The Tea Party Movement

by | Sep 30, 2010

Take a step back and look what’s going on. Last year, Rick Santelli, a Chicago trader who does reports for CNBC did “The Rant Heard Round the World,” in which he said, among many good things: “I’m thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists who want to show up on Lake Michigan, I’m going to […]

Take a step back and look what’s going on. Last year, Rick Santelli, a Chicago trader who does reports for CNBC did “The Rant Heard Round the World,” in which he said, among many good things: “I’m thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists who want to show up on Lake Michigan, I’m going to start organizing.” 

From that brief moment, on a minor, cable stock-market show, a grass-roots movement sprang to life, a movement that is shaking American politics to its core. There is no political party called “The Tea Party.” But the media is acting, understandably as if there were, because this movement, spontaneous, unorganized, coming out of nowhere, is shaping the entire election and political debate.

What is the nature of this movement? It is a rebellion by middle-class, working Americans against statism–a term that this very movement has made mainstream. Most importantly, it is an *intellectualy active* movement, the most informed, historically aware mass political movement that I have seen in my (long) lifetime. The Tea Partiers are reading the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, Jonah Goldberg’s _Liberal Fascism_, and . . . Atlas Shrugged.

I am drawing these conclusions from what I witnessed in attending last September’s huge Tea Party demonstration in D.C. Where Leftist rallies feature stock signs like, “No blood for oil,” and “Bush Lied, People Died, “the Tea Partiers had individually thought up signs, often witty and penetrating. Consider these, collected at a website (in alphabetical order):

Capitalism is NOT the problem; Ivy League politicians ARE
DC: Find Another Country to Pillage and Plunder
Don’t spread the wealth; spread my work ethic
Free Markets, Not Free Loaders!
Help Me Mr. Obama,
   They Want Me To Work and Stuff!
HONK … If I’m paying your mortgage
I Am Not Your ATM
If Dependence Is Your Idea Of HOPE,
   You Can Keep The CHANGE.
If You Think Health Care is Expensive Now,
   Wait Until it’s Free
I’ll Pay For My House, You Pay For Yours
Instead of Apologizing for America,
   Apologize TO America
Just say NO … to Socialism
Justice Trumps Fairness
Liberty is All the Stimulus We Need
No Public Money for Private Failure
Obamanomics: Chains You Can Believe In
Oh. Now I See. Change Means Socialism
Reward Responsibility, Not Irresponsibility
Save Trees: Stop Printing Money
Socialism Kills
Socialism: Because Everyone Else Deserves
   Some Of WHAT YOU WORKED HARD FOR
Socialism: Your Tax Dollars at Work, for Those Who Won’t.
Stop Punishing Success; Stop Rewarding Failure
Stop The Looting
The problem with socialism is that eventually
   you run out of other people’s money.
What’s in YOUR wallet? OUR MONEY!!
What’s in Your Wallet. Wait a Sec. That’s MY Wallet!!!
Where is John Galt?
Why Should I Pay for YOUR Bad Decisions?
You Can’t Multiply Wealth by Dividing it
Your Mortgage is NOT My Problem

That’s only about a third of just one site’s selection of best Tea Party signs.

Notice how many of express a refusal to be sacrificed, such as “I am not your ATM” and “Why should I pay for your bad decisions?” These are not people who, as the mainstream media claim, are “angry” and “fed up”–these are people who are *proudly indignant* at the assault on their rights. These are people who have pride in their accomplishments, who have not lost the concept of “earn,” and who are acting with moral certainty, correctly recognizing that political issues are *moral* issues.

Now add to that the widely recognized influence of Ayn Rand on the Tea Party–starting with Rick Santelli: “At the end of the day, I’m an Ayn Rander,” and extending right through the movement. Tea Partiers have very little understanding of Objectivist philosophy, but I think they resonate to that level of Atlas that says: your life is your own, you are not born in hock to the needs of others.

In the face of this unexpected and uplifting expression of the American “sense of life,” consider the magnitude of its betrayal by Glenn Beck. Beck, the man who helped the Tea Party get established, has found the worst possible moment to start beating the drum for religion. Christianity–which Nietzsche nailed as “life loathing itself”–is the apotheosis of self-abnegation, humility, meekness, and demands the enslavement of reason to faith (i.e., to “let’s pretend.”) What is the meaning of anti-socialism when socialism is nothing but the Sermon on the Mount put into political-economic practice? What happens to “Your mortgage is not myproblem” when the Bible tells us we are our brother’s keeper? (This is why it was so great that Yaron Brook, speaking at last year’s rally, said loudly: “We are NOT our brothers’ keeper.”)

I was twice on Glenn Beck’s show sitting across from him–just before his nosedive into mysticism. I would not go back on now (nor would he want me).

It is well known that the religious right is trying to hijack the Tea Party movement–which is notably not about the religionists’ agenda. [See Will Religious Conservatives Hijack the Tea Party Movement?] The Tea Party leaders have stated repeatedly that “social issues” (like abortion and gay marriage) have to be put to the side to rally support for economic liberty. So far, the religious right has not succeeded in their attempt to take over the movement, but they remain a big danger.

My conclusion is that Objectivists should recognize and value what is a startling, unprecedented phenomenon: the rise, in an eyeblink, of a pro-freedom, pro-American, avowedly *individualistic* political movement–a movement friendly to Ayn Rand, favorable to Atlas Shrugged, and popularizing the phrase “Who is John Galt?” This is more–far more–than we had a right to expect at this stage in history.

The Tea Partiers are intellectually active, but they are not intellectuals, and it is an open question how far they can succeed without professional intellectuals to support and lead them. Glenn Beck is out of it now; Rush Limbaugh is not enough. It seems still too early for the New Intellectuals to be heard.

But however far the Tea Partiers can go on their own, it is in the right direction–for the first time since the Goldwater campaign. Everything depends on the outcome of this election.

The Tea Party type candidates should be supported however bad they are personally–regardless of whether they are pro-abortion or (like one candidate) former dabblers in witchcraft. In voting for them, you are voting not for the candidate but for the movement. The results of the election will decide the direction of this nation– toward individualism and liberty or toward collectivism and statism–for a generation. 

If the Tea Party does well at the polls, we have a chance–i.e., time to spread Objectivism. If the election results don’t meet expectations, we are probably doomed. It’s as simple as that.

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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