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Authors: Dick Armey

Give Us Liberty

GIVE US
LIBERTY

A Tea Party Manifesto

*  *  *

DICK ARMEY
AND MATT KIBBE

To the sons and daughters of liberty who did not die with Sam Adams but are active and organizing across the country to protect our freedoms to this very day.

Now, we Americans understand freedom. We have earned it, we have lived for it, and we have died for it. This nation and its people are freedom's model in a searching world. We can be freedom's missionaries in a doubting world. But, ladies and gentlemen, first we must renew freedom's mission in our own hearts and in our own homes.

—B
ARRY
G
OLDWATER

T
HE PENDULUM OF POLITICS
is always swinging. Republicans gain seats, Democrats win them back, and the struggle continues. The one thing that seems inevitable no matter the party in office is the continued growth of government. Occasionally, however, a fresh jolt of conservative energy interrupts that growth. I have witnessed three conservative revolutions in my lifetime, each of which taught important lessons.

Barry Goldwater came first, offering a choice, not an echo. Ronald Reagan was next and proved that small-government conservatism was the best path to peace and prosperity. Under Reagan, we regained our national confidence and our economy flourished. A few years later came the third wave, the 1994 Republican Revolution in Congress and its Contract with America that resulted in the impossible—a balanced budget.

I was a student in Oklahoma, studying economics, when Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964. Never had I heard a political figure speak so passionately on freedom, the genius of the Founding Fathers, and our enduring values as a nation.

That same summer I heard Ronald Reagan's classic campaign speech, “A Time for Choosing.” During this time I was so engrossed in my studies, I almost never thought of politics. But Goldwater was different; and for the first time in my life I was excited and inspired to participate in the political process.

I did not think of myself as a conservative. I thought my belief in personal and economic freedom, respect for the Constitution, gratitude for those who served in the armed forces, and trust in my fellow citizen was just common sense. My beliefs and values were shaped by my upbringing. I was born in Cando, North Dakota, the fifth of eight children. My parents operated a rural grain elevator, and this is where I developed my interest in economics. I remember my parents quieting all the children down at one o'clock every day so they could hear the grain market report coming in. “Oats up, wheat down, corn holding firm.” This was the market, supply and demand, at work.

It was also during this time I remember post–World War II refugees from socialist Eastern Europe fleeing to the prairie. It struck me that people would leave their homeland and everything they knew to go someplace for freedom. I did not see anyone fleeing the United States to go in search of collectivism.

My father was an avid fisherman, and I would often join him for trips up north to Canada to fish for northern pike. The drive to our fishing camp passed through countryside dotted with painted barns straight from a Norman Rockwell canvas. But as soon as you crossed the border into Canada, I noticed the barns were unpainted. I wondered why Canadian farmers would allow their barns to degrade from exposure to the elements. The answer, I discovered, was government. At the time, Canada taxed painted buildings, so farmers left their structures exposed to avoid the penalty. These things make quite an impression on a child.

After a few years working as a lineman for a local utility, I decided to become the first member of my family to go to college. But I was stunned when the commonsense values I grew up with were militantly rejected by many on campus. It was during the Goldwater campaign that I learned of an elite who existed in government offices and college faculty lounges and who were hostile to the universal values of the American people. I could not believe that here in America a group of people believed they were entitled to redistribute wealth to satisfy their notions of social justice, regulate others' lives, and understand my best interests better than I.

Years later, when I was the chairman of the economics department at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), I sat through a faculty meeting in which a professor claimed part of our job was to teach students how to emote. I was stunned. I simply wanted to teach economics and did not see why feelings should be taught in my classroom. It was time for me to find another line of work.

One beautiful Texas evening in 1984, I found myself watching C-SPAN. A procession of representatives were speaking from the House floor in opposition to the president's fiscal policies. Their arguments were dangerously incorrect—they would doom our country to a collectivist quagmire. I figured Ronald Reagan could use reinforcements, so I decided to take a sabbatical year and run for Congress. In what is still considered a huge upset, I defeated the incumbent and went to work in Washington.

