When I was asked to speak at a Tea Party Town Hall meeting in September, I chose the title “Principles Versus Personalities” because I think that title focuses on what the tea party is or should be if it is to have an enduring impact. Principles are permanent. Personalities are passing. Today’s headline-maker is tomorrow’s footnote. In outline form, here are ten major points I presented to the meeting:
1. The tea party is not about Barak Obama or Sarah Palin. It is not about Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians. It is not about Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck or Chris Matthews and James Carville. The tea party is about the most incredible political document in the history of humanity, the Constitution of the United States of America, the document that protects you and me and our children and grandchildren from tyranny by an individual or group of individuals.
2. Our nation’s founders carefully crafted that beautiful document, bearing in mind that the prior history of humanity was a story of oppression by government. That tendency of government to be an oppressor and a destroyer of human liberty has never been eradicated, as we can see in other country’s around the world. Nor has it been eradicated here, but it has been constrained by the checks and balances provided in our Constitution.
3. Today that Constitution is being tested and strained by a veritable army of career politicians and bureaucrats, some of whom simply seek personal power and profit at the expense of the American public and some of whom simply are motivated by sincere but misguided efforts to use government in a futile effort to provide social solutions for what are essentially spiritual problems. The result is a bloated bureaucracy that threatens to destroy our nation from within in a way that no invading army ever could have done.
4. History teaches us that all bureaucracies tend to devolve or degenerate to the point at which they serve the interests of the people running the bureaucracy instead of the interests of the people the bureaucracy was intended to serve. It happens in all large bureaucracies: in business, in education, in religion, in unions, in government. Governments at all levels have reached that stage today — aided and abetted by citizen apathy. The tea party can be an enduring antidote for citizen apathy if it does not allow itself to be commandeered by any party or personality and if it remains focused on fidelity to the principles set forth in our Constitution.
5. American political parties have degenerated to the point at which elected Democrats and elected Republicans have more in common with each other than they do with the people who elect them. Their goal is simply to gain and hold office to further their personal and party interests and the interests of those whose money puts and keeps them in office. Our nation’s founders never envisioned career politicians. Public office was a public service, done at a sacrifice — like our military service. Today it’s the public and public interest that are sacrificed.
6. In the human condition, there is a common tendency to drift away from principles, to compromise principles for personal desires. Our nation’s founders were aware of that natural human tendency and created checks and balances to protect us from abuse. They knew that it is unrealistic to expect any particular candidate or party to govern perfectly and selflessly. Candidates we elect and the members of any party we put in power are subject to the limitations of the human condition described by classical theology and understood by our nation’s founders: limitations manifest in temptations to lust, greed, pride, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. The greatest good and highest public service tea party activists can perform is not simply to influence a single election, but to constantly focus public servants on the core principles of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and to remove them from office when they prove unworthy of the public trust.
7. Two basic philosophies compete for our allegiance today, as they have throughout human history. Our national philosophy holds that our human rights come from the hand of God, not from the state, and that those rights are inalienable. The competing totalitarian philosophy holds that the state is supreme and there are no inalienable human rights. Our national philosophy holds that the fruit of your labor belongs to you and is yours to use as you please, with you and your neighbors deciding how much you will share with the government. The totalitarian philosophy holds that the fruit of your labor belongs to the state and the state decides how much, if any, you are allowed to keep. It is our nation’s principles, articulated in the Constitution — combined with your constant vigilance — which safeguard us from that ever-present totalitarian mindset.
8. So the crises and challenges that have given birth to the tea party are not one time affairs to be settled in the next election or the next two elections. They are permanent. They go on now and into subsequent generations. They are not the exclusive interest of any segment of our diverse national family. They are the interest of all.
9. If the tea party is to be more than a footnote in tomorrow’s history books, activists must work for greater control over government at all levels with measures that keep citizens involved and dispel the notion that we must tolerate corrupt and inept politicians. We can accomplish that by working for universal recall, for citizen initiative, for elimination or curtailment of politicians’ insurance and pension perks, for restraint of eminent domain, for elimination of gerrymandering, for ending unfunded mandates, and for demanding transparency in government.
10. Government has the power to take away your money, your property, your liberty, and your life. No one can afford to ignore or be indifferent to government. Bad government happens when good people quit caring.