For Tea: Focus On Ideas, Not Personalities

Late last year I observed the unfortunate fact: Tea Partiers Get Partisan.

It looks like various “tea party” groups in Colorado continue to push an overtly partisan agenda, with the invitation of gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes to speak at the April 15 Tax Day Tea Party in Denver. Maes is the underdog in the primary race against Scott McInnis. What this means is that the event will take a narrowly partisan tone, thereby alienating many potential participants who are more concerned with the ideas of liberty than with partisan, Republican politics. (For reasons explained, I will not do anything that could be construed as support for Maes, which means that I will not promote this rally.)

Another concern I have with “tea party” groups is that their leaders seem increasingly willing to claim to speak for their nebulous membership base.

For example, Lu Ann Busse, Chair of The 9.12 Project Colorado Coalition, a woman who has done some great work, has overstated her role as spokesperson in a March 27 letter to Attorney General John Suthers: “Thank you for standing up and defending our individual rights and Colorado’s sovereignty by filing suit against the new federal health care insurance reform act with the other Attorneys General on March 23, 2010. … Since I am the elected Chair of 24 grassroots groups with over 10,000 registered voters in our combined membership, you may consider this email as 10,000 letters of support for your actions on our behalf.”

I too appreciate Suther’s work on this front, and I appreciate Busse taking the time to thank him. However, unless Busse personally asked each of the 10,000 members about their views and gained their approval for the letter to Suthers, she has no businesses claiming to speak for each of them. Instead, Busse’s proper role is to encourage her membership to speak up for themselves.

I do not always agree with Leonard Read, but he writes some useful comments on the matter in his chapter, “Appoint a Committee,” in his book, Anything That’s Peaceful. He writes:

The practice of committees, boards, or councils presuming to represent the views of vast constituencies occurs in educational and religious associations, in trade and commercial organizations, indeed in any segment of society where there is a propensity to organize. …

Actions of the group — council or committee — insofar as they are not accurate reflections of the participating individuals, must be classified as lies. …

On occasion, associations are formed for a particular purpose and supported by those who are like-minded as to that purpose. As long as the associational activities are limited to the stated purpose and as long as the members remain like-minded, the danger of misrepresentation is removed.

It is the multipurpose association, the one that potentially may take a “position” on a variety of subjects, particularly subjects relating to the rights or the property of others — moral questions — where misrepresentation is not only possible but almost certain. Merely keep in mind the nature of a committee.

The remedy here, if a remedy can be put into effect, is for the association to quit taking “positions” except on such rare occasions as unanimous concurrence is manifest, or except as the exact and precise degree and extent of concurrence is represented.

The alternative to associational “positions” is individual membership positions, that is, using the associational facilities to service the membership… Then, let the members speak or write or act as individual persons!

In other words, we’re supposed to be individualists, not collectivists. Let’s act like it.