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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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The Problem with the Tea Party

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Okay, so the Tea Party is good at speaking out against out-of-control federal spending and debt, even if its members in Congress are not so good at reining in government spending and borrowing when voting on whether to permit the federal government to pile another $2.7 trillion of debt onto the backs of the American people during the next two years.

And, okay, the Tea Party is good at opposing tax increases. In fact, let’s keep giving credit where credit is due: many Tea Party members are ardently opposed to the Federal Reserve’s longtime debasement of the currency through inflation to enable federal officials to continue their big-spending, big-borrowing ways.

Yet, opposing big spending, big debt, big inflation, and even big government in the abstract really isn’t that difficult, is it? What’s difficult is to call for the abolition of the federal programs that all that spending and borrowing goes toward.

Does the Tea Party ever call for the abolition of, say, Social Security? Of course not. Like most statists, they run for the hills if anyone even hints that this socialistic program — the crown jewel of the welfare state — should be repealed immediately.

What about Medicare and Medicaid? The response is the same. Either stunned silence at any suggestion that these socialistic programs be repealed immediately or a knee-jerk rejection of the idea.

How about the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the entire overseas military empire of the U.S. government, including the 700-1000 military bases in some 130 countries? Silence there too. We have to support the troops, they tell us, which always means keeping them right where they are, especially since they’re supposedly defending our “rights and freedoms” thousands of miles away.

Yet, it’s Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the military that are the biggest components of the big-spending, big-borrowing, big-inflation, big-government problem. Anyone who says he wants to rein in federal spending while leaving these big socialist and imperialist programs in place is just blowing smoke.

What’s left after the biggies? How about education grants, community grants, farm subsidies, foreign aid (including to Middle East dictatorships), corporate subsidies, public housing, FDIC, and food stamps? When was the last time you heard any Tea Party member calling for the abolition (i.e., not the reform) of any of those? I certainly haven’t.

How about the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, HUD, EPA, and Homeland Security? Nope. I don’t know of any Tea Party members who have ever called for the abolition of any of them.

The fundamental problem with the Tea Party is it’s still wedded to the New Deal/Great Society socialist, interventionist, imperialist paradigm. In a word, they are still statists. They still believe in the welfare-warfare way of life for our country.

How do we know this? Because the most Tea Party members will ever do is call for reductions in federal spending on welfare-warfare state programs. They never call for abolishing the programs, like libertarians do.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, reducing spending by, say, 20 percent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Iraq, Afghanistan, foreign aid, the Patriot Act, education grants, and the like leaves all those programs in existence. Obviously, that’s completely different from calling for the abolition of such programs, which is what libertarians do.

The fundamental philosophical difference between libertarians and Tea Party types is that we come up with different answers to the following question: What should be the primary role of government in a free society?

We libertarians say: to protect the inhabitants of the country from the violence of others.

Tea Party members answer differently. Like statists everywhere, they say that the primary purpose of government is to take care of people and, if it’s the U.S. government, to police the world. They’re just upset that it costs so much money and are convinced they can come up with a way to do it on the cheap.

Thus, while Tea Party types devote their efforts to figuring out how to make the welfare-warfare state more affordable, libertarians reject the welfare-warfare-state paradigm entirely and want it replaced with one based on economic liberty, free markets, free enterprise, voluntary charity, and a constitutionally limited republic.

Perhaps the best example of how Tea Party members do not wish to upset the welfare-warfare-state applecart is the drug war, which integrates elements of the welfare state, the police state, and the warfare state. What better way to rein in federal spending and borrowing than by ending the drug war? For libertarians, it’s a total no-brainer. Here’s an immoral and expensive federal program that’s been going on for 40 years, with nothing to show for it but death, destruction, crookedness, and corruption.

Yet, are Tea Party members calling for drug legalization? Nope. And the reason is that at a fundamental level Tea Party types, like statists everywhere, still love the nanny state, the police state, and the warfare state and, therefore, remain as committed to preserving them as much as any other statist.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.