I recently had the pleasure of attending part of the "Liberty, Does it Matter?" meeting hosted by the Arkansas Tea Party Alliance
. I was there on the request of Eagle Forum
to make the case that the conditions are not
right for Arkansas to ask Congress to call for an Article V Convention to propose amendments to the constitution. Here is the video
of the debate.
The Tea Party in Arkansas is at an identity crossroads. The Tea Parties have the challenge of staying in the "sweet spot" of political activism. On the one side, they must stay honest watch dogs without turning into reflexive attack dogs. But if they go too far the other way, they can wind up as lap dogs. They become irrelevant if they devolve into mere cheerleaders of, maybe not the most establishment Republicans, but a second group who are merely playing a role as outsiders while really doing nothing to challenge the system. The Tea Party needs both good cops and bad cops working together to demand accountability
from politicians, not merely access
For what can happen when a Tea Party over-emphasizes access at the expense of accountability, see the story of what happened to the Benton County Tea Party at the end of this report
. I hope the Tea Party alliance leaders have the wisdom needed to navigate the challenges and opportunities of their position. Ultimately "relevance" must depend on staying relevant to the conservative base which must form the ranks of the Tea Party rather than being "relevant" as a player in a political establishment which their base is increasingly coming to detest. At the same time, they can't just represent people who are have directionless belligerence. There has to be a policy direction on which to base satisfaction or dis-satisfaction with a given politician. It is a difficult course to navigate and we should pray they receive wisdom equal to the difficulty of their task.
At this particular event, much was made of the fact that Congressman Steve Womack was not there- as in he was an establishment guy and would not dare show his face at a Tea Party event. This was contrasted with Congressmen Bruce Westerman and French Hill, who showed up and entertained the faithful during lunch with their joint talk. They are supposed to be the good guys that the Tea Party is on amicable terms with.
The two did get asked a pointed question by the Heritage Foundation guy. He asked if either one of them were members of the Republican Freedom Caucus and if not why? The Republican Freedom Caucus is widely considered responsible for forcing corporate sock puppet John Boehner out of the Speaker's seat. The establishment tried to trade him in for another obvious tool, Kevin McCarthy, and they blocked that too. It appears they have been induced to settle for Paul Ryan, who is still awful but at least the Republican Freedom Caucus was fighting. If any group in Congress represents the interests of the Tea Party, its that group.
So when asked if they were members, and if not why, it was a real defining moment. They hemmed and hawed and danced around a bit and confessed that neither of them was in it. Westerman downplayed his lack of participation by saying that there were all kinds of caucuses for all sorts of things on Capitol Hill. I turned to my companion and said "yeah, that one is for freedom, and you two are not in it."
So here were Hill and Westerman serving as sort of a "bridge" between the Tea Party and the establishment members such as Womack. They were not critical of Womack. They were not taking any action they were willing to share against the establishment of their party. They were just serving the role of keeping the party tolerable in the eyes of the conservative audience. They were doing this by charm more than substance, since they were doing nothing to oppose the establishment that most people in that room think is ruining the GOP and America.
That got me thinking about who the "worst" congressman might be. Is it one like Womack, who openly represents international business with little pretense of listening to his constituents? At least Womack is being straightforward about who and what he is. Is that worse than what Westerman and Hill were doing? Is it worse to openly identify with the establishment or serve as the faces that keep grassroots connected to that establishment when they seem to have no intention of confronting it? Is it not true then that they simply serve the same establishment monster in a different role? They may not openly do its bidding, but they keep people connected to the political brand that empowers it while doing nothing to oppose it. I don't have any answers on this one, just musings.
********** After Story ****************
An example of what I am talking about is the experience I had in my own local tea party, from this article on Captured Institutions and the Collective
A recent example of the process I am talking about can be found in the story of my own County Tea Party. I was one of the three people most responsible for getting it started by uniting a number of city groups. In a rare act of nobility, I deliberately arranged things so that I could not be elected Chairman, or any other "big" office. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately "captured" by the local Republicans, and the new team was more interested in hob-nobbing with politicians than holding them accountable to the precepts of limited government and upholding their oaths of office.
What happened over the next three years happened automatically, organically, and beautifully. As the new County Tea Party was merely an appendage of the local county Republican Committee, it had no real function other than that which was better done in the Republican Committee itself. It became afraid to take a stand on any issue because there were always some Republicans who would take the wrong side of any issue. Even though there were well over one hundred patriots in the room the night it was founded, and it grew for a while after that, over time its numbers began to dwindle. The Tea Party in the next county down stayed true to its function of Watch Dog instead of settling down to the comfortable but dull life of a Lap Dog. More and more patriots from my county drove the extra distance to attend the Tea Party in the adjoining county until at present half its board and membership are made up of persons from my county!
Finally and most recently, the so-called "Tea Party" in my county collapsed on its own uselessness. The "Executive Committee" that ran it into the ground declined en mass to stand for re-election because no one else wanted to play anymore. An enterprising friend of mine encouraged a few of his friends to sign up, seeing this coming, and got himself elected Chairman and his friends on the board. Now, I am re-joining and I suspect many others will too. This is the beauty of small institutions. In our current environment, big institutions are indefensible against the push of the collective, but small institutions resist it almost automatically. Adam Smith's invisible hand of the free market is our secret, and powerful, Ally.