Campus Media Response: Critics of the Tea Party Miss the Point: We Do Not Belong to the State

Noting the recent wins by “tea party” candidates in Republican primaries, Daniel Charnoff of the USC Daily Trojan warns his readers about the implications of the movement’s agenda:

Miller is a stand-up tea partier, meaning he wants to get rid of Medicare, Social Security and the Department of Education. Miller considers unemployment benefits unconstitutional and has called the scientific evidence for climate change “dubious science at best.” He wants to cut foreign aid and United Nations funding at a time when the United States’ international image hangs in the balance and slash funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.

Some of Miller’s other proposals might sound reasonable at first, but they are cloaked in the language of smaller government that would in practice really lead to a paralyzed government.

These include proposals to give the president power to veto line items in spending bills, requiring each bill to note what part of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to enact it and allowing unlimited debate over appropriations bills.

One can think that stopping new government spending that lacks constitutional justification is “paralyzing” only if one already thinks that government should forever expand its involvement in every area of life and the economy. Charnoff states that “the federal government . . . is a serious institution that plays a crucial role in every American’s daily life,” which is undoubtedly true. But why think that the government should play a crucial role regulating what we buy, what we eat, whom we trade with, how we spend our money, and how much of it we get to keep?

The Tea Partiers are not calling for the elimination of the police, the courts, or the military, as Charnoff seems to imply. They are asking, whatever their personal flaws and massive inconsistencies, whether government should control every area of our lives. The complaint that Tea Party proposals will “paralyze government” is not only false, but misses the point of the movement: to challenge the idea that our lives, property, and choices belong to the state. The Founding Fathers were some of the first men in history to challenge this idea. As the Ayn Rand Center notes:

The colonists were driven by a certain view of the proper purpose of government, which the Tea Act repudiated. That view, which would reach its full expression in the Declaration of Independence, was that the role of government is to protect individual rights—to protect the sovereign individual’s right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

But over the past two centuries, the ideal of individual rights has all but disappeared from public discourse. In its absence has emerged today’s massive regulatory-welfare state, which taxes away nearly half our income, tells us what medicines we can take, what kind of light bulbs to buy, and is rapidly consolidating control over America’s banks, insurance companies, and industrial giants like General Motors.

What happened? Why did we abandon the American ideal? Above all, because the ideal lacked a moral defense.

Read the rest of ARC’s statement on the Tea Parties, and how they propose to offer a proper moral defense of limited government.

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Valery Publius is the pen name of a teacher living in the American South.