Tea Party Politics At The State Level: Less Libertarian, More Authoritarian
If you look at the Tea Party's impact on state politics, you see it really isn't much different from the Religious Right.
The standard talking point about the Tea Party movement at it is principally, if not exclusively, concerned with fiscal issues like the national debt and the growth of government. When you look at it at the state level, though, you get a very different picture:
After the tea party helped stake Texas Republicans to huge majorities in the state Legislature last fall, the Republicans had a curious response. They did not immediately take on the state’s $27 billion deficit; instead they considered a series of bills straight from the religious right’s playbook – antiabortion legislation foremost among them.
Even now, as the Legislature tackles the budget deficit, social issues are near the surface. A member of the tea party caucus proposed a budget amendment that calls for funding “family and traditional values centers” at some universities.
In November, the tea party swept candidates into Congress and statehouses on promises of setting America’s financial house in order. But today, the tea party’s track record suggests that a great reckoning is under way.
In Oklahoma and South Dakota, tea party lawmakers have proposed strict antiabortion bills. Montana has challenged gay rights, and Indiana recently passed a bill that would outlaw same-sex unions. At the national level, congressional Republicans fought to the 11th hour on April 8 to cut federal funding for abortion provider Planned Parenthood and to ban foreign aid to countries that would use funding for family planning services.
In Texas, the first few weeks of the legislative session this year were spent passing measures like a controversial bill requiring women to have a sonogram before undergoing an abortion. The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, chairs the Legislature’s tea party caucus.
“Social issues are coming up because they’re easier to pass,” says Sean Theriault, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. “And there are huge [Republican] margins in the Texas House, so if there was ever a time to pass this kind of legislation, it’s now.”
Clearly, the tea party’s small-government mantra resonates with conservatives – including those who do not share libertarian views on social issues. A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed more than 40 percent of tea party supporters identify as Christian conservative, and nearly 60 percent said abortion should be illegal.
But in Texas, the tea party is indistinguishable from the religious right, in many respects. During last November’s race for speaker of the state House, tea party groups targeted incumbent Speaker Joe Straus, a Jewish Republican, saying they wanted to replace him with what one legislator called a “true Christian” leader.
This focus on social issues is alienating the tea party’s libertarian supporters, some of whom predicted the religious right would try to co-opt the movement. “I want to build on our success, not ruin the coalition by bringing ‘God’s will’ into it,” Maine Tea Party Patriots’ coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge, a leading libertarian voice, told Newsweek last year.
It is a concern for the tea party. According to a recent Monitor/TIPP poll, 26 percent of respondents said their opinions of the tea party had worsened since November. Some 11 percent said their opinions had improved, and 57 percent reported no change.
It’s not just abortion, of course, the upsurge in GOP control of state legislatures has led to a record number of bills attempting to mandate the teaching of so-called creation science in classrooms, or restrict the teaching of evolution. And then, there are the birther bills which are the product of a far-right conspiratorial mindset that seems to have been all-too prevalent in the Tea Party movement. At the national level, the House GOP nearly shut the government down over $300,000,000 in funding to organizations like Planned Parenthood. All of this is evidence of a movement that is less about fiscal conservatism than it is about the same social conservatism that has been part of the GOP base for decades.
None of this should be too surprising, after all, in many of the states mentioned the GOP base is incredibly socially conservative. Nonetheless, one has to wonder how long the Tea Party is going to maintain the illusion that it’s independent of the GOP when it’s pretty clear from evidence like this that it isn’t.
Back in December, Reason’s Nick Gillespie wondered why it is that the Republican Party can’t talk about economic freedom without also taking up the banner of those who would restrict personal freedom in other ways:
Why oh why does it seem that everyone who wants to save a nickel in federal spending has to also have a fixation on gay- and single-woman sex when she is not calling for drug testing for losing your job in the worst recession in years? Is there a necessary connection between wanting to cut Washington spending and hating on the gays (even or especially when your argument is that the federal government shouldn’t be concerned with the places said gays may be working)?
What the hell is wrong with this country – and the Republican Party – that it can’t generate more pols like Gary Johnson, who is actually libertarian as opposed to playing one on TV? Is it that hard, or that off-putting to simply admit that getting the government out of the boardroom and the bedroom (and the classroom!) is part of the same process?
