My remarks at PA Liberty Conference
I’ll start with a question I often get…or at least a question that is often proffered to no one in particular, that I will answer anyway. That is, “Why were there no tea party rallies when George Bush was spending like a drunken sailor?”
And I think the answer is simple, no one had any idea that so many of us were not only angry about government spending, but would actively get involved. A rally to protest government spending? Who would show up to that? In fact, when we help put together the first Tea Party in Harrisburg early last year, I was optimistic we’d get 100, maybe even 150, to show up. I never anticipated the crowds we saw. Nor did I expect to see dozens, maybe hundreds, of local grassroots organizations—tea parties, 9/12 groups, and other liberty organizations—form across this state. I’ve been stunned when I’m invited to speak at forums (which almost never happened two years ago) and see a couple hundred in the crowd to hear a presentation on the state budget or public pension reform. I know it’s not because it’s fun, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m so good looking.
There is little doubt the liberty movement has changed the political debate. There is a new market for folks reading and discussing The Road to Serfdom, Atlas Shrugged, and, of course, the Constitution. There are far more opportunities to engage on policy issues. The fact is, the electorate is more engaged than I’ve ever seen, and the result is a great awakening of the public on what our politicians at the federal, state, and local level have been up to.
As evidence of this, I’d like to point to a recent interview in which Joe Sestak said, “I’m a Fiscal Conservative.” In a Wall Street Journal piece in May, Gov. Rendell said, “I am a Fiscal Conservative.” You may not believe them, but they know that’s what voters want to hear. The liberty movement has made it cool to be a fiscal conservative. We are all Fiscal Conservatives now.
But there are many challenges. What the movement has accomplished in changing minds and attitudes, and even electoral success, has not yet transformed public policy. And victory will not come in November, or in 2012, or possibly even for decades. What will the Tea Party movement look like in five years, in ten? Will it continue to be a vibrant force?
To be victorious, the liberty movement must not only overcome the institutional left—with, which MoveOn.org, the remnants of ACORN, Democracy Alliance, public employee unions, and the like, will remain both well-funded and politically active—but the unprincipled cronies (from K-Street to businesses that feed on taxpayer funding to self-serving politicians) that only want to control the powers of government, and will try to ride out the wave and bide their time.
We have a long battle ahead, and the liberty movement has not yet proven that it will stand the test of time—but I am far more optimistic about our future than I was two years ago, as I have seen a new force in our political culture dedicated to individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited constitutional government.