At the present moment, it sounds farfetched to say that only the Tea Party can address this concern in a way that can attract liberal voters to Republican candidates. But does it sound any less farfetched to say that establishment Republicanism can gain the support of any liberals worthy of the name? Again and again, the corporatist GOP bankrolls “centrist,” “pro-business” candidates who become slaves, never masters, of identity politics. And again and again they brutally fail. Lest we forget, the ranks of the Tea Party were first swelled by just this perversity.
The cruelest possible fate awaits establishment Republicans who still hope to seduce liberals by promising slightly more take-home pay than whatever Andrew Cuomo can get you — especially in an era when the punditocracy is a-tingle at the prospect of a presidential race in which Andrew Cuomo replaces Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket.
Instead, Republican hopes hang on the ability of Tea Partiers to follow through explicitly on the great implicit promise of their movement. Political liberty increases, not decreases, human flourishing.
Here’s just one illustration. Even more important than lowering the tax burden is redirecting revenues into close enough proximity to citizens that taxes make a manifest, personal difference in the lives of people we encounter in real life. Today tax revenues disappear into the maw of Leviathan, and reappear in federal reports on aggregate populations of abstract beings whose “progress” can only be measured once they’re depersonalized into data points. And when redistributed wealth does become flesh? In, for instance, Detroit? Without a return to much greater local control of revenues, whatever their size, Americans will be closed off to liberty and the flourishing it fosters.
Government by Leviathan was conceived by Thomas Hobbes as a solution to the predicaments of a democratic age. But unlike Hobbes’s England, the U.S. is too big for his beast to function. Like a dinosaur grown so large that its circulatory system fails, any Leviathan capable of ruling America will be brought down by the sheer size and scale of the concentrated power necessary to maintain it.
The ultimate insight unleashed by the Tea Party is that political liberty must return, whatever the economic implications, because the alternative will destroy itself — at a literally incalculable cost. The return of liberty will not usher in the new dark age of suffering and superstition that liberals fear most. Rather, it will oblige individuals to be better neighbors, better citizens and better human beings — not through the dictates of law, but the realities of everyday life.
If Tea Partiers hammer away at this message, they will awaken the left to the deep alternative denied by Barack Obama. But if they obscure it with other rallying cries, Americans right and left will fight like the prisoners they are over the dwindling scraps of a failed regime.
James Poulos is the host of The Bottom Line and Reform School on PJTV. A doctoral candidate in Government at Georgetown University, he holds degrees from Duke and USC Law. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative, The Boston Globe, Cato Unbound, The National Interest, and The Weekly Standard, among others, and is featured in the collection Proud to Be Right, edited by Jonah Goldberg. He has been an editor at Ricochet.com and a fellow of the Claremont Institute. He lives in Los Angeles. His Twitter handle is @jamespoulos.