A
S TIME PASSED, EACH
boom gave way to a bust. The iron triangle of entrenched politicians, bureaucrats, and the motivated network of special interests was temporarily slowed but never defeated. It seems inevitable that as the state expands, freedom is eroded. Government growth continues, and each new effort to check its expansion faces a larger and larger challenge.

I believe we are at a turning point in our nation's history, as the pendulum has swung far to the left. Trillion-dollar deficits, government control of health care, federal ownership of banks and auto companies, taxpayer-funded bailouts of irresponsible home owners, and attempts to control energy consumption have combined to push a nation conceived in liberty and devoted to free markets to bankruptcy, down what F. A. Hayek called the road to serfdom.

But I believe Americans are genetically opposed to big government. They won't accept it, and they have been joining with their fellow citizens in the streets to take America back. I believe this movement, the Tea Party movement, has the opportunity to break the boom-and-bust cycle and restore a constitutionally limited government and bring fiscal sanity to Washington.

R
EPUBLICANS IN THE 1980S
could not even dream of setting the legislative agenda. They had not been in a position of leadership since 1954 and had become complacent. Senior members of the party were satisfied if a Democratic chairman occasionally left them a few crumbs. Life was comfortable in the minority as long as you did not rock the boat. No one was accused of partisanship because the majority always got its way. Members received their perks, such as travel abroad and special banking privileges, and based their political careers on parochial pork projects.

Things began to change in the early 1990s, when a rebellious group of small-government backbenchers began a hostile takeover from within the Republican House caucus. We made life difficult for the establishment old bulls in the party because we thought they were too complacent. The Republican leadership was always having to apologize to the Democrats for us.

We believed it was time to bring restraint to Congress, and we set a goal of retaking the House. Newt Gingrich and I believed we would be successful in the 1994 elections if we were able to prove to the American people that we had a national policy vision. My office set about to draft a contract based on policies that were important to the American people and were blocked by the Democrat majority. Newt thought we should focus on ten items.

The Contract with America, as it later came to be known, outlined our platform of limited government. The contract nationalized the vision of the Republican Party in a way that unified our base and appealed to independents. We championed national issues that were good for all Americans, not just special interests. This vision was validated when Republicans took control of both houses of Congress.

In our first press conference after we were sworn in, I was asked what I was going to do with all the power the American people had just given us. I simply responded that the American people did not give us power, they gave us responsibility.

And for a few years, we did pretty well.

*  *  *  *

A
S IN ANY ENTERPRISE,
the spirit of 1994 eventually fell victim to the natural life cycle of a firm: the passion and creativity of the entrepreneurs give way to the complacency of the bureaucrats. The Republican vision for America became a parochial vision about the careers of the individual members of the majority party. By the summer of 1997, the appropriators—rightly called the “third party” of Congress—had begun to pass spending bills with Democrats. As soon as politics superseded policy and principle, the avalanche of earmarks that would eventually crush the majority began.

Balancing the budget, eliminating unneeded and/or unconstitutional programs, and limiting the overall growth of government took a backseat to an explicit strategy to use tax dollar appropriations to trade votes on the House and Senate floors and to use politically motivated earmarks to buy reelection back home. It became “all about me” (the politician), my needs (comfort, power, job security) and my goals (government power bought with other peoples' money).

The late House Speaker Tip O'Neill once famously quipped “all politics is local.” That is great advice for liberals, whose base is looking for special favors and handouts. But the constituency that supported the contract, conservatives of both parties and independent voters, were not interested in local pork, but rather were looking for good policies that benefited the entire nation.

