I attended the Wake Up America Tea Party in Fort Worth on Saturday as part of a nationwide tea party event. While volunteering at the Campaign for Liberty booth, I got a lot of positive reaction talking with attendees about conventional constitutional ideals.
I knew there would be a fair share of Republicans hitching onto the liberty message, so I thought it was important to present a more comprehensive small-government message, even if I do not subscribe to those views myself. Mostly, I emphasized the importance of decentralizing political power and scaling back American foreign policy.
I was there with Debbie McKee, the CFL state coordinator in Texas, and her daughter Adrienne. Our most popular item was CFL’s newly released pocket constitution that included the Declaration of Independence and the Kentucky and Virginia nullification resolutions written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, respectively.
A few people scoffed when they saw Ron Paul’s Revolution or End the Fed on our table. We also had Bruce Fein’s new book American Empire. (I have not read Fein’s book, but here is an interview with Scott Horton on Anti-War Radio.) However, many more I spoke with expressed that they thought the government’s belligerent foreign policy was doing more harm than good.
The most talked-about speakers were Bridgette Gabriel, who preached the dangers of “Islamic supremacism,” and conservative commentator Ann Coulter. They received the loudest applause lines I heard from the booth outside the auditorium. From a post on “The Whited Sepulchre,” Gabriel asked all the military veterans to stand and take an applause, which garnered a thunderous applause. The veterans obediently remained standing well into her speech.
Debra Medina, the founder of We Texans, spoke of the declining freedom in Texas. She said that Texas has went from a top-10 state in terms of economic freedoms and has fallen 23 spots to 31st in the nation since Rick Perry has been in governor’s office. Despite an impressive showing against establishment candidates in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary, Medina had a distinctly less friendly reception because she highlighted that conservative rhetoric does not match the empirical evidence of a decade of Republican rule in Texas.
A few minutes before I was planning to leave, a man who described himself to me as a “constitutional conservative” wandered to the CFL booth and said he did not want to listen to Coulter. I gave a sympathetic nod. He said that he wanted nothing do with the Coulter and went on the explain that she attends meetings with pro gay-rights groups. That, he said, was unacceptable.
He talked about the source of this information, and how a website had been tracking Coulter for the past 18 months. As I recall, he went on to say “There is no place in the Republican Party for homosexuals or anybody with them.” From my reading of the state party platform, he is probably right. I guess he felt comfortable confiding this nugget of bigotry with those of us at the booth.
I kindly asked if he supported making it illegal to practice homosexuality. Without hesitating, he said he would and that it already is according to the Bible. I asked, then “would you think that all sins should be made illegal under political government?” So I asked about divorce. I went on the say that the Bible calls divorce a sin, and I asked if he thought it should be illegal too.
He danced around the question, so I asked again. He said that couples who have underwent counseling before marriage and before splitting up should be allowed to divorce on the condition that they would forfeit custody of their children to already-married couples.
After some prompting, he reiterated that the Republican Party was a party for Christians only, and that I would have to do some “soul searching” before becoming a genuine Republican, which I have no desire of becoming anyway. He said I should become a Democrat instead. I didn’t bother telling him, but neither sound that appealing. I should have told him, “Fuck You (Very Much).”
Completely devoid of historical evidence, he then went on to explain for a second time that libertarianism and socialism were spawned by Karl Marx in “his communist books” and the political environment of revolutionary France.
Tea Party Reflections
The tea party has no founding principles on which the movement is based, and most of its grassroots members are political newcomers who have a deep-seeded resentment for the direction that the country is going. It does not take long to realize that the government has been royally screwing up, and not just for the last 20 months.
Originally, the tea party movement was focused on excessive government spending as a reaction to the bailouts of the same large financial bodies that enabled the current economic collapse. The loudest voices were crying “Socialism” when Barack Obama was just adding to the same policies of his predecessor. Even still, so long as the movement was a reaction to fiscal mismanagement, there was some possibility that it would affect positive policy changes. But more and more, the tea party has less to do with battling run-away spending than it does with embracing cultural conservatism. The undertones of the currently embodied movement are based in the fears of white Christians of losing political power, fear that the same government many white Christians have exploited to their own advantage will be turned against them. “To take back our country.” That is the root cause for the present wave of backlash against Muslims and immigrants.
A poll [PDF] published in March from the University of Washington said that those who strongly support the tea party had more hostile views of gays, racial minorities and immigrants. On average, tea party supporters consistently thought less of the intelligence, trustworthiness and work ethic of blacks and Latinos than did the average Republicans. In a separate poll [PDF], and for all their talk about liberty, supporters of the tea party were far more likely to favor indefinite detention without trial of anyone accused of a crime, less privacy, and racial profiling. They were also less supportive of equal rights.
Even for the self-described constitutional conservative I talked with, he was more than willing to set aside any pretence of a modern society for an opportunity to enforce his morality on peaceful people. The momentum I witnessed Saturday will springboard into big electoral gains for Republicans, including many of the same responsible for this mess, in the mid-term elections. It will not amount to many policy changes for more liberty. No major tea party candidate is calling for cuts to any of the largest expenditures, not the military empire nor entitlement programs like Social Security.
It is a sad reality, but the ditching of any libertarian sentiments is inevitable so long as tea partiers are concerned with gaining the reins of power instead of abolishing that power altogether.