributor Bill Whittle builds the case for one such method in a recent video blog. What he calls the “Common Sense Resistance” is a shift in engagement from party politics to “parallel structures,” free market alternatives to established institutions. For those familiar with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Whittle is suggesting a proto-form of going Galt. Instead of withdrawing from the statist mainstream, we simply ignore it. We pay our taxes and abide by the law while creating a parallel system of institutions funded by voluntary contribution.
Recall that public education was birthed from an intention to foster a virtuous society. Even though the coercive means of public education have doomed it to blundering failure, that intention was worthwhile. There is true value in educating children.
What would happen if we allowed the price of public education to reflect that true value? Imagine how different our system might be if its funding were not guaranteed, if you could legally choose whether or not to pay your school taxes. The ability of administrators and teachers to earn their pay would be tied to the satisfaction of their patrons. Without the corrupting force of coercion, satisfaction would result from the delivery of true value. Whittle explains how a parallel structure for public education might work:
For $9.99 a month, if you had 10 million American [subscribers], you’d have $1.2 billion that would not be spent in Washington. It would be spent on teaching aides. It would be spent on hiring teachers at $300,000 to $400,000 a year teaching through the internet with standardized tests, with rigorous standards, with no social indoctrination whatsoever. You’d be getting Greek and Latin on your computer, and your kids would be the bomb.
… [P]rivate enterprises that are voluntarily funded out of free will for a desired project that you can get out of anytime have to be accountable to the people who are paying the money.
Duh, right? That’s why over 4,000,000 children are enrolled in private schools each year, because parents recognize the true value those institutions provide. That’s also why advocates of education reform have proposed publicly funded school vouchers so that parents can send their children to the school of their choice. But Whittle’s vision is not of a public voucher which would necessitate political victories that allude us. He’s talking about bypassing government to create a parallel structure of public education subject to market discipline. Whittle continues:
The only way it works is if you are willing to pay extra, because you cannot get in the way of the government. The government doesn’t mind if you ignore them, as long as they get their money, and as long as they get to do what they get to do.…
Your tax money, you just have to write it off, folks.… They’re going to take half, and you’re going to have to live on the other half, and you’re going to have to get the things you want on the other half. But you can! Because all of this stuff I’m talking about is less than your cable bill.
Whittle has used the same business model in an attempt to revolutionize the film industry. Declaration Entertainment raises funds by recruiting “citizen producers” to contribute a minimum of $9.99 per month to help make the kind of movies they want to see. The company’s debut feature is due soon, a modern western called The Arroyo set along Arizona's violent southern border with Mexico.
While the ultimate success of Whittle’s vision is yet to be seen, the fundamental idea that citizens must create their own alternatives to corrupt mainstream institutions is quintessentially American. Rather than wallow and lament over the Left’s domination of the culture, we create a counterculture.
Another means to that end is aggressive infiltration of the non-profit sector. For decades, the Left has dominated this portion of the economy and written their own ticket to political victory. Running so-called charities under the benefit of tax-exemption, leftist non-profits funnel money to a myriad of community organizing efforts which effectively serve as a non-stop political campaign for Democratic candidates and radical public policy.
You may recall Glenn Beck’s rants against the Tides Foundation. Discover the Networks describes their remarkable role:
Established in 1976 by California-based activist Drummond Pike, the Tides Foundation was set up as a public charity that receives money from donors and then funnels it to the recipients of their choice. Because many of these recipient groups are quite radical, the donors often prefer not to have their names publicly linked with the donees. By letting the Tides Foundation, in effect, “launder” the money for them and pass it along to the intended beneficiaries, donors can avoid leaving a “paper trail.” Such contributions are called "donor-advised," or donor-directed, funds.
Through this legal loophole, nonprofit entities can also create for-profit organizations and then funnel money to them through Tides -- thereby circumventing the laws that bar nonprofits from directly funding their own for-profit enterprises.
While the Foundation's activities focus on fundraising and grant-making, the Center -- in its role as fiscal sponsor -- offers newly created organizations the shelter of Tides' own charitable tax-exempt status, as well as the benefits of Tides' health and liability insurance coverage.
We can’t beat this. Instead, we must clone it.
Conservatives are way behind the curve when it comes to coordinating this kind of extra-political activity. In The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), authors Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer chronicle how a coalition of leftist donors systematically steamrolled over an entrenched Republican establishment to seize control of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Spoiler alert: they didn’t form a third party or worry much about taking over the Democratic Party. Instead, they made the state parties irrelevant, going directly after the culture to undermine Republican incumbents and craft a favorable government by default.
Consider the insidiousness of this approach. The Left crafts labyrinthine rules governing campaign finance and political speech, only to leverage loopholes they designed to secure their political ends. And the Right just takes it. We concede to a fight with one hand tied behind our back.
No more. We have to flood the non-profit sector with groups of our own, funded by patriots committed to cycle after cycle of persistent rabid battle within the culture.
Another lesson the Right must learn from The Blueprint is the value of broad united coalition. The spark which ignited the Democratic coup in Colorado was an attempt by Republicans to resist gay marriage. Deep-pocketed homosexuals united in common cause with groups devoted to other priorities. They set aside their differences in recognition of the political reality that none of them could advance their positions without turning over the state government.
By comparison, the Right seems incapable of this kind of coalition, with pet issues cannibalizing each other and ideological cliques rebuking the impure. Whether you’re a Ron Paul libertarian, a social conservative, or an Ayn Rand objectivist, get over it and learn to play well with others.
On that note, let us agree that while the Obama era resistance has been branded as the Tea Party, the brand itself is not important. The Left has worn out many brands – communist, progressive, socialist, communitarian, even fascist before the term fell decisively out of favor. They pick a new name and march on toward the same old goal. So must we be willing to rebrand, regroup, and reengage. There may not be a Tea Party as such some years from now, and that’s okay so long as the movement proceeds in new form.
All of the above will require something counter-intuitive and inherently difficult for individualists. That is an embrace of the corporate. We must reconcile our proper regard for individual rights with the necessity of teamwork. The Left successfully mischaracterizes the Right as a gruff bunch of insensitive loners who feel no obligation to community. The message is so pervasive that we sometimes buy into it ourselves, but it is not true.
The fundamental difference between the Left and the Right along a properly drawn spectrum is not that they meet obligations and we don’t, but that we choose our obligations while they impose theirs. We should not hesitate to come together, to rely on each other, and to work in tandem without sacrificing our Jeffersonian independence. It is our ability to choose which makes us free, even when our choice is to rally around one another. There is no pride lost in collaboration, in trading value for value, in doing through cooperation that which none could accomplish alone. We must revive within us that spirit which moved our forefathers to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” For if we finally cannot, than America is truly dead.
Related post-election reflections at PJ Lifestyle:
Andrew Klavan: It’s All Over. Not.