Pat Dixon: Libertarian take on the tea party movement

Libertarian Party of Texas Chair Pat Dixon in the Austin Statesman:

I remember when the Iraq war protests began. Protesters would march up Congress Avenue and surround the Capitol announcing their opposition to this war.

As time went on, I noticed how the protests evolved. I would start to see people joining these protests carrying signs opposing capitalism, environmental policy, global trade and all manner of policies that had little to do with the war. I also noticed how angry these people were, and the display of signs that showed President George W. Bush depicted as a Nazi.

When the Libertarian Party of Illinois lit the match that became the tea party bonfire, the idea was to promote the principles of the Libertarian Party in protest of continued growth of government, bailouts, a nightmarish taxation system and other policies promoted by Republicans and Democrats.

It now has evolved to include protesters on immigration policy, gay marriage, foreign policy, abortion and all manner of policies that do not match those of the Libertarian Party. We also see angry signs depicting President Barack Obama as a Nazi.

Movements like these are not easily controlled. They can evolve and splinter such that they no longer reflect their origins. This is also true of the tea party.

As far back as February 2007, discussions on the Libertarian Party of Illinois’ email list mentioned a modern-day Boston Tea Party. In late 2008, the party decided to hold a tax protest called the Chicago Tea Party and scheduled it for tax day, April 15, 2009. In January 2009, they began to promote the event through Meetup groups, Facebook and elsewhere.

Then on Feb. 19, 2009, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, during a live televised broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, mentioned the idea of a Chicago Tea Party. The broadcast resulted in rapid proliferation of the idea on the Internet, and the event exploded into a mass movement.

It should be noted that the tea party movement started long before the health care debate and while Republicans still controlled the federal government. There was already outrage over the decisions being made in government at federal, state and local levels prior to the swearing in of Barack Obama. At its origin, it was a Libertarian movement. The founders and participants were socially liberal and economically conservative.

Today we have many organizations calling themselves the tea party. There are competing tea parties in several states. The state of this movement today is confusing and uncertain. It has become a prized demographic for talk radio and Republican political groups to romance. It therefore is subject to infusion of those who would coax it toward their opposing ideology.

There is no unified tea party platform. Much of what we see promoted by its presumed leaders is not Libertarian. It has veered in many directions away from its original intent.

The Iraq war protests and the tea party share several attributes. They were both founded with focused concerns. As they grew, they were infused by those with other agendas in order to romance the followers of the movement. They were not centrally controlled, and they diverged into a widening and contradictory set of platform positions that were tangential to the original purpose. The tone became angrier and the messaging more extreme with the use of Nazi labels for their opponents.

What is yet to be determined is whether the tea party will have the same impact as the war protests. My observation is that the war protests don’t appear to have had any significant effect on policy.

Therefore, it is hard to predict how the tea party will influence the November elections. It will depend on whether supporters of the tea party are committed to the Libertarian origin of the movement. If so, votes will go toward those with a Libertarian (socially tolerant, fiscally conservative) platform which challenges incumbent politicians. If not, incumbent politicians will continue imposing anti-free market and socially intolerant policies on us and future generations.

If that happens, the party is over and it won’t matter who lays claim to it. I, for one, won’t want any part of it.

19 thoughts on “Pat Dixon: Libertarian take on the tea party movement

  1. Doug Craig

    I believe only 1or 2 guys won their primaries in Georgia that had tea party backing. We have the same old GOP candidates we always get in Georgia
    Good thing the Lp has some great candidate here. I do believe Tea party people are more likely to vote for us than card carrying GOP members

  2. Thomas M. Sipos

    Everyone wants to claim the Tea Party. At this point, I’m not sure who has the best claim as to its “origins.”

    As best I recall, the Tea Party movement was an outgrowth of the Ron Paul Revolution. Its roots were heavily antiwar (something Dixon fails to mention), and include both leftist and rightist elements, as was true of the Ron Paul Revolution in general.

    Those origins certainly included some libertarian roots, though not necessarily any Libertarian Party roots.

  3. JT

    Pat: “If so, votes will go toward those with a Libertarian (socially tolerant, fiscally conservative)…”

    I don’t see much to quibble about with this essay. But what’s going on with the oft-repeated slogan “socially tolerant, fiscally conservative”? Is there a reason why some Libertarians think it’s acceptable to use the “conservative” label but not the “liberal label”? Why don’t they say “socially tolerant, fiscally responsible”? Why is liberal a pejorative term to some Libertarians but conservative isn’t?

  4. kevin knedler

    # 5 JT
    Ohio LP uses “Socially tolerant and Fiscally responsible”. We took down work “conservative” because we don’t even know what it means anymore.

  5. Dave Thompson

    I was 23 when I protested the Iraq war and after that I became a libertarian precisely because the movement had been hijacked by many pro big govt causes and socialist and communist causes.

    I believe the libertarian and constitution minded conservatives will become more libertarian because of the Tea Party for the same reason.

    They will look for clarity and principles.