I should note that I can’t legally vote for any of the folks above anyway, even if I wanted to. And I’m well aware that senators and even governors have limited abilities to intrude on anybody’s personal life. But the sorts of statements above make it hard to convince anybody who doesn’t agree with you already that small-government rhetoric is not a stalking horse for a repressive, retrograde regime that will start clamping down on anything that bothers that folks who happen to be in power. That’s a real problem in building a true limited-government coalition because I know plenty of liberals (including gays and lesbians and single women!) who would be basically ready to sign onto a libertarian anti-government agenda if they didn’t feel deep down that it’s simply a way for the state to control their lifestyles.
As Gillespie points out, even Rand Paul, the son of the GOP’s most well-known libertarian, couldn’t resist taking up the social conservative banner recently when he suggested, incorrectly, that it was a Federal Department of Education that put books like Heather Has Two Mommies, while at the same time saying that his position on the Department of Education is the same as Ronald Reagan’s, even though Reagan campaigned in 1980 on eliminating that department (something he never actually did, of course).
Even on fiscal issues, of course, Republicans don’t exactly have a record to be proud of either. During the eight years of the Bush Administration discretionary spending increased at a faster pace than Lyndon Johnson, a Republican President and Congress proposed programs that are usually associated with “big spending Democrats”, Republicans in Congress sat back and participated in a massive expansion of spending and debt, supported the TARP bailout, and gave billions in taxpayer dollars to the auto companies.
Only a fool would believe, without actual evidence, that the GOP has suddenly seen the error of its ways, or that the Tea Party has really changed the GOP in a significant way.
This is one of the reasons I can’t be as optimistic about the Tea Party movement as others. While it’s nice to see people getting excited about an idea as abstract as limited government, I have serious questions about just how committed many of its adherents are to limited government at all levels. So far, their performance hasn’t been very impressive.
Doug – you act surprised because you really believed that ‘we’re fiscal conservatives’ claptrap they were spewing during the election. Fool you once…..
Unlike some of my libertarian friends, I was never part of the Tea Party movement. Then again, I’m not the kind of person that finds going to political rallies to be all that productive a use of my time.
Simple answer to Gillespie’s question: because they don’t care about personal freedom, only economic freedom(and only if the US gov will give them all the corp welfare possible without any strings).
Because, unlike some of your libertarian friends, you were actually paying attention. It was obvious from the beginning that the Tea Party movement was just a cat’s paw for the statist parts of the Republican party.
Of course, there’s a certain kind of libertarian that has the political equivalent of battered wife syndrome. Everytime a bunch of big government Republicans starts talking about shrinking government, they’re sure that the Republicans really mean it this time.
I don’t think they’re even honest about their small government stands. It’s a place holder for free-floating rage. They don’t have a problem with the real big government — Social Security, Medicare, Defense — they have a problem with government money going to foreigners and minorities and liberals Hence their obsessions with foreign aid and the Department of Education.
I’m surprised anyone is surprised. I’ve said from the beginning that the Tea Party was about old white people feeling their power and pre-eminence slipping away, being afraid of change, feeling weak and vulnerable. Government spending is just an easy thing to grab onto so long as you don’t take the time to actually understand what you’re talking about.
In fairness, they aren’t wrong to feel like time is passing them by. It is. The US is pro-choice, pro gay marriage, swinging back toward secularism, increasingly diverse as of course exemplified most shockingly to these people by a black man in the White House.
I’ve always thought it was hilarious that Nick Gillespie lives off of the kindness of others and Reason has never come close to breaking even much less turning a profit.
Rugged individualists those guys are!
Obviously I was never a fan of the Tea Party movement, but I really did see it as something different, and more populist than past Republican motivators …
Now it seems that the “whole fiscal sanity” thing was just a traditional “wedge issue” and is abandoned as easily.
Possibly because of my occupation, and perhaps just because I have little belief in the notion that most people place a high value on ideas, I tend to look first at people’s emotional expression. I think for 99% of people their emotions are the truth, not their ideological positions.
The dominant emotion of the Tea Party has always been rage. Why?
Was it because they had just discovered deficit spending? Had they just discovered the national debt?
