Pin the Bogeyman On the Tea Party

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Have you watched with amusement as various political commentators have tried to demonize the amorphous Tea Party movement by outing behind-the-scenes bogeymen allegedly pulling the strings of this latter day Great Awakening?

Sarah Palin. Glenn Beck. Dick Armey. Newt Gingrich. Grover Norquist. Jack Abramoff. Lyndon LaRouche. The John Birch Society. The list goes on.

None of it is sticking.

From time to time one professional politico or another may try to jump out in front of the parade. But everyone knows that the Tea Party has no leader, and with a little luck never will. That's because it's not a political party. In the best tradition of the American Revolution, it's an angry mob. Hence, the name.

Political parties have platforms, policy prescriptions, and principals (though rarely principles). Party candidates connive to get elected promising to "solve problems" and "serve constituents" - in practice the people, corporations, and special interest groups that finance their multi-million dollar election campaigns. The goal of a political party is to get its hands on the levers of government so its unlimited reservoirs of power and money can be used to advance party interests.

The highest principle of any political party is to replace the bogeymen of the rival party. Whether Democrat or Republican their pitch is always a variation on the same theme. "Trust us, you threw us out when we made a hash of things last time we had the upper hand but this time will be different!"

How has this game of musical factions been working for America?

The Tea Party is not a political party. It does not seek power and money. The Tea Party is the primal voice of "No." It is the embodiment of the admonition that when you find yourself at the bottom of a hole you should stop digging. It is the realization that when a giant Rube Golberg machine starts to come apart at the seams, patching it up with more hairy contraptions designed to hold the monstrosity together until the next election almost always makes matters worse.

The Tea Party does not want Congress to do the People's business. It wants the People to do the People's business, each minding his own.

The Tea Party will never actually elect its own candidates to office. If it tries it will implode. But it may find its voice and change the course of history if it can keep its message both simple and faithful to the one and only issue that unites its members.

Imagine the impact on political discourse if the Tea Party threw its weight behind any candidate from any party that takes the Pledge of No.

"If elected I promise to vote "No" on any bill that proposes to expand government power for any purpose. I promise to vote "No" on any bill whose net effect does not reduce government spending. I promise to vote "No" on any bill whose net effect does not reduce federal taxes."

That's it. To maximize its impact, the Tea Party should studiously avoid taking any positions on social policy. Or foreign policy. Or abortion, gay rights, immigration, healthcare, religion, drugs, unionism, or any other issue that might tear the Tea Party into as many pieces as there are diverse opinions amongst the American people. Let one hundred flowers bloom. But not with our money.

Just as a sick person needs to stay away from quack doctors long enough to heal, our ailing economy needs to stay out of the clutches of Congress long enough to recover. The best way to do that is to strike fear in the heart of every Congressman who doesn't take the Pledge of No.

The American economy has tremendous reserves of resilience if you just let its productive members be. The reason is simple. While some Americans hope to achieve the egalitarian dream of social democracy where everyone lives the good life at the expense of someone else, most understand that if we go that route we are destined to end up as bankrupt as the Greeks.

Most Americans value hard work. Most appreciate the fact that if they spend all their money today there will be none left tomorrow. Most understand that if you break the connection between risk and reward you get neither. Most admire success, favoring aspiration over envy. Most Americans know that freedom runs deep in our character while free stuff invariably runs dry.

Most, but not all. Those who don't need to be reminded.

The Tea Party movement may end up being a short lived phenomenon but it can have a tremendous impact if it repeats its message loudly and clearly enough to be heard over the ridicule of political partisans and media elites.

Are you mad enough to insist on the Pledge of No?

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

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