Pat Dixon: Libertarian Take on the “TEA Party” Movement

Reposted from The Statesman

I remember when the Iraq war protests began. Protesters would march up Congress Avenue and surround the Capitol announcing their opposition to this war.

As time went on, I noticed how the protests evolved. I would start to see people joining these protests carrying signs opposing capitalism, environmental policy, global trade and all manner of policies that had little to do with the war. I also noticed how angry these people were, and the display of signs that showed President George W. Bush depicted as a Nazi.

When the Libertarian Party of Illinois lit the match that became the tea party bonfire, the idea was to promote the principles of the Libertarian Party in protest of continued growth of government, bailouts, a nightmarish taxation system and other policies promoted by Republicans and Democrats.

It now has evolved to include protesters on immigration policy, gay marriage, foreign policy, abortion and all manner of policies that do not match those of the Libertarian Party. We also see angry signs depicting President Barack Obama as a Nazi.

Movements like these are not easily controlled. They can evolve and splinter such that they no longer reflect their origins. This is also true of the tea party.

As far back as February 2007, discussions on the Libertarian Party of Illinois’ email list mentioned a modern-day Boston Tea Party. In late 2008, the party decided to hold a tax protest called the Chicago Tea Party and scheduled it for tax day, April 15, 2009. In January 2009, they began to promote the event through Meetup groups, Facebook and elsewhere.

Then on Feb. 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, during a live televised broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, mentioned the idea of a Chicago Tea Party. The broadcast resulted in rapid proliferation of the idea on the Internet, and the event exploded into a mass movement.

It should be noted that the tea party movement started long before the health care debate and while Republicans still controlled the federal government. There was already outrage over the decisions being made in government at federal, state and local levels prior to the swearing in of Barack Obama. At its origin, it was a Libertarian movement. The founders and participants were socially liberal and economically conservative.

Today we have many organizations calling themselves the tea party. There are competing tea parties in several states. The state of this movement today is confusing and uncertain. It has become a prized demographic for talk radio and Republican political groups to romance. It therefore is subject to infusion of those who would coax it toward their opposing ideology.

There is no unified tea party platform. Much of what we see promoted by its presumed leaders is not Libertarian. It has veered in many directions away from its original intent.

The Iraq war protests and the tea party share several attributes. They were both founded with focused concerns. As they grew, they were infused by those with other agendas in order to romance the followers of the movement. They were not centrally controlled, and they diverged into a widening and contradictory set of platform positions that were tangential to the original purpose. The tone became angrier and the messaging more extreme with the use of Nazi labels for their opponents.

What is yet to be determined is whether the tea party will have the same impact as the war protests. My observation is that the war protests don’t appear to have had any significant effect on policy.

Therefore, it is hard to predict how the tea party will influence the November elections. It will depend on whether supporters of the tea party are committed to the Libertarian origin of the movement. If so, votes will go toward those with a Libertarian (socially tolerant, fiscally conservative) platform which challenges incumbent politicians. If not, incumbent politicians will continue imposing anti-free market and socially intolerant policies on us and future generations.

If that happens, the party is over and it won’t matter who lays claim to it. I, for one, won’t want any part of it.
Pat Dixon, an Austin engineer, is chairman of the Texas Libertarian Party.