Saturday, September 1, 2012
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party
This past week witnessed the Republican National Convention, and the official nomination of Mitt Romney as president and Paul Ryan as vice-president. The Republicans, understandably, are emphasizing the economy and Mr. Romney's financial and business expertise.
It is worth noting that Mr. Ryan has proposed a budget that would cap spending on Medicare and Medicaid (the federal health insurance programs for the elderly and poor, respectively), but does not cut defense spending or raise taxes. A budget reflects one's values and priorities; you spend money on what you think is most important. Mr. Ryan's proposed budget presupposes a philosophy of government – one that is limited, that provides for defense but not the health and welfare of its own citizens. His proposals are sure to spark controversy and debate.
Large numbers of American evangelicals are expected to vote for the Republican ticket in the Fall. But the Ryan budget raises some serious questions. Does the Republican Party agenda really reflect Christian values?
What is especially reason for concern is the Republican Party's philosophical underpinnings. The more radical element within the party is known as the "Tea Party movement." The Tea Party, in turn, is vocal in its support of limited government and individual freedom. Its preferred solution to the federal debt crisis would be to cut both spending and taxes.
Among other things Tea Party activists are critical of the idea of "social justice." Dick Armey and Matte Kibbe, leaders of the major Tea Party organization FreedomWorks, write that "Liberals don't talk about democratic socialism anymore; the prattle on about 'social justice.' They misuse the phrase. Justice means treating every individual with respect and decency and exactly the same as everyone else is treated under the laws of the land. As best as we can tell, 'social justice' translates to really wise elected officials (you know, smarter than you) redistributing your hard-earned income to their social agendas, all dutifully administered by a well intentioned bureaucrat."1
Much of the Tea Party's philosophy can be traced back to the late Ayn Rand, whose novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were and remain bestsellers. FreedomWorks, in fact, distributes copies of Atlas Shrugged. This fact alone should make Christian conservatives hesitate. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and her ethical system was one of radical egoism.
In each of Ayn Rand's novels there is a hero who delivers a lengthy speech outlining what is Ms. Rand's philosophy of "objectivism." The speeches typically contain impassioned harangues against altruism, and then go on to argue that true morality is based on self-interest. This, in turn, is used to support a libertarian view of government and free market economics.
In Ms. Rand's view it is the enterprising individual who, through his intelligence and hard work, earns what he has, and therefore should be allowed to keep it. In Atlas Shrugged one character goes so far as to say "To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money – and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement," and then goes on a little while later to say "The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."2
Ms. Rand's attacks on altruism bring us to the heart of the issue. Do we have a responsibility for the well-being of others? Ms. Rand's answer is an emphatic "no." To her way of thinking she was accountable to no one but herself. She got where she was by her superior intelligence and the dint of her own hard labor. She owed no one anything. As Chuck Colson pointed out, "It is hard to imagine a world view more antithetical to Christianity."
"He has told you, O man, what is good;/ And what does the Lord require of you / But to do justly, to love mercy, / And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8; NKJV).
1 Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto (New York, 2010) p. 170
2 Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York, 1961), pp. 93-94
3 quoted by columnist Cynthia Tucker