Simon Williamson

Would the real Tea Party please step up?

2011-08-19 11:30

If you haven’t yet heard about the Tea Party in the USA, you’re going to by the time the US election happens next year. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to read an American political news item without mention of this ubiquitous bunch. However, what began as a “small-government”, libertarian faction of Americans has taken on a different and horrible face to what its actual goals are.

The Tea Party’s official website, describes its mission thus, “Our mission is to attract, educate, organise, and mobilise our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.”

It goes further, defining all three, but the one I find interesting is “constitutionally limited government”, which it defines: “As the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, in all other matters we support the personal liberty of the individual, within the rule of law.”

And it is Michele Bachmann’s grinning mug, as leader of the Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives, which is carrying that message.

Modern day crusade

Bachmann is actually, more correctly, the face of the people who have hijacked the Tea Party in an outrageously populist manner to push their own objectives, dressed as Tea Party goals.

As things stand, the Tea Party has been absorbed by a modern day crusade of Christian social conservatives who don’t want “small government” as they claim. What they want to pay less tax - an acceptable small government ideal - but outside that they government to bend their way in all other matters. That’s not small government, that’s pushing their interpretation of an interfering ideology.

There is only one prominent figure for those of us who watch the Tea Party from a distance, who truly believes in Tea Party ideals, and that is another Republican candidate vying for the presidential nomination: House representative, Ron Paul from Texas.

While Bachmann and her congregation decry homosexuality and want it banned on religious grounds, Paul actually believes in the aforementioned principles of small and limited government.

Here is an example: During a debate on Fox News on 11 August, Paul was asked where he stood on gay marriage - in light of a 2007 quote he dropped during an interview where he said, “Sure, they [homosexuals] can do whatever they want and call it what they want.” He replied to the question last week saying, “I think the government should just stay out of it”, and that people shouldn’t push their standards on other people. “

He went on to say later in the debate, when a questioner tried to corner him: “If you do not protect liberty across the board it’s a First Amendment type issue [the First Amendment is what guarantees Americans freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc]...if you have the inconsistency then you’re really not defending liberty”.  In other words: be free to make your own choices.

Pretend-libertarian conservatives

However, the Tea Party movement has been colonised by right-wing evangelicals, people like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum - serious pretend-libertarian conservatives who speak an immense amount of populist crap, and believe more in having things run how they want which they confuse with the concept of liberty.

How can you have a “limited government” which then decides who you can marry, or how you can treat an unexpected pregnancy? Santorum even advocated his anti-abortionist stance when it comes to cases of rape - how does “limited” government have the right to decide how a rape victim should act, or do? That’s not “small government”. That’s a seriously interfering government sticking its big schnozz where real libertarians (and many others) maintain it has no right.

Bachmann and Santorum are joined by another religious zealot and “Tea party favourite” Texas governor Rick Perry, who is also in the running for President.

Perry used state resources to fund a 30 000-person prayer event on August 6 - hardly small government if he plans to fund prayer events all the time, and, in a country where church and state are separate, he would be expected to do it for every other religion too. (Side note: Perry actually has excellent relations with the Muslim population in his state.) Perry also lives in a $10 000 per month rental home, and has been since 2007, while the governor’s mansion is being dolled up.

Small government, my arse... that’s about as small as BHP Billiton.

Tea Party aims

In contrast, Paul wants to haul all US troops back into the country, saving an approximated one trillion dollars per year (admittedly, estimates of this amount vary wildly), stop throwing money at Israel and telling that particular US ally what it can and can’t (like attack Iran) do. Paul wants to return to the gold standard to stop the Federal Reserve printing money willy-nilly (ie Stop government interfering with wealth), and in fact wants to totally limit the powers of the nation’s central bank... again: small government. While Rick Perry merely uses stimulus packages to get into the news, which has achieved as much criticism as it has admiration - Ron Paul has been beating this drum for decades.

And it is Paul’s drum that is consistent with Tea Party aims. Not the interfering application of conservative Christian and often loony ideals from Bachmann, Santorum or Perry who are liars, merely capitalising on someone else’s movement.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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