No. One day they didn’t really give a damn about the debt as we financed two wars “off the books,” and gave them a prescription drug plan and cut taxes and thereby revenue. Not a peep out of them. Quiet as mice.
And then, suddenly, overnight, there they were screaming their lungs out in town halls and demonstrations. Ranting about government spending.
Never ranting about SS or Medicare or Part D or the wars or the tax cuts, mind you.
Which meant they were ranting about something else, that debt and deficits were being used in lieu of something else that was really bothering them. Like kicking the dog when you’re really mad at your boss.
So, what event occurred between a relatively calm condition, and an enraged condition? The election of Barack Obama. The first time we’ve elected a minority president, and did it with a minority of white voters.
This has been about race and a lost sense of entitlement from day one.
I chose “populist’ as a polite semi-euphemism 🙂
Because of a federal government which ignores the constraints of the Constitution and the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent.
So what’s changed in the nature of the Federal Government on Jan 21, 2009? One day it’s A-OK, and the next, it’s the ruination of American democracy. Get real. It was all about Obama.
Which none of them noticed until we got a black president.
The tea party might have been an actual grass roots movement for about 15 minutes. After that, it was bought up and co-opted as a rebranding of the GOP with an eye towards taking people’s minds off of the disaster that was the Bush Presidency.
Fiscal responsibility and less government are marketing slogans for the tea party types, not policy. It is a bait and switch, which is a very old ploy indeed.
Funny, the same people who have embraced the tea party movement were standing on their chairs and cheering for Bush when he ignored the constraints of the constitution…
How can anyone find fault with the Tea Party and yet ignore the power and control that self interested jews have in America?
Not even close. The “rage” as Michael Reynolds puts it, started with Bush’s expansion of Medicaid, with the “No Child Left Behind” bill that Ted Kennedy wrote, and finally with TARP. It was TARP that pushed us over the edge to angrily fight back against free-spending liberals and RINO’s in general.
Y’all can ignore history all you want, that’s fine. You can argue who is responsible for what, who cares. The Tea Party is all about today and tomorrow.
Congratulations, you win the award for dumbest comment of the day, if not the year.
Where was the “rage” over Medicare Part D, NCLB which Bush and the Republicans supported, or the fact that the Republicans sent Americans off to two major wars without finding a way to pay for either one of them?
It didn’t exist, that’s where it was.
Yes, things did start boiling up around the TARP plan, but it seems rather silly to me that people waited until a major financial crisis to finally figure out that the Bush era was the era of Republican hypocrisy
Can you explain how any of this is unconstitutional?
Giving props where they’re due: I have major issues with libertarians like Doug, but no one should confuse the LP with the TP. The LP may be juvenile but they aren’t crypto-racist morons. The LP actually wants a smaller government, not just government cuts targeted at minorities.
Agreed. At least any outward manifestation of “rage” anyway. There was anger and resentment simmering under the surface and it was TARP that caused it to explode. It was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”.
Before TARP, we repeatedly contacted our congress-critters to object but were totally ignored. The establishment GOP and free-spending liberals didn’t care what we thought. When TARP came, it was too much. That’s what provoked the open display of “rage” but it was building up long before TARP.
“Where was the “rage” over Medicare Part D”
You know, given that 70% of the TP doesn’t want Medicare messed with, I’d imagine than 100% of that 70% was just peachy with Part D. And really didn’t give a flying whatever about the lack of funding for it.
Just to clarify things a little, I have written the following convenient glossary to assist us all in understanding what people really mean when they say the following things
Academic freedom: The freedom to say things that my peers in the Academy believe to be true (and MY freedom from hearing things I don’t believe from my peers in that same august institution–provided that I have enough political clout to get my way).
Limit government: Government that is limited in scope to doing the things I approve of
Free-spending liberalism: Spending that is not directed toward my interests
Bringing the budget into balance: Refining the budget to meet my desires better
Freedom of speech: The right to say things that I agree with
Traitorous or demagogic speech: Saying things I don’t agree with
Profligate spending: Spending that I disapprove of
Pork barrel spending: Spending in your congressional district
Right to choose: The freedom to make the choices I would make
Right to life: The right to live a life that I would approve of
True American: A person who agrees with me
I am sure there are others. Please feel free to add to the list. I would recommend bookmarking it for future reference. Particularly for Doug, who seems to be shocked a lot about people’s actions these days.