  6. Eric Dondero

    Umm, Pat Dixon, many of us LIBERTARIANS favor the War in Iraq, and the War in Afghanistan, and the War on Islamo-Fascism.

    Being a Peacenick and a Pacifist, in the face of this Islamist onslaught is equivelant to supporting Fascism, the exact opposite of Liberty.

  7. Eric Dondero

    For the record, Eric Odom, a Libertarian Republican, is widely credited with being the official Founder of the Tea Party movement. He is out of Chicago. And yes, he was a member of the Libertarian Party at one point. However, when he was also a member of the Republican Party at that time.

    The Tea Party is absolutely a Libertarian-Republican invention.

  8. JT

    Kevin: “Ohio LP uses “Socially tolerant and Fiscally responsible”. We took down work “conservative” because we don’t even know what it means anymore.”

    That’s okay. Just to clarify, I didn’t mean that “socially tolerant and fiscally responsible” is better than “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” I’m not sure whether it is or not. But if you’re going to use the ideological label “conservative” in that slogan, you should use the label “liberal” as well.

    Wayne Root constantly says “socially moderate, fiscally conservative” because he persists in thinking that liberals are our enemies and conservatives are our allies. I hate that. Libertarians have much to offer each side, and we shouldn’t be using one descriptor and not the other.

  9. Jim Duensing


    Are you a pro-Barr Libertarian or an anti-Paul Republican.

    Islamofascism is a completely cromulent term devoid of any real meaning or significance. It doesn’t exist in practice. Sharia Law favors an oligarchy. Fascism is what we have where a few corporations own most of the real wealth through their cooperation with the political establishment.

    Your psychotic fear of Goldstein style Muslim bogeymen melds nicely with your inability to describe how those Muslims who hate our freedom and love Sharia law managed to bring down Building 7 without hitting it with a plane.

    Real libertarians oppose unnecessary undeclared wars of choice and conquest. Instead, we support a strong national defense organized on a community basis through our local constitutional militias. Indeed, had there been an armed member of the militia on board any of those planes significant loss of life might have been avoided.

    Libertarians support local constitutional militias. That is the exact opposite of the Military Industrial Complex’s standing military model of invasion and occupation. Our current military machine is a completely unAmerican enterprise with the power removed from We the People and instead given to No-Bid-Contractors to collect mercenary style profits from the blood of innocent poor foreign peoples as we occupy their homeland and impose a militarized police state in the name of defending their freedom.

    Dondero, when do we stop the War on Muslims? Do we have to kill them all? Do we then have to burn all remaining copies of the Koran? Should we first cut out the parts that say nice things about Jesus?

    Just trying to figure out where the psychosis stops with you government conspiracy types.

  10. Mike Cunningham

    Why isn’t my comment posting? I’m trying to ask Eric Dondero about Christopher Hitchens.

  11. Don Wills

    Actually there was a “tea party” rally in central Florida before any of the events described here. Anyone who claims to have been founder of the “tea party” movement is fibbing.

    From my vantage point, it was not a GOP or LP invention, it was just a bunch of very upset folks, a few of whom came out of the Ron Paul for President campaign, but the majority of whom did not.

  12. Wingnut


    Actually, the Tea Party started-out as “The Pot Party”, and it happened in 1991 in the Spenard district of Anchorage, Alaska (a strict hydroponic state). That group faceted into “The TeaPot”, which further faceted into you know who… a bunch of directionless ranters and hissy-fitters with corncobs up their butts.

    The Pot Party is still alive and well, but we/they are lovers, not fighters… so… they hide. They won’t be seen until folks are ready to use love and intelligence instead-of rat-racing up the sides of pyramid schemes for AmWay (American Way) green-coupons and ownershipism. (See back of USA dollar for Columbian Freemason pyramid scheme symbol, and see USA gov for things located in a district of Columbia). Lovers don’t do pyramiding. Either should children in playgrounds. Such lurings and stacking of (God’s) children… is exploitive beyond belief and beyond sanity.

    When love, caring, sharing, and servitude-less equality (no more pay-up-or-self and/or join-or-else) are seen as the REAL values, The Pot Party will re-show its loving face. Pot Party folk KNOW that competing is the exact opposite of cooperating, and that competition is NOT healthy and never was. Pot Party folk are anti-economies and anti-ownershipism, so they are anti-capitalism, as well. BUT… they are lovers, not fighters, so, the most ‘anti’ you’ll see from a Pot Party member… is their pens trying to be mightier than others’ swords. They use intelligence, logic, and love, not brawn. Most hippies are communALists and members of the Pot Party, and when THEY come to your town, its in an old school bus painted-up in flowers and beads.

    Larry “Wingnut” Wendlandt
    MaStars – Mothers Against Stuff That Ain’t Right
    Bessemer MI USA

  13. Pingback: Anti-war movement and TEA party must hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately | Hammer of Truth

  14. Pingback: Republicans and Democrats Woo, Cajole, Intimidate Libertarian Candidates | Independent Political Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *