When I first heard about the TEA Party idea on Facebook, I figured it would probably produce a gathering of a few, forlorn advocates for freedom, a bunch of Republican County Committee folks, and some geeky college libertarians. But, attending the organizational meetings, I discovered something interesting: not a single person I knew well, and not one traditional Republican activist. Instead, the groups consisted of typical citizens, informed, but heretofore, not overly involved in partisan politics.
They joined together spontaneously, outraged at the direction the government – assertedly acting in their names – is going. They’re truly scared – justifiably so – at the astonishing level of irresponsibility being demonstrated in DC and in Trenton. And they want to do something to effect positive change.
At the Party itself, I saw few Republican activists. I saw, instead, many common folks, giving their time to express their frustration at a government increasingly unresponsive to the needs and desires of the citizenry, one beholden to powerful special interests; a government based upon the firm conviction that freedom doesn’t work.
Unlike President Obama’s inauguration – at which they required space to park 600 private planes for elite leftists – the attendees on The Green brought no chauffeurs. They weren’t "rich", except that government considers some of them – those with jobs – "rich" for tax purposes. But many of the signs and sentiment, spoke against the politics of envy so common on the Left. These folks understand two things: first, when the government aims at "the rich", it’s usually the not-very-rich who suffer and, second, that what "the rich" have doesn’t belong to us and that stealing it is wrong.
This was no partisan gathering, and the assembled multitudes – quite properly – expressed as much contempt for the insane borrow and spend policies President Bush pursued as those President Obama endorses.
Despite the unhinged rhetoric of Democrats like State Chairman Joe Cryan – to whom everyone who objects to confiscatory taxation is a "right wing extremist" (perhaps he can add a third public sector job to his resume, as an advisor to the Department of Homeland Security) – the TEA Party group made every effort to avoid being seen as pro-Republican which, given our Party’s sorry record, made perfect sense. The trick, now, is for the GOP to align with their interests, to present a platform of small, efficient, inexpensive government, with low, uniform taxation, to meet the (very few) essential needs of government.
And, this time, to really, REALLY mean it.
Ask the assembled multitude on The Green and they would have objected every bit as much to AIG welfare and to its more traditional incarnation. They object equally to bailouts of billionaires and "tax cuts" for people who don’t pay any taxes. None of them drove to the event in limos, but they don’t begrudge those with the scratch the right to do so. They ask for a government which will defend America, enforce the law, and, then, leave the people pretty much alone to run their own lives. They would love "health care reform" – if that means lower costs – but are inherently (and properly) suspicious of governmental involvement, since government never cut the cost of anything. They welcome legal immigrants, but object to subsidizing illegals.
In short, they want a government which secures freedom, under which all can earn what they might and can keep what they earn. One which allows the people to determine for themselves what charities they will support, and how much. One which permits people who play by the rules to enjoy the fruits of their labor without "spreading the wealth around".
These folks, increasingly understand: if you’ve got your hands in your neighbors’ pocket, you’re part of the problem. Freedom cannot exist without responsibility. Sure, some folks need help, and Americans – the most generous people in the world – are delighted to help when they see the need. But "help" is not a governmental responsibility. For government to assist A, it must harm B. And it’s not up to government to determine that B is so "rich" that he can afford to help A; that’s a call B gets to make for himself.
Traditionally, the Left prevailed in elections because those paying taxes were much less organized and motivated than those feasting at the public trough. While it’s a mistake to scapegoat public employees – who serve vital purposes – it’s also clear we have too many of them. (This month, while private sector unemployment continued to increase, we somehow managed to hire additional governmental employees; the one industry which veritably cries out for downsizing is the only one growing) But their unions are entirely different beasts. One can, for instance, love your child’s teacher but recognize that the NJEA is NOT out to serve either your interests or your kids’. As much as we esteem public servants, so, too, we understand that we cannot bankrupt the rest of society providing them with benefits unheard of in the real (that is, non-governmental) world.
Chairman Cryan and the rest of the Democrats will not be out there marching with, or sympathizing with, any taxpayers. Governor Corzine and President Codey were invited to speak, but – shockingly – did not appear. They’re too busy hobnobbing with Big Labor Bosses, inserting "prevailing wage" provisions into public sector contracts, and reaping the huge campaign contributions that attend placing special interests above taxpayer interests. And they’re equal opportunity taxpayer shafters: they’re happy to reward compliant businesses with taxpayer boodle, too. They’ll make absolutely certain that all of those who prosper at taxpayer expense organize and vote. The question presented is whether the somewhat diffuse anger of the increasingly frustrated taxpayer can find an electoral voice.
Traditionally, leftists coopt the middle class by offering them a few crumbs, like Pell Grants. Will the protestors ardor for cutting the size of government cool when these "popular" programs face the budgetary knife? If the polls are correct, no; most folks favor smaller government, lower taxes, and less spending, even if that means fewer services. But if an honest candidate emerges, and offers precisely that – massive tax cuts in return for massive service cuts – will that message resonate?
Maybe, just perhaps, the electoral calculus is changing. People are increasingly aware of the obscene costs associated with asking the governmental Leviathan attend to everyone’s pet project. The government which should ensure freedom through prosperity is, increasingly, shown to be prosperity’s mortal foe.
Although the gathering on The Green heartened me, until we see Joe Cryan and Jon Corzine sent to well deserved retirement by the outraged citizenry demanding less government, I will remain skeptical. The power of envy should not be underestimated and the left is the master of manipulation. People profiting at their neighbors’ expense will not go quietly into the night; the NJEA will not suddenly become the taxpayers’ best friend. Those with their hands in the taxpayers’ pockets reliably vote, and always toward the end of preserving that cash flow.
But those paying the price for massive government are increasingly frustrated; Big Government simply does not deliver on its promises. It costs a fortune and stifles prosperity. Hopefully, for every one of the many thousands of folks on The Green, there were 10-15 souls sympathizing, but unable to attend. If so, the GOP should revise those "Florio Free in ‘93" stickers, set the dial to 101.5, and ride the wave of the tax revolt to smaller, less expensive, less expansive government.
And, this time, get it right.