Libertarians and the Tea Party

Is the Tea Party movement a direct result of the Libertarian movement?  As we pondered this question, we also wanted to know when and where the two groups intersected.  We started with an informal survey.  We asked several people the following question: when do you think the Tea Party movement began?  They answered: when Rick Santelli ranted on the floor of the Merc in Chicago in February, 2009.

But our research into the history of the Tea Party took us back to 2004, to its first inklings as an organized force for rousing ordinary citizens to fight back against big government.  In that year, Libertarian David Koch founded Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit political advocacy group set up to educate the public on the principles of free markets.

Even though the term "Tea Party" was not used then, Koch's vision of "a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms" pretty much describes the movement we see today.

In 2007, Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul was running for the nomination to the Republican ticket for president, and he staged a "money bomb" on December 16, the anniversary of the first Tea Party in Boston, which netted him $5.2 million -- mostly from small donors.  A month before that, he got a record $4.3 million from another money bomb.

Over a year before the Santelli call to action, Paul's fundraisers used the name Tea Party 2007 to promote the candidate (see video of campaign ad from 2007).  And it was also in November 2007 that Santelli (also Libertarian) called out to the cameras while on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, saying, "When Ron Paul was firing every revolver in Ben Bernanke's direction, there was a lot of people cheering down here" (see video at 1:55).

Was the Santelli/Ron Paul connection serendipitous?  Or was it well-planned and executed?  If it was planned, the strategy worked, and the Koch dream of a "mass movement" of anti-government activists became reality.  The groundwork laid by Americans for Prosperity several years before paid off.

Old and new coalitions got on board.  In August 2008, the Our Country Deserves Better PAC (creators of Tea Party Express) began taking in contributions and disbursing funds according to the FEC (Federal Election Commission).  Then there were Tea Party Patriots and 

On February 19, 2009, Santelli parroted Howard Beale from the movie Network and opened the floodgates to a mass organizing of conservative citizens across the country.  Local Tea Parties with just a few members sprang up, and national Tea Party organizations formed within a short time.

By 2010, the Tea Party was responsible for ushering in a Republican majority in the House.  But had it taken on Libertarian principles, or were Libertarians just one of many factions under the umbrella of Tea Party?

Conservatives come in lots of different shapes and sizes, so it's not surprising to hear some be against big government and for reduced taxes while simultaneously for gay marriage and legalizing Schedule I drugs like heroin and marijuana.  These conservatives lean toward the Libertarian agenda because they tend to separate fiscal and social issues.

But then there are Tea Party members who are very socially conservative; they're not only for small, limited government, but against abortion on demand and against legalizing pot and heroin.

When those of us who are not Libertarian contribute to Tea Party candidates, how do we know which agenda we're supporting?  Of course, we'll be able to easily vet people running for office who have a voting record, but what about those coming on the scene without a paper trail? Are we to take them at their word?

Take a look at the contradiction in the 2012 Libertarian platform regarding abortion.

1. We ... hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely, (1) the right to life -- accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others[.]

2. 1.4 Abortion

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

With this confusion, we wouldn't be able to truly understand where a candidate was coming from if he or she embraced the Libertarian platform.

In any event, we need a clarification of what the Tea Party stands for.  At the RNC last August, the Republican Party included most of the 12 planks offered by Tea Party citizens through the FreedomWorks organization.  And most of them sound like Ron Paul's talking points as well: eliminate the Department of Education, reduce the bloated federal workforce, curtail excessive federal regulation, and audit the Fed.

If the Tea Party's roots are with the Libertarians, can we assume we have merged into one?

Read more Ann Kane and M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report.