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The Phoenix Tea Party

April 17th, 2009 by Bill Brown · 6 Comments · Politics

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.

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Burgess Laughlin

    > “People think the government’s gone too far this time . . .”

    I have come to see any talk of having “gone too far” or any other statement of measurement (too high, too many, not enough, unbalanced, etc.) as alert signals.

    What underpins such statements is, at best, a lack of principle. At worst, such statements reflect philosophical pragmatism, the notion that reality is a constantly cracking up, tilting, and refreezing ice floe that requires one to constantly “adjust” one’s actions for proper “balance.”

    There is no such thing as too much protection of individual rights, which is the only rationale for having a government in the first place. More fundamentally, there can never be too much rational egoism as the ethical foundation of rights, too much reason as the foundation for ethics, or too much this-worldism as the foundation for support for reason and rejection of mysticism in all its forms, including faith.

    Instead, rights, egoism, reason, and objective reality are absolute principles.

  • Bill Brown

    That is, perhaps, the best way to describe the Tea Parties: unprincipled. But as long as they’re not anti-principles, I think there’s some value in trying to bring them around.

  • Myrhaf

    Thanks for that report, Bill.

    Robert Tracinski made an excellent point in his TIA Daily today. He noted that this massive movement has begun before we have felt the effects of Obama’s policies. Just imagine what happens if we experience more economic crises with rising inflation and unemployment. Or if our enemies make the world less safe as they test Obama’s weakness. This movement should take off and become something huge.

  • Mike

    Dang, man, you guys were right across the street from me while I was at work… and I would not have minded in the slightest taking some time AFK for handshakes. Thanks for visiting my humble home city, though I regret you saw some of the worst parts of it (downtown).

  • Jeffery Small

    I realize that I posted this in response to another author’s post on this site, but since we are talking about Rand here, if you are interested in a follow up action that can extend the impact of the Tax Day Tea Parties, go to the web site and participate in the Atlas Shrugged Books-to-Politicians Campaign.


    Jeffery Small

  • Chris Sandvick

    Great report. I was hoping to catch the Tea Party in Tucson but work intervened. I expect it was much like what you saw in Phoenix, unprincipled but … fraught perhaps, with potential.