The Tea Party Is a Religious Movement

Libertarians should beware of the Tea Party.

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In the course of reckoning with the Tea Party movement, I experienced a sort of road-to-Damascus moment.

It wasn't a blinding light or an invisible voice.

I saw someone clutching one of these.

Ever since, everything has made perfect sense. [See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]

Now, David E. Campbell and Robert Putnam have done some sociological spadework that empirically confirms my revelation:

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party’s "origin story." Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today. ...

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006—opposing abortion, for example—and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek "deeply religious" elected officials, approve of religious leaders' engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party's generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

Unlike Campbell and Putnam, I don’t have a severe allergy for social conservatism per se, and in fact share many of their concerns. But the Tea Partyers aren't being totally honest with the rest of their fellow citizens. They're concerned about runaway debt and credit downgrades not as matters of arithmetic. Such problems are seen rather as symptoms of an underlying disease: America's drift from its biblical-constitutional roots.

In this light, socialism isn't just a ruinous economic system (which of course it is); it's a feature of a greater secular worldview. Barack Obama isn't a conventional center-left Democrat who favors policies (universal healthcare, for instance) that Democrats have sought for decades to enact; he's a closet humanist (or a Muslim) who hates his country. [Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?]

Libertarians ( of whom I'm no friend), in particular, should beware the Tea Party.

The Tea Party, at its roots, is anti-libertarian.

And, as Campbell and Putnam have demonstrated, it’s far from a collection of disaffected independents.

Make no mistake: The Tea Party is a religious movement.