Tea Party: Neo-Conservative or Libertarian?

The Tea Party movement is nothing if not perplexing.  There seems to be a near-universal opposition to what is deemed extravagant government spending that is combined with deep skepticism about the motives of government officials; and all of this prompts a fear of what is called “big government,” if not “socialism” or worse.  Several advocates of Tea Party politics I know base their opposition to government on fears of the abuse of government power and are enthusiastic advocates of the views of former presidential candidate, Ron Paul.  They claim to be, in short, libertarians.  And, of course, the word “liberty” is one of the watchwords of Tea Party advocates.  I assume it was people of this sort of viewpoint that, at least initially, helped to block, in the House of Representatives, extending provisions of the Patriot Act—a vote that the Washington Post described “as the first small uprising of the [republican] party’s tea-party bloc.”  And in the end, the three-month extension that was adopted extended the law for less time than desired by its strongest advocates, and several legislators emphasized the idea that the extension supplied time to review and reform that act as needed.

At the same time, Representative Michele Bachmann became not only the founder of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, but the spokesperson for the movement in answering President Obama’s State of the Union address.  Bachmann has been characterized by some as a neo-con advocate of America’s profound tendency toward war-mongering.  Exemplary of her mindset is that she once proposed that some members of Congress should be investigated for being “anti-American.”  There are few members of Congress more dedicated to supporting our efforts in Iraq, where her greatest fear is that we might leave too soon, which “would jeopardize our national security and give the terrorists a tremendous victory in the war on terror.”  Unsurprisingly, she was a strong advocate of extending the Patriot Act provisions, “so that our laws keep pace with the evolving threats posed by terrorists.”  Just last Saturday, Bachmann made clear that she and fellow Republicans were “ready to go on and take the world.”

Libertarian supporters of the views expressed by Congressman Ron Paul are among the least likely to be enthusiastic about the American invasion of Iraq.  Their real emphasis on liberty, even if it overemphasizes what is characterized as economic liberty, explains why at least some new Tea Party members of Congress were deeply concerned about the impact on civil liberty of automatically extending controversial provisions of the Patriot Act.  Genuine libertarians would never support, or seek to minimize the effects, of American engagement in water-boarding or illegal renditions of prisoners to countries we know will torture.  But Bush and Cheney lacked a stronger supporter then Representative Bachmann, who was quite willing to characterize objection to America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques as merely the expression of critical views by those that are “always running America into the ground.”

One of the ironies of loyal conservative support of the Bush-Cheney policies is the  simultaneous dedication to reading the Constitution in Congress even as an American administration ignores the intended limits on the President’s power as commander-in-chief and the status of international treaties as the supreme law of the land.  This is a tradition of American conservatism, going back at least to the Iran-Contra affair written about last week in this blog.

One of nation’s strong alliances consists of neo-cons and fundamentalist, evangelical Christians.  They share both the assumption that the United States is morally good, and that this justifies a required unilateralist approach to international policy, as well as the strongest possible support for, and alliance with, the state of Israel.  A great many neo-cons are Jewish, and have fairly obvious reasons to be supportive of the alliance between the United States and Israel.  The lack of objectivity is at least as strong among their Christian supports, though, as fundamentalists identify with Israel because of a “Christian Zionist” reading of biblical scripture.  This reading  prompts recognition of a God-given right of the Jews to what each religion views as the “holy land.”  Unsurprisingly, Michele Bachmann is a strenuous supporter of Israel and a harsh critic of any attempt to strike a balance in our relations with Israel and the Palestinians.  The question all this raises:   are Tea Partiers libertarians or neo-cons?  There appears to be some question, even among the members, as this video indicates.  Or are they just frustrated Americans who used to be called the “silent majority?”

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