By Adam de Angeli
Hat tip: Campaign for Liberty
An enormous body of new activists and groups with the moniker “Tea Party” have mobilized since the Obama administration took power. While the “tea party” meme originated from the $6 million money bomb phenomenon of Ron Paul’s grassroots, the “Tea Party movement” is a beast of its own. It was popularized by Fox News coverage, and—surprise!—is now largely infiltrated by GOP-affiliated groups.
If the victories in 2010 are for the GOP alone, the movement will have lost. One need only look to the origin of the problem: big-government Republicans drove the grassroots into apathy. Conservatives couldn’t get excited for the once-pro-choice governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, who signed a state-level version of ObamaCare into law, or the gun-grabbing John McCain. They stayed home. They didn’t vote, they didn’t mobilize, and they handed the election over to Obama and the Democrats.
That would be a tragedy, except the Republicans needed to learn a lesson.
If a GOP sweep in 2010 means a new breed of John McCains, Mitt Romneys, and Lindsey Grahams in office, we will be back where we started. We will be worse off, not better. Congress will still be over-run with statists spending us into oblivion, but, just as in 2005, there will be no serious opposition from the Right. There will be nowhere to go, but to wait for the Democrats to return to power. And the cycle will go on. And on, and on, until there is no money left to spend.
This is why the Tea Party movement cannot, must not, be herded into the “any Republican over any Democrat” mentality.
The Tea Party movement mirrors the anti-war Left that sprung up after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. After wailing under “four more years,” they were ready for “anybody but Bush.” And they got precisely that.
The anti-war Left conceded its core issues for partisan victory. And so, under the new Democrats, there has been no effort whatsoever to restore civil liberties, bring the troops home, or end torture. The grassroots got exactly what they bargained for.
This will happen to the Tea Partiers if they do not learn and grasp The Real Nature of Politics.
My previous article quoted C4L grassroots trainer and consultant Michael Rothfeld extensively. All C4L training events begin with his lecture, The Real Nature of Politics and Politicians. Rothfeld asserts, “80% of you are going to ignore what I’m about to tell you.” If this article brings that figure down to 70%, I will be satisfied with a job well done.
A friend from Rhode Island attended our training event in Minneapolis, took copious notes, and shared the lecture with fellow organizers back home. Most of them, she said, “didn’t really get it.” I didn’t quite get it the first time, either. But that was before Campaign For Liberty really got underway. Having now seen the lecture several dozen times (at several conferences, watching again as I processed the video for the Web, and many more times showing friends) it has sunk in.
Once you fully absorb the lecture, you see its lessons everywhere. You notice people hitting every pitfall he warned against. All the time.
Educating the People
The lecture begins by discrediting “the education theory”: that if only we educate the people, they will rise up and change things. As Rothfeld notes, it is politicians, not public opinion, that change policy. Politicians are only concerned with the opinion of swing voters, a tiny percentage of the people as a whole. And even those voters can’t just be “educated”: they must be mobilized on Election Day to make their opinions matter.
Much of the Tea Partiers’ energy will be spent on “education.” Letters to the editor, Constitution classes, DVD handouts, blogging—all largely un-targeted. They do this because most people are comfortable educating. They are not comfortable making others uncomfortable.
Education has a role in politics. All people’s opinions come from a process of education. But the market is saturated already; everybody is educating everybody else already. And education, by itself, does not affect change. When people spend energy educating, they have that much less energy for mobilization.
The new breed of establishment candidates does not have a long record of infractions against Liberty to be held against. They can only be taken at their word. Talk is cheap. This is why it is important to focus on sitting politicians eligible for re-election. This is why the establishment will steer people in the opposite direction: toward electing promising new candidates.
Besides diverting people’s energy away from pressuring the legislature, supporting new candidates has a secondary negative: once in office, supporters remain loyal, and defend the politician from criticism when he votes against Liberty. This is what creates the long-standing party loyalists.
With sitting politicians, many Tea Partiers would settle for token gestures. Politics is tough work, and especially tough unpaid work. People are eager for an excuse to declare “victory!” and go home. A non-binding 10th Amendment resolution here, a vote against taxes and regulation there, and pretty soon one is satisfied with his representative’s performance. More tenacious grassroots leaders will be offered (quoting Rothfeld) “invitations to and recognition at special events, being quoted in the media, helping to write ‘acceptable’ compromise legislation, or even an appointment to some committee or task force—all this could be yours if you become a grassroots leader. These are the trinkets for which leaders sell out their political agenda.”
Tea Party leaders—the grassroots’ representatives to the politicians, telling them what they must do—will become the politicians’ representative to the grassroots, telling them what they must settle for. Unless they are trained to recognize this form of subversion, the grassroots will accept it.
This is why the federal government nearly doubled in size while the deficit skyrocketed during the Bush II years.
Our strength and our impact will be determined by how difficult we make it for our politicians. Politicians know this, and have surrogates to lead people in the opposite direction: that we would reach victory by supporting them.
The Biggest Lie in Politics
The Republicans do not want the Tea Partiers disrupting the party. They want them to join their party and be loyal. Anybody who stands against their politicians, for any reason, will be knocked on the head with their best hammer, the greatest lie in politics: that if you do not support them, you support the enemy Democrats.
Our goal is to change policy: to pass and defeat legislation. If all voters are either completely loyal to or completely against a politician, the politician has no reason to listen to anybody. He can do anything with no consequence. It is precisely the tension between voters and their representatives—the threat of losing the next election—that keeps the politicians in line.
If our confrontation and mobilization costs a Republican his seat, guess what: it’s his own fault that he lost. He lost it for doing us wrong. I discuss the “lesser of two evils” premise in detail here.
The Tea Partiers will be told that victory lies in electing Republicans. If so persuaded, they will tolerate incumbents having done them wrong, and they will support candidates having made feeble promises. They will use the rhetoric of “unity” to attack those who confront them. They will steer potential leaders away from us troublemakers.
One year on, and Barack Obama has expanded the wars, failed to meaningfully end torture, and escalated the massive spying and intrusions on law-abiding Americans. The anti-war Left barely batted an eye. Not only did they not get what they wanted, they seem to have forgotten what it was they wanted. During the Bush II years, it was the abuse of executive power, not government healthcare, where the Left found its rallying cry. The liberal politicians subverted the movement so completely that it was erased from the memory of its grassroots leaders.
In all, unless The Real Nature of Politics is learned, ingrained, and put into practice, the Tea Party movement will:
In sum, they will be assimilated by the political class.
This is why The Real Nature of Politics and other Campaign For Liberty training events are so important. The politicians see us coming and they know how to intimidate us, waste our time, buy us off, or otherwise subvert us. They’ve had centuries to perfect the art.
C4L has done five regional conferences, and many more training events hosted by state organizations. There is a training event in Ann Arbor, Michigan tomorrow. Training from the regional conferences is available on our website for all Local, County, Regional, and State coordinators—over 29 hours, so far. Still, live training is better than video: you can ask questions, and it’s a far more engaging environment when you are there with dozens or hundreds of fellow leaders.
Learn it, know it, and most of all, share it with others.