Every once in a while, someone asks me why I helped start the Tea Party in Bozeman. To make the story short, I say something like this: It was spring 2009, and I’d become increasingly disenchanted with both political parties’ support of rampant government overspending. I worried about its impact on our nation and on future generations. I’m the son of Holocaust survivors, I say finally, and that compels me to fight for what I believe in.
Once begun, I found that our Tea Party events large drew crowds and also lots of controversy. On Independence Day 2009, for example, we drew over 2,000 people to Bozeman’s Main Street, filling over eight city blocks with Americans voicing both their love of liberty and their concerns about the federal government’s over-taxing and over-reach.
Later that summer, we protested the government takeover of health care outside President Barack Obama’s Town Hall event at the nearby airport. Despite being goaded to violence by out-of-town union organizers who took over our permitted area, we exercised self-restraint. Our rally was fiery but peaceful.
During the last couple of years, much has been written about the so-called “death of the Tea Party,” as the news media and Liberal Left have attempted to demonize the movement. None of these tactics worked. Nonpartisan polls, including a recent ABC/Washington Post survey, show that more than one-third of Americans support the Tea Party.
According to pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Douglas Schoen, authors of Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking the Two-Party System, membership of the Tea Party mirrors the demographics of America with only slight differences. We are somewhat better educated, slightly more affluent and have slightly less minority involvement. I know of lawyers, doctors, engineers as well as construction workers, housewives and painters who are Tea Party members. But demonizing the Tea Party, no matter how often it’s done, won’t make our nation’s problems go away nor solve them. Nor will it make us go away. While we no longer hold huge rallies, Tea Party members stay involved. They run for office, work for grassroots organizations and canvass door-to-door trying to awaken folks to get involved in the political process.
Most Americans agree that we cannot sustain current levels of debt and spending. According to the U.S. Debt Clock, our national debt exceeds $17 trillion. Unfunded liabilities (Medicare, Social Security and pensions) exceed $122 trillion. These are mind-boggling numbers, but let’s personalize it: Including unfunded debt, every American taxpayer bears $1.25 million in debt, and what if the federal government goes broke? Millions of Americans would suffer as many government programs came to a screeching halt.
Today, I work for Americans For Prosperity-Montana. We promote economic freedom as the pathway to a better life. As defined by economists Robert Lawson of Auburn University and James Gwartney of Florida State University, economic freedom is determined by the size of government, the amount of regulation (and the seen and unseen costs for compliance), sound money, free trade, and the rule of law. Where there is economic freedom, people live happier, healthier, better quality lives. Education is better, especially for young women. The environment is cleaner. (If you doubt that, get this: Just last year, PBS’s “Nova” referred to North Korea as nearing “environmental collapse.” North Korea ranks dead last in economic freedom and its environment suffers in consequence.)
In 2000, the U.S. ranked third in the world in economic freedom, but 12 years later, we’d dropped to 18th, coming in behind Estonia, Qatar, Switzerland and Chile. Why? Massive government over-spending, our growing debt and increased international competition.
Our economic freedom is determined in part by regulations, and the tighter the regulations, the greater the threat to our economic freedom, and ironically, the environment, because a robust economy pays for clean technology. One current threat comes from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposed rule. While the EPA contends the new rule expands exemptions to farmers and ranchers, many believe the rule would make it more difficult to farm and ranch and would hurt local family and organic farmers who make valuable contributions to our communities.
The Tea Party’s influence continues to be widely felt, and rightly so. So rather than attacking each other, let’s look at issues case-by-case and search for common ground. Let’s disagree in a civil manner and let the free market of ideas decide what’s best for this great experiment in liberty called America.
Henry Kriegel is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is deputy director of Americans For Prosperity-Montana and a co-founder of the Bozeman Tea Party.