A Conversation with a Rational Tea Partier

Via email (shortened just a bit)

Me: I have to say, very intriguing, lots of well written stuff. But also the paradox that I think is the main challenge to the Tea Party movement. There is this idea that absence of government results in a free market. But really it’s just the opposite – a national free market can’t exist without a strong national government. The government is the only entity that can be the guarantor of claims, and without a guarantor of claims people are far less likely to buy products make by people they don’t know. But as you correctly point out, a strong national government has regularly used its powers to distort the markets it helped create, for instance the export bank.

Again, intriguing stuff. You are clearly very intelligent and well spoken, and many of the components of what you write are dead on. But it still feels like the anger at government over reach has been translated into the idea that we can do without government, instead of the need to make sure government fulfills its obligations in creating markets – in creating competition – while still staying within the boundaries.

Him: I’m afraid I’m guilty of imprecision. I sometimes write and talk about “strong” and “weak” when I mean “broad” and “narrow.” And I sometimes fail to distinguish between three moral activities of government: things government is permitted to do, things government ought to do but lacks legal authority, and things government ought not do but does anyway.

I agree that government must be strong, but only in the first of those activities. In the second, we ought to work to give government legitimate authority to act on our behalf. Of the third kind of activity, we ought to dish out the harshest punishments for government officials who do what we prohibited of government, whether, morally, government ought to do it or not.

When we established the federal government, we gave it a limited list of duties and authority. Then we added the 10th Amendment which expressly forbids the government from doing anything not listed in the Constitution. All government activities of the second and third types violate the law.

People might say, “government has permission to do whatever the courts say.” Well, that’s not exactly true. Judicial review is a concept invented by the Supreme Court, much like a child who grants himself authority to determine his own bedtime or his own allowance. Logic says that the Supreme Court has no authority to expand its scope of authority or to expand the scope of the government’s authority. The Supreme Court cannot legitimately avoid the 10th Amendment, though it has illegitimately ignored that law for centuries.

If the goal is a strong federal government, it must be a strong, limited government. A strong, unlimited government, answering to no one, eventually enslaves and murders millions of people. There are no exceptions to this rule in history. And long before the murder and mayhem comes hideous, stifling bureaucracy, shortages due to mismanagement and mal-incentives, and just the normal government wastefulness.

I will grudgingly allow government to grow strong only if we control the scope of government’s endeavors. If the government is the only arbiter of the government’s activities, then I will do everything in my remaining power to cripple and debilitate that government–for the safety and lives of myself and everyone in that limitless government’s malevolent path.

Me: It’s the Commerce Clause that is the problem, or more accurately its malleability. In my world view the Commerce Clause very clearly supports the idea of a USDA inspecting meat packing plants, because the vast majority of meat is sold across state lines. But I have a hard time understanding how it might support hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to a startup alternative energy company – it has moved beyond facilitating private commerce to picking a market winner, never the government’s strong point.

But my problem with the Tea Party (much less so with you, you are very nuanced), is that we need government to do some things very well, specifically do what it needs to do to create the infrastructure of a private market, and not do the other things. The anger of some of the Tea Partiers that I have heard and read seems to suggest they believe government does nothing well and should do nothing at all.
This is the challenge for the Tea Party. Unless some of its energy is devoted to making sure the government does some things well, it will be viewed just as an anti government party, and anti government parties always eventually fade…

Him: I agree. By the way, I probably hate big business and Wall Street banksters more than big government, but that’s another story. And I have serious issues with what the TP has become. It’s been hijacked by Todd Akin, anti- gays, and tons of interests who weren’t there on 2/27/2009. But enough whining. Let’s get together for more drinks.

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