“After an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.” — Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 1
We are not presently at a founding moment, or even a refounding moment. But we have arrived at a genuine crisis, or a set of crises, and we may well be at a decisive moment for the country.
This sense of crisis is what animates the tea party movement. I had the pleasure of attending the “Proud to be an American July 4th Tea Party” outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It featured patriotic songs and speeches, and expressions of support for our troops and praise for our country.
Yet, the mood of patriotic gratitude was mixed with expressions of alarm from my fellow tea party activists about the Obama administration. The combination of patriotic gratitude and urgent alarm produces a determination to act and a willingness to deal boldly with the crises in the economy, in foreign policy and in self-government that the country faces.
In this respect, the tea party gatherings are ahead of the two major parties. Of course, the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t want to come to grips with the present moment. Committed to stale progressive policies, they’re doing their very best to push more of them through.
Serious reflection on the failure of their favored policies, both at home and abroad, would be too painful. It would require a rethinking too consequential and too disruptive to be willingly undertaken.
I was telling a friend about the Philly tea party gathering, noting a few eccentric proposals from some of its participants. He commented, “Well, that’s better than talking points.” He’s right. At this moment, bold and seemingly impolitic or impractical ideas are more useful than the diligent repetition of mostly sensible short-term critiques and proposals.
That’s the challenge for the Republican Party. It’s of course a real, existing political party, with real, existing responsibilities. But, the GOP can be the party of the future and the present. It can be the party of fundamental reflection and radical choice, of day-to-day criticism and opposition. This isn’t easy. It can lead to mistakes and missteps, tensions and confusions. But, it’s what the moment requires.
So fear not the tea party movement. Be open to fundamental reforms. Belt-tightening and program-trimming, more transparency and greater efficiency are not enough. The danger for Republicans isn’t that they will address the current crisis too boldly, it’s that they won’t be bold enough.
This article appeared in The Weekly Standard.