Ever since the Tea Party Express first took to the road in the run up to the 2008 presidential election Democrats and progressive Republicans alike have labeled the Tea Party movement "racist", "sexist", and "bigoted old white men clinging to their guns and Bibles". Dozens of candidates supported by both the grassroots Tea Party and corporate-backed Tea Party Express won seats in yesterday's election. Many of the new Republican governors, new state legislators, and new representatives in Congress are the product of tens of thousands of manhours spent by members of local Tea Party groups pounding on doors and making phone calls. These are the very same groups Lois Lerner tried to use her position at the IRS to destroy by denying them 501(c)3 status. How ironic, then, that both Tim Scott and Mia Love have from the very first day they stepped on the public stage aligned themselves with both the Tea Party movement and Tea Party values.
If we assume that Tim Scott and Mia Love are genuine, independent, free-thinking adults and not the mere puppets of some hidden oligarchy, then we must also assume there is something in the Tea Party that draws all kinds of different Americans into their fold. So what is the Tea Party then? What does it stand for?
The Tea Party Express Mission Statement says,
"Tea Party Express is proud to stand for six simple principles:
No more bailouts
Reduce the size and intrusiveness of government
Stop raising our taxes
Cease out-of-control spending
Bring back American prosperity"
I could easily list websites for dozens of local, grassroots groups with no financial or intellectual connection to the original Tea Party Express. The Tea Party Express did not invent these groups, create these groups, nor does it fund these groups. What the Tea Party Express did do is provide a visible validation of something many Americans had realized but could not voice: the country had changed in ways that violated its traditions and founding principles.
The United States of America is not like the rest of the world. Our country was designed from the very beginning on two assumptions: people can rule themselves better than governments can, some government is needed to avoid complete anarchy. Right from the beginning the most powerful internal struggle in the United States has been finding the most practical definition of "some government". Where is the line drawn between total anarchy and complete freedom? The two are not compatible and never can be because anarchy inevitably descends into tyranny as the strongest grab control and use that control to exploit the weak. Complete freedom is not anarchy and anarchy is not complete freedom. The two are diametrically opposed. "The American Experiment" is a 238 year old science project designed from the beginning to locate that line and fix it firmly in place. The one lesson that we can take from this sweeping panorama of people, events, places, mistakes, and victories is that even though there are always some individuals who cannot survive when left to their own devices there are also others can only thrive when left to their own devices. The problem with both individualism and collectivism is that neither one can provide the perfect circumstances for everyone alive to reach their maximum potential. This is why there can be no utopian society. Some individuals thrive in circumstances that are devastating for others. There is no way these two completely different kinds of people can thrive together. When the collectivists thrive, the individualists are restricted and held back from achieving their potential. When the individualist thrives, the collectivist is left so far behind they feel oppressed regardless of whether or not their reality is oppressive.
Politics in America is an endless battleground between those who believe in individual meritocracy and those who believe in collective survival. The Tea Party's six principles place it firmly in the realm of those who thrive when individual meritocracy is allowed free reign. The Constitution of the United States places the entire country in that same realm. This is why Tea Party supporters and candidates consistently claim their primary goal is to "restore the Constitution". Individual meritocracy is the divine principle that drove somewhere around three percent of American colonists to throw out the British crown and declare the entire country free and independent. Unfortunately, that also meant 97% of the people either did not care at all or greatly preferred the comfort of living under a king. Unfortunately for the 97%, the key to the success of the American experiment and the reason that for two centuries we have led the world in economics and innovation is that when individual meritocracy defines society then innovators, dreamers, the greedy and the ambitious are allowed to aim as high as their imagination can take them.
On the domestic front the one genuine role of America's constitutional government is to prevent those who succeed from exploiting those who do not. That's it. Providing food, clothing, and housing to those who fail to succeed, those who have no desire to succeed, or those who are prevented from succeeding is not part of the American constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution establishes the role of the federal government as the guardian and protector of five very limited realms of life:
insure domestic Tranquility
provide for the common defense
promote the general Welfare
secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
The various parts of the federal government, the Bill of Rights and the other amendments, the carefully defined roles of the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches, are all designed to insure the federal government fulfills those five simple tasks while at the same time preventing it from interfering in the lifestyle choices of individual Americans. "Establish justice" does not mean creating laws that punish some people more strongly than others (hate crimes), force employers to hire and promote some people over others (affirmative action), or restrict American people from gathering peacefully to petition the government and express their discontent (free speech zones). Almost every federal law that goes beyond the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in some misguided effort to define those amendments in reality completely violates those amendments. Eliminating these kinds of obvious paradoxes in the regulatory structure of the federal government is the goal of the Tea Party movement and is the practical reality behind the six principles listed above.
With Tim Scott and Mia Love elected on the basis of Tea Party principles and with the backing of both local and national Tea Party groups, one would hope this silly accusation about the Tea Party being made up of "bigoted old white men clinging to the guns and Bibles" will finally come to an end. Clearly there is something greater moving across our nation than simple bigotry. The social and political movement that has been labeled "the Tea Party" holds the keys to preventing America from following down the path every historic society found itself in. If we are not to follow in the footsteps of the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the British Empire, and so many others, then restoration and reformation must become the mantra of both collectivists and individualists.
The first reform that must be carried out is the end of crony capitalism. The only way to end crony capitalism is to dismantle the obscenely complex federal regulatory structure and return control of consumer protections back down to the local level where it belongs. One major step down this path would be repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act and replacing it with a simpler regulation that does only two things: prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions and prevent states from blocking access to insurance companies in neighboring states. Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution grants the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce. The purpose of this section at the time was to prevent individual states from blocking access to their internal markets by the surrounding states. New York, for example, could no longer block Georgia cotton from entering the State and Georgia could no longer block handcrafts (especially furniture) made in New York from entering their state. This inability to block products from other states is why the early colonies settled into an interstate trade pattern that eventually resulted in a highly industrialized north and an intensively agricultural south. Allowing individual states to prevent out-of-state insurance companies from operating in their state reduces competition, increases prices, and results in people being unable to get proper medical treatment while they are on vacation or visiting relatives. Healthcare, telecommunications, energy production, even certain agriculture sectors have so many federal regulations governing them that newcomers cannot break into the industry, individual companies can easily set up protected zones free from competition, and consumers cannot choose to drop companies with poor service or excessive prices.
Grassroots discontent has given new life to the Tea Party movement. The election of Tim Scott and Mia Love confirms this grassroots appeal. Now is when things get really tricky. Can this new wave of conservatives reduce the size and cost of the federal government? Can Tea Party principles really work at the federal level? Is the nation ready to downsize the federal government, destroy crony capitalism, and allow those individuals who are capable of reaching great heights to actually achieve those heights?
Only time will tell.