At a leadership meeting in early 2002 I pulled out my yellow schedule card and scribbled a note to myself: “Every week we come to town and do things we ought not do in order to keep the majority so we can do the things we ought to do but never get around to doing.” It was time to hang up my congressional spurs, so I soon announced my retirement from Congress. But I wasn't going to give up my life's work in liberty. Citizens for Sound Economy (now FreedomWorks) had been with me in every important fight defending economic freedom, so it made sense for us to join forces.

While temporarily effective, the Republican Revolution of 1994 devolved into an embarrassing gap between Republican rhetoric and fiscal reality.

L
OOKING BACK, THE REVOLUTION
of 1994 was an insider takeover. Inside jobs like 1994 are an inherently weak strategy because they are too dependent on the good intentions of people astride the levers of power. It is best described as the benevolent despot model of social change. “If we just elect the right people” is an appealing myth. The inevitable unraveling as leaders become compromised leaves the nation exposed to the boom-and-bust cycle of top-down legislative change. The “great man” effect leads to inevitable disappointment as elected leaders fall victim to the incentives that come with holding office.

The nature of big political turnover and citizen revolt has always been inherently reactionary. At some point the veil is lifted and people notice, en masse, some gross mismanagement of the public trust and the public's purse. Scandals, arrogance, budgetary abuse, and economically destructive policies bring citizens out of their homes and to the polls. They throw the bums out. Yet in many cases, the damage is already done and new programs are in place, never to be repealed. The constitutional limits of the state are reduced even further. Throwing the bums out this way will produce a new generation of bums that will face the same incentives to disappoint expectations and abuse the public trust.

But the current groundswell of small-government activism, commonly referred to as the Tea Party movement, has the potential to permanently change this paradigm. We all know we face a fiscal time bomb squarely that is threatening the American way of life. The government has grown too big for the private sector and citizenry to sustain it. We also know we cannot go back to the boom-and-bust cycle but instead must change politics.

The Tea Party movement has the power to break the cycle by establishing a constituency standing at the dead center of American politics. This is a true bottom-up revolution. It does not need formal leaders or a hierarchy; all it needs is sound limited government principles and a dash of practical American intuition. Politicians will inevitably disappoint you, but ideas will not.

When Tea Partiers show up, they do not demand any special favors and more government but literally show up with signs that read
WE WANT LESS!
And it's not a moment too soon.

I
WROTE THIS BOOK
for my grandkids. When I was their age, my grandparents looked at my bothers and sisters and me and were filled with hope for our futures. We dreamed big, full of rugged American individualism and a can-do spirit.

I want to pass on a strong and confident nation to my grandchildren. But I fear a nation crippled by debt. When they start families of their own, how are they going to take care of themselves and also repay the trillions we're spending right now? What will they think of us for borrowing half of the federal dollars we spend?

I am convinced that this generation of patriot activists is ready to defend the values that made our country great. Just ask anyone who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on September 12, 2009, as many of the people reading this book did. That day, nearly a million Americans gathered after organizing their communities and traveling at their own cost to make a statement, together, that enough was enough. I marched with folks from all over the nation, all backgrounds and ethnicities—grandmothers and college students, small-business owners and soldiers, Republicans, Democrats, independents, libertarians, and evangelicals—all marching hand in hand. It was America at its best. Our neighbors were standing together to defend personal liberty and economic freedom.

We are a new and permanent force in American politics. And we want our liberty back. But the powerful in Washington won't relinquish control easily. We have to take it. And that is going to mean a lot of work. My hope is that this book will empower the millions of Americans who want to make a difference to do so.

In these pages you'll find inspiring stories about citizen activists who have dedicated themselves to doing just that. You'll learn what inspired them. You'll read firsthand accounts of the actions people take from across the country who decided enough is enough. You'll see how the intellectual underpinnings of our limited government movement have time and again led us to the right positions while “experts” inside the Beltway said we were wrong. You'll understand that our belief in limited government puts us at the center of American politics—not on the fringe—meaning we will be the one who decides who wins elections. And you will also read our FreedomWorks Grassroots Action Toolkit that will make you an effective and powerful patriot-activist.

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