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Tom Knapp: ‘Iced Tea: The Unsweetened Truth About Tuesday’s Elections’

Posted at Center for a Stateless Society by Tom Knapp. Knapp was formerly involved as a candidate for office and party officer in the Libertarian Party as well as the Boston Tea Party (the latter of which he founded). He has since disavowed electoral politics and is currently promoting the Ⓧ2012 project to organize deliberate non-voters.

The conventional wisdom already emerging on America’s political Left is that the Tea Party movement “cost the Republican Party a Senate majority.” That may or may not be true, but one thing we can be sure of: The Tea Party handed the GOP “establishment” two victories Tuesday night.

The first victory is obvious. Republicans now control the US House of Representatives and are in stronger position to filibuster Democrat proposals in the US Senate. They’re in the best of all possible political positions. They can pass “smaller government” legislation in the House, knowing that it will never become law. If it doesn’t die in the Senate, President Barack Obama will veto it. And when they pass the “bigger government” legislation that both parties really want in both bodies, they’ll tout their “bipartisanship” to moderates and complain to conservatives that “we had to get something done that the President would sign; this was the best we could do.”

The down side for Republicans is that Tuesday’s election almost certainly presages a trip to the wilderness for them in 2012 — loss of their sparkling new House majority and re-election of Obama to the White House … but that’s okay. They’re political Keynesians, focusing on the short term because in the long run they’re all dead anyway.

The GOP’s second victory is over the Tea Party itself.

As I write this, the Tea Party’s success in Republican primaries this year appears appears to have blown GOP Senate pickups in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada, as well as costing it a seat it previously held in Alaska. And while the Tea Party candidate didn’t win the US Senate primary in California, anti-Tea-Party backlash was part of what put Democrat Barbara Boxer over the top against Republican challenger Carly Fiorina.

There will be more Republicans in the Senate come January than there are now, but the new guys aren’t the Tea Party’s people. The “establishment” GOP leadership remains firmly in control of the Republican Senate caucus and of the party itself. That leadership began signaling last week, before the votes had even been cast and counted, that it intends to “govern toward the center, not the Right.” The Tea Party wave has crested. It will break on the rocks of the 112th Congress.

To those who disagree when I say that nothing substantial has changed, I propose a test case to watch:

In January, Congress will vote on whether or not to raise the federal government’s “debt ceiling” so that it can continue borrowing money and spending more than it’s taking from tax revenues. I hope we can agree that “real change” implies, at a bare minimum, balancing the checkbook. I predict that we’ll see no such change. After some theatrical bellyaching and grandstanding, they will indeed raise the “ceiling.”

If you voted on Tuesday, you voted for continued operation of the state — and that’s exactly what you’re going to get. But let’s learn a little something from it, shall we?

Debate over the meaning of “Left” and “Right” in a political context has raged for a couple of centuries now, but this campaign cycle has given me a new understanding of the terms that I’d like to share with you. Some think that “Left” means “bigger government” and Right means “smaller government.” Others think that the “Left” values “change” while the Right values “tradition.”

I propose that we look at politics as a bell curve.

On the far Left (market anarchism) and the far Right (anarcho-capitalism), appetite for political government trails off to zero (which is why “Left” and “Right” libertarians have so much in common).

As we move toward the political center, that appetite grows. The “Left” and “Right” disagree on ends, but closer to that center, both see government as an acceptable means to their desired ends. And the center is a corrupting influence. As you get closer to it, you grow less willing to give up the means and more willing to give up the ends.

The “Tea Party Right” is approximately analogous to the “Progressive Left.” It’s stranded in the no-man’s land between principled edge and corrupt center. This would make both movements completely useless to anyone except that the center is so large that it generates its own sort of “gravity.” From their positions within the center’s gravity well, these movement lend mass and momentum, in the form of votes and activism, to the center itself.

The state is its own end. It cannot be used against itself. The Tea Party movement tried to create a new political world. It succeeded only in becoming another moon yoked in lifeless orbit around the old one.

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  1. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp November 4, 2010


    Actually, I’m trying to make exactly the opposite point — and perhaps the bell curve isn’t the best way to make it.

    Across two continua, there are various matches of means to ends.

    Think of it as two see-saws laid end to end. On the leftmost end of the leftmost see-saw, the person is on the ground. On the rightmost end of the rightmost see-saw, the person is also on the ground. That’s the “means” continuum. The two individuals have very different ideas of what society should look like, but they agree that government isn’t the way to make it look the way they want it to look.

    At the middle — the rightmost end of the left see-saw and the leftmost end of the right see-saw — the two individuals also have very different ideas of what society should look like, but they agree that the way to make it look they way they want is the state.

    The fulcrum of each see-saw would be the tipping point at which either means or ends become more important:

    – “I really hate taxes, but I’ll put up with them if I can keep my powerful state,” or “I think the state is a really groovy way to get things done, but I’m willing to weaken it if it means lower taxes.”