Wow, the Tea Party hasn’t changed the world yet and fixed all the United States’ problems in less than one election cycle. Epic fail.
That would be the TARP that was going to cost us 300 billion? 500 billion??? A trillion???? A bazillion??????
And seems now likely to cost us 25 billion and maybe even less.
With which we avoided a financial meltdown that would have plunged us into a depression.
Meanwhile the Tea Party stays mum for Medicare Part D which costs about 50 billion a year.
I was halfway through a comment when I realized that 1) the language would get it hung up in the filters,and 2) it was too long for a comment — it NEEDS its own posting. So I’m saving it for Wizbang.
But I do have to say this one thing — michael, go ahead and wallow in your white guilt; that’s your prerogative. But don’t splash it all over the rest of us who aren’t so afflicted.
In other words, cut projecting your issues on us.
A general notice that I don’t waste my time on you anymore.
You have nothing. And when you’re asked to produce something you run away.
If you believe that, I have this bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you.
I do believe it. And so do both Republican and Democratic Treasury Secretaries and Ben Bernanke.
Had we done nothing and allowed the crisis to deepen we wouldn’t be talking recession, we’d likely be talking depression. And the cost — as I said, half of one year’s Medicare Part D — was quite small.
michael, you’re absolutely right. It isn’t Obama’s economic policies, including promoting the unions’ interests at any expense (meaning ours); it isn’t his sending the deficit skyrocketing in just two years; it isn’t his utterly incoherent foreign policy; it isn’t his manner of talking down to Americans as saying his biggest failure is “not communicating his ideas well enough,” not accepting that a lot of us folks do understand them — and reject them; it isn’t his demonizing the producers in this country; it all boils down to his skin tone, dang it.
In fact, I was just hanging with some of my Tea Party homies — Allen West and Herman Cain and Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley — and saying that we were so glad that we finally have the Tea Party to help us keep the darkies down. (Cleaned up to get past the filters; I would have preferred to quote the line from Randy Newman’s “Rednecks.”)
Dennis Miller said it best: it isn’t the color of Obama’s skin that’s so troubling, it’s the thinness.
Well, several of the smartest money guys I have ever met might be buying that bridge. And two of them are hard core conservatives. They seem to agree TARP brought us back from the brink of cascade failure in the banking system. You might have read about that at some point, when it happened before, the depression resulted.
TARP was an example of the government doing its job. We got pretty damn close to the edge back in ’08.
That’s about right. Time is a terrible thing to waste, and Jay is a waste of time.
By the way, I’m still liking that 209 gin. A bay area product, I believe.
Yes! It’s shocking that three bankers are on record that we needed to give billions of dollars to banks or else terrible things would happen!
Bix has some game. Bourbon & Branch next time…
Oh no, the TEA party barely two years since inception and just 4 months since any significant number of candidates were sworn in have had to deal with the seniority based incumbent system of American politics and haven’t completely overrun the Combine. Well, they did get the Dems out of power, which was the first critical step in stopping the bleeding, but that left the old Reps and enhanced their power.
If some of these socially liberal Democrats want to test the TEA party, they should run on their fiscally conservative values and see if they don’t draw some support. Of course, on both sides, there will be a need to stop this party loyalty over loyalty to constituents that seems so pervasive these days. Perhaps the fiscally responsible Dems could run in traditionally Democratic districts and show that their are Dems who will support a liberal candidate who wants to get America back on the growth path by creating a growing America rather than a forced redistribution America.
And michael reynolds, why are you so obsessed with the color of Obama’s skin. It is his attempts to move business to government strangled enterprise, negative outlook for America redistribution policies and complete incompetence in foreign policy that people oppose. The only impact his skin color will have is when the Left try to blame Obama being black for the rejection of their and his leftist agenda.
I kinda find him refreshing. I mean, he’s not your run-of-the-mill rightnut. And he does come up with some interesting, not in good way, alas, shit. To wit: The Audacity Of Dope, in which our intrepid blogger offers up the theory that Obama is tryin’ to get hisself impeached because either 1) this would allow him to leave office because he really doesn’t want to be president anymore, or 2) he knows that such a move would backfire on the Republicans and thus reassure his reelection a la Bill Clinton. (Note how wildly contradictory those two scenarios are: In the first, Obama wants out, and impeachment is his ticket, in the second, Obama doesn’t want out, and impeachment is his ticket. — Geez, how can you miss with analysis like that?)
It has to be said that his piece does not start out in a promising manner:
Uh Oh, you think, here comes some rightwing Paul-is-dead-because-if-you-look-closely-at-the-cover-of-Abby Road-you-will-see-etc fruitcakedness. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Jay ends this piece with
Well, you know, a blogger’s gotta blog. But, go read it and ask yourself, what is the nominatum of ‘Dope’ in the title?
Sam, that was an exercise in trying to find some shred of consistency in Obama’s policies. If you can find another way to tie them together in some coherent fashion, be my guest.
And if I stumble into a few contradictions and paradoxes, then that’s just the nature of the subject matter — Obama himself can’t seem to keep anything straight for himself.
I’m not sure suffering from apophenia is as big an advantage as he seems to think it is.
The financial crisis wiped out worth and value at an unprecedented level.
Obama’s spending is of no concern – if anything it should be higher. You don’t worry about about deficits when you are in a recession. You do that when the economy is booming.
Stormy, you kinda missed the next line:
It often leads me astray, making links where none exist, but every now and then it steers me right.
And you very well be right — trying to find a pattern, a consistency, a theme, a coherent philosophy or doctrine in Obama’s actions might just be a form of insanity.
I’m sorry, but your spittle-flecked, rage-o-holic town halls turned out to be much ado about nothing. Tea Partiers claimed to be enraged about TARP. TARP ended up being a relatively minor one-time expense for the USG.
Then of course there was lots of screaming and yelling over Obamacare, partly on the grounds that it would cut Medicare. Now along comes Ryan who would obliterate Medicare and leave old people with useless vouchers and no way to force health insurers to accept them. And hmmm, a sudden silence from the TP.
As I recall there was also some screaming about GM, which seems to have worked pretty well, and cost us quite a bit less than TARP.
Go right down the list of stuff that had you all shouting and most of it turned into a big nothing.
But it doesn’t matter because it was never about TARP or ACA or any of that. It was always old white people afraid that history was passing them by and horrified to find we had a black president. That’s why the only enduring thing to come out of the TP has been Birtherism — coded racism. That’s what you guys kept after you started to realize cutting the budget meant cutting your budget. Now the TP is birtherism and the usual religious right crapola and you guys are indistinguishable from the John Birch Society.
Shit. STORMY that last was mis-addressed. Meant for PATRICK.
Sorry. More coffee needed.
” it isn’t his utterly incoherent foreign policy”
I read lots of foreign policy. I dont really understand this. He has increased activity in Afghanistan, which he said he would do. He has continued the drawdown in Iraq, which he said he would do. He passed START, which he said he would do. He improved relations with Russia enough that they agreed to sanctions on Iran. The one area inconsistent with his general statements is his participation in Libya. While I disagreed with our getting involved there, after the support the Brits and French have given us in Afghanistan for many years, it is not surprising that we agreed to assist with their desired plan.
Who is arguing that? If you were paying attention, you would see that the argument is that once teabaggers get local power, many of them seem to want to go after the social issues rather than the fiscal issues they claim to be so hot and bothered about…
Nice dodge…I wonder how many lefties tried to use Bush’s inanities to explain/excuse their own drivel like you are doing here with the current president…
@steve, You’re attempting to fight dogma with reality. It’s a hopeless endeavor unfortunately.
Nick: “Why oh why does it seem that everyone who wants to save a nickel in federal spending has to also have a fixation on gay- and single-woman sex when she is not calling for drug testing for losing your job in the worst recession in years? Is there a necessary connection between wanting to cut Washington spending and hating on the gays (even or especially when your argument is that the federal government shouldn’t be concerned with the places said gays may be working)?”
Because the GOP and the right doesn’t care about saving money in government spending – didn’t the Bush II administration prove that? Hasn’t every GOP governor/legislature recently elected immediately bestow every achievable favor on the rich, even while flogging their enemies under the banner of ‘crisis’?
There is no libertarianism in the modern right. Using the language provides cover for cutting taxes and regulations on the rich, while cutting services to everybody else.