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February 07, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Tea Party and the Evolution of Political Parties

I responded to 18-1 in the comments, and my response was long enough for a post, so I'm making it a post.

18-1 offered some advice to the GOP, including: "Stake out a position where the public agrees with Republicans. Force the Democrats to deal with it."

People sometimes say I'm anti-Tea Party even though I actually support them in the main.

When I'm critical of the Tea Party, it's because the Tea Party often acts as if the first part of your suggestion -- "Stake out a position where the public agrees with Republicans" -- is not important, and even maybe a little cowardly. That is to say, there is a an idea -- it seems to me, at least, that there is an idea -- that politics is essentially dirty, given that most of the public is not very devoted to important First Principles (and, you know, they're not), and that therefore to craft positions with an eye to pleasing the bulk of the country -- which, again, is not firmly committed to important First Principles -- cannot possibly do anything other than debase and weaken the Tea Party's favored position.

That is pretty much true. I've come to think, recently, the following:

First there is philosophy. It is pure, as it's about only two things: God and Man. Or for a secular materialist such as myself, The Universe and Man (and, in man's limited view of the metaphysical, the concepts of "The Universe" and "God" tend to blur).

Political philosophy is a debased form of philosophy, because now we've dirtied it with political considerations. Philosophy should never care about politics; after all, one man possessed of the truth makes a majority, even should the world deny that truth. But political philosophy attempts to create a framework for how we can best live together, without killing each other too much.

Politics in turn, is a debased form of political philosophy, because now it is heavily influenced not just by the idea of The Good but by what a rough majority of people, or important constituencies, want, whether that represents The Good or not.

And then there is Democratic politics, which is not merely just debased political philosophy but degenerate political philosophy. I say this because of Jay Cost's argument that the Democratic party is now almost entirely an organization of client service. That is to say, there is hardly any "principle" in it anymore, except that one group wants this from the government, and another group wants that.

The Tea Party is currently, I think, a movement not of politics but of political philosophy. And that is both good and bad. It is good because they can afford to be more simon-pure about the precise philosophy they urge. It is, however, bad, if one would hope (as I do) that they can become a large enough political force (not merely a philosophical advocacy force) to either dominate the GOP or displace it entirely.

I do not want to get into my theory of how any lobbying/advocacy group -- any and all groups, all of them -- tend to be dominated by their purest (most "extreme," as far as the Overton Window) voices. But I do think it's true. Of all organizations. Every single one. Think of any advocacy group you can. And now try to think of when they offer up a fairly moderate position on their subject matter/cause. It's rare.

But political parties aren't lobbying/advocacy groups. They cannot permit themselves to fall into this dynamic of advocating the purest possible position.

At any rate, this is along the lines of my advice that the Tea Party must begin to position itself, and think of itself as, a governing political party, rather than lobbying/advocacy organization associated with the GOP.

And that will mean, often, taking a position which the purest-position members are critical of, and even charge as being a sell-out or cowardly.

For example, even though I'm more sympathetic to the Tea Party than the GOP, if I say something critical of the Tea Party, many who consider themselves Tea Partiers accuse me of being against the Tea Party, and hostile to it.

In other words, the membership of the Tea Party is limited to those who agree with the most strident members of the Tea Party. Now, let's face it, I will concede, I am RINOish, and not among the most strident in these matters. Nevertheless, the fact that I wish to be a part of the Tea Party -- but perhaps a member of the moderate wing of the Tea Party -- should permit me membership, if the Tea Party is thinking of itself as a potential governing party that could displace the GOP.

But when the reaction is "Well then you're not Tea Party," then the Tea Party is not acting as general governing political party (which should want to attract as many members as possible, because elections turn on numbers), but as a lobbying/advocacy organization which can (and should) be highly selective about whom it permits into its membership lists.

In short, I think the Tea Party becomes a more serious political force, rather than a philosophical advocacy force, when it begins entertaining the possibility that it will have pure, middle, and moderate wings.

Now some people don't agree that that's what the Tea Party can be or should be. That is, they'd say the whole point of the Tea Party is to the pull the party in a single way, and how can it achieve that goal if it has its own wings flapping in opposites directions?

But the Tea Party isn't just about pulling the GOP to a more rightward position on issues such as the debt and the size of government. It is those things, to be sure, but it is about more than that.

For example: What every Tea Partier agrees with, even a TPINO like myself, is that government has become too cozy with corporate and other interests. It has become too insular. It has formed too close a relationship, personally, with the corporate media. It is too reliant on a professional political class and the permanent government of the DC bureaucracy.

It is, in short, far too removed from the people.

Furthermore, the government class' cozy familiarity with the DC players (and every industry or constituency in the country has a well-funded lobbying group in DC) results in secret and dirty arrangements which are revolting to a truer form democratic republicanism.

In short, the town stinks of self-interest and self-dealing, all at the expense of the country outside of DC. As many have observed, I'm sure, there is of course the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, but there is also -- perhaps more importantly -- the Party of the Capital (everyone in DC and politics and the media) and the Party of the Hinterlands.

And the Party of the Capital wins every election, by a landslide, and dominates all the positions of government and media power. They Party of the Capital has its hands on, say, 99.9% of all levers of governmental, media, and cultural power.

So while it is a very important mission of the Tea Party to pull the country rightward on questions such as the size of government and our level of spending and debt, there are two other very important missions impelling it as well:

First, to bring more democracy to democracy,

and Second, as a party of general reform.

So I don't agree, wholly, that the Tea Party, like any other advocacy group, should have a closed membership list so that it can keep itself pure on its main issue of advocacy. I see two other very important considerations in the Tea Party's mix of concerns that really aren't a matter of just pulling the public to the right on an issue.

They're matters of general political concern, and possibly serve as the basis for the makings of a general governing party.

Updated: Some reader comments, and my replies, below.



From kartoffel:

The Tea Party was always going to be unpopular. Insofar as it gives proposes solutions instead of just calling out problems, it's going to stay unpopular. Calling out government-corporate collusion, mandarinism and the use of the middle class as farm animals is popular, sure, you can always rally people with populist resentment and disgust. But proposing deregulation, the cutting out of entire departments and vast tax cuts/programs cuts will sink them.

Nobody wants to take the bitter medicine. Even the ones who know we need to cut out the free shit think it's going to be someone else's free shit that gets cut off, or "I put money into this Ponzi scheme for 40 years so I'm owed something back!". The Tea Party has to either accept that solutions will not be forthcoming, that popular democracy is a slope that you can only roll down, that it has to get worse before it gets better (unlikely), or they have to find a way to be effective in yanking the Republicans to the right as a demonized minority.

From Alex the Chick:

What is the sign of a mature civilization? The recognition that other people has exactly the same right to their opinions as I do and that we must come up with some manner of living together in moderate peace.


I fear that we are losing that in America. We joke about the camps and the Right thinks the Left is wrong while the Left thinks the Right is evil and the Unpeople of Jesusland. Yet. Yet the reason the jokes resonate is because there is something to those comments. The line between no person has a right to think that and be a member of polite society and no person has a right to think that and continue to be alive in that society is a thin one indeed.

Speaking only for myself, much of the hard line hard form taking of positions stems from utter frustration at attempting to be the grown up and attempting to find some kind of workable solution and having my valid concerns mocked by those who claim to be on my side. Take the debt limit. It is insane to me, absolutely insane, for anyone in DC to pretend as if spending and borrowing can go on forever and that a "limit" that is always, always raised is a limit at all. Yet I am the fool for stating um hey guys maybe you should, idk, not spend the country into a hole out of which we cannot dig. After long enough, that position turns into fuck you you lying fuckholes you are corrupt pieces of shit and hell yes default on everything because that is the only way that attention will be paid at all. If the reasonable position will be mocked then there is no reason why the unreasonable position should not be advanced.


TruCon cat resonates because that is the end point of attempting to play by the rules and being ignored. Fuck it. You (generic pol you) think I'm ridiculously crazed because I take the extraordinary position that, get this, I want to be left alone? Fine. If you think that for what I find to be a reasonable position, then I might as well go to eleventy. What possible reason is there for me not to do so?

My main response to this is that I understand this, and I'm not attempting to be overly critical in discussing these issues. As for "why shouldn't I go to eleventy:" Because it's counterproductive.

I frequently distinguish between whether one has a right to feel a certain way and whether one should act out of those feelings. Without doubt, Alex, me, everyone has the right to feel poorly-used, shabbily treated, and frustrated.

But acting out of those feelings, particularly when the feeling is broadcast so that it is readily evident, is counterproductive.

I think of political persuasion as chiefly being a matter of feeling and affiliation and not reason. Reason comes in later to justify decisions one has already made.

My problem with emotion in politics is that the people we are trying to persuade are themselves not emotional. People who don't really care too much about this stuff, but could vote our way, are by definition detached and non-emotional.

I think the key to any human connection is being similar to the target one seeks to connect with. And I think when we come off as angry -- even if that anger is justified -- we begin the game down by three touchdowns because we're in such a dissimilar emotional state from the would-be target of our persuasion. We're already 30 degrees away from the public, in terms of seeming Just Like You.

Anger is exclusionary, is what I'm trying to say. So is frustration and any other charged emotional state. Anger plays well with those already incensed, and poorly with people we wish would become incensed.


Tasker and NWConservative also tell me that my impression of the Tea Party being very unpopular is wrong:

Gallup just polled this less than three months ago. 30% approve of the tea party where 51% disapprove, yet when asked about opposing or supporting the tea party it was 24% oppose and 22% support with nearly 50% neither. I don't think many people have strong opinions outside of the supporters/detractors.

I did not know that. I did in fact think the Tea Party was less popular than that, and I'm wrong.

Still, 22% support...? I do think we need to do better.

Tubal asks who has the "will" to argue for the right things or take the necessary steps. I want to highlight this because this is what I'm having a problem with-- this idea that politics is chiefly about will, about having the will to aggressively push one's agenda, having the will to dare to be unpopular, and seeking to impose one's will on the opposing parties.

I could hardly argue that will is not critical. But I do think it is being strong overemphasized. Will is not the only issue. Where there is a will, it is said, there is a way. I think we are overly focused on this "will" aspect and not thinking enough about "the way."

Will is only effective when properly exerted and when properly directed by reason and art (and by art, I mean it in the Shakespearean sense of "sly cunning").

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posted by Ace at 06:11 PM

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