    – “It really offends me that homosexuals can call what they do ‘marriage,’ but I’m not willing to put up with a government big enough to stop them from doing so,” or “I think that gay couples are as entitled as anyone else to marry, but not badly enough to give up the licensing scheme that stops them from doing so, or to risk putting Social Security in the red and bringing it down.”

    And so on, and so forth.

  2. Robert Capozzi Robert Capozzi November 4, 2010

    TB, agreed. I’m thinking out loud here, but it’s possible that cultural attitudes may have political implications from here to there. There seem to be a few attitudinal types, for ex., that see more drawn to L ideas than others. Free thinkers seem more prone to think outside the box on a number of fronts, including politics. It seems TK is alluding to this observation..

  3. Tom Blanton Tom Blanton November 4, 2010

    In a stateless society, or even one with a truly limited government, cultural preferences become much less significant in any political sense as there is no mechanism to use force to impose any particular cultural code on others. As such, it serves little purpose to designate those with cultural differences with labels – especially the shop-worn labels of left and right.

    Libertarians should abandon the left-right myth and accept the the idea that in order to be free, you must allow others to be free.

  4. Robert Capozzi Robert Capozzi November 4, 2010

    tk, thanks for clarifying. Cultural proclivities ARE interesting and probably DO have some political implications.

    How to harness that…dunno.

  5. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp November 3, 2010


    Yes, I’ve seen your diagram. It’s interesting.

    I don’t think I’m being terribly ambitious with this particular argument. I consider it ad hoc, anecdotal, and hypothetical. It’s simply an explanation that I found useful for the instant polemic.

  6. Robert Capozzi Robert Capozzi November 3, 2010

    tk, ambitious! Mapping cultural preferences against size-of-government preference is a new concept for me. (If ya have a sec, check the diagram in my linked essay.)

    I couldn’t even begin to guess how a cultural preference could be mapped. I can’t even guess where I’d map myself, much less anyone else. Some of my cultural preferences might seem bourgeois, others VERY alternative. I have hippie-type friends, and some of them have guns (I don’t). I have hippie friends who are very spiritual, others who are atheist. I understand that a lot of right bourgeois types are into swinging or porn or hate cops.

    “These are the days when anything goes.”
    – S. Crow

  7. Thomas L. Knapp Thomas L. Knapp November 3, 2010


    A bell curve has two axes. “Left market anarchism” and “right anarcho-capitalism” would be located as far apart as it’s possible to get on the X axis (“left-right”), but would be located at the same coordinate (0) on the Y axis (willingness to resort to government power to get what they want).

    I’m treating the X axis (left/right) as cultural rather than political, and I’m doing so anecdotally as opposed to on the basis of a set of pre-survey data points.

  8. Robert Capozzi Robert Capozzi November 3, 2010

    tk, I’d like to see a map of your bell curve. I’m not super up on “market anarchism,” but it seems to me very close to “anarcho-capitalism.” Yet, you seem to imply that they are very far away from one another. If these schools of thought are continuous and contiguous, I’d be curious, for ex., what would be to the right of market anarchism…progressivism? I’m not seeing that, if so.

    I offer another way to look at the political landscape:

  9. Paul Revere Paul Revere November 3, 2010

    There is hope. The tea party was the first movement of the brave new information age era. One where the traditional problem of grass roots political movements is the same. Underlying SOCIAL issues that prevent any real change have been various institutions creating a seemless mesh designed to keep as many people as possible from discovering, or following alternative politics. We are taught it in school third parties are hopeless and its re-enforced by the mainstream media. We are also taught to vote along social lines of what our peers are doing or face alienation. The two major parties cooperate on this, and for the last 70 years has been good at keeping third party options on the fringe. The stronger a third party gets, the more coercive action is taken against its members, and the harsher the language is used against them. Since the dawn of TV and radio as primary means of information, the two major parties simply controlled the narrative, and facts available to the individual. It was simply a one way conversation of what you where supposed to believe, and what politician did what, what values you where supposed to have, with hints on who you where supposed to vote for, all neatly arranged to paint their candidates in a favourable light, and cover up anything that contradicted what they said.

    Now with the rise of the Internet, the control of the narrative is lost. The mainstream media has admitted it has lost all control of it, and it is now up for grabs and people are free to think again. However there are still many kinks to iron out. Most people are not used to thinking for themselves. The internet has also become a hot bed for quacks, conspiracies, power hungry fascist type would be dictator cult types. Along with the riff raff also comes a new generation of agent provocatuers, impostors, and infiltrators designed to subvert the new found freedoms against themselves, and once again, use a vauge set of threats to keep people inline.

    Just as the printing press preceded the enlightenment, democracy, and freedom, and renaissance, by allowing flow of information to flow freely, so will the Internet.

    The tea party had the glorious distinction of being the first, but it will not be the last.

    Chin up friend. Chin up.

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