I had not planned on attending the Tea Party at the Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona because of conflicting dinner plans. Mere hours before the event, those plans fell through so I had to put something together as quickly as possible. I printed out Myrhaf’s excellent analysis and made 100 copies to pass out. If I had had time, I would have brought a table and handed out the cases of literature I got from the Ayn Rand Institute when I ran a campus club a decade ago.
I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t prepared for the sight of thousands of people waving signs and listening to passionate defenses of liberty and freedom. For a few moments, it was heady times. It reminded me of the only other time I took part in a public political event: volunteering for the Steve Forbes primary run in 1996.
Then I started reading signs and accumulating literature from passers-by. The anti-immigration crowd was in full force, as were the Ron Paul rEVOLutionaries. I saw committed anarchists and someone holding a sign that we should abolish money. That immediately brought into focus the ad-hoc, wide-tent nature of the event. Being against excessive taxation and big government says nothing about what you’re for. This is the inherent failing of the libertarian (and Libertarian) movement.
The speakers were a mixed bag, as expected. We had two excellent speeches from Goldwater Institute officers Clint Bolick and Nick Dranias, an execrable one from blowhard J.D. Hayworth, and a slew of stump speeches from sitting and hopeful politicians who wanted to get in front of the Tea Party movement. Sadly, there was no mention of Ayn Rand or Atlas Shrugged in any of them that I could hear (and I could barely hear most of the three hours worth of speakers).
There were relatively few counter-protesters and most of them had parroted the party line that has come to prominence since the nationwide, grassroots events: where were the protests when Bush was in office? I’m sympathetic to that argument because Bush was a terrible president by nearly every measure. But most of the people I encountered weren’t pro-Bush: they seemed to skew towards outrage at the big federal power grab that the stimulus, bailout, and budget plans represented.
That wariness is something that we principled defenders of individual rights can latch on to. People think the government’s gone too far this time; if we can get them to understand that what “going too far” actually means, then we might effect real political change. But that’s going to take education about the source of individual rights and the proper nature of government.
That education can’t be hoisted into the air on a placard for all to read and absorb. It’s going to be a long battle; these tea parties are a promising start.