The Freedom Movement Must Man Up

The Freedom Movement Must Man Up

By Brad Lips - November 14, 2012

The past week has felt like “Mourning in America.” In conservative ranks, there is disbelief that a plurality of voters accept the diminished expectations of our “New Normal.” A serious debt crisis looms on the horizon, but voters were more concerned about protecting lady parts from imaginary foes and keeping taxpayer money flowing to muppets.

There has been plenty of second-guessing of candidate Romney as well. But all of this misses the point.

Milton Friedman said it well in 1975: “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.”

In other words, it is up to each of us to advance the freedom agenda – not just as voters pining for “the next Ronald Reagan,” but as engaged citizens with a focus on ideas. What’s more, in our new era of decentralized media and social network-enabled activism, we have a real chance of success.

As President Obama drives on a road-trip to serfdom for another four years, there will be no shortage of “teachable moments.” It is distressing to think of the lives hurt, the jobs not created, and the wealth diminished by a debased currency and a gluttonous government. But it is against this background that the freedom movement can best draw contrasts and advocate for serious free-market reforms.

This is where the real battle lies. Using Friedman’s locution, we must make it “politically profitable” for our imperfect representatives in Washington to advance the public’s general interest, by downsizing government and unleashing free enterprise.

For this, the Tea Party must play a key role. In 2009, the movement was about visibly rallying against the Obama administration’s leftward turn. In its 2.0 incarnation, the Tea Party left the protest signs behind and moved on to Get Out The Vote efforts to elect sympathetic candidates – to tremendous effect in 2010 and, now we see, less success when matched against the mysterious power of President Obama at the top of the ticket.

Now, Tea Party 3.0 needs to add a new dimension, by becoming ruthlessly policy-focused.

In this task, the Tea Party has natural allies in a sprawling network of think tanks and advocacy groups devoted to paring back the role of government at every level. These include established think tanks like the Cato Institute, and public interest litigators such as the Institute for Justice. But it also includes newer organizations like the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which rallies politicians to pledge to cut the size of government, and the Foundation for Government Accountability, which is working to replicate successful policy reforms at the state level, like Florida’s patient-pleasing, budget-saving Medicaid Cure initiative.

This network includes international partners as well, whose influence over U.S. policy was demonstrated more than once over the last four years, when a single report from a plucky think tank in Spain, the Instituto Juan de Mariana, debunked Obama’s “green jobs” strategy or when Denmark’s Center for Policy Studies proved the president’s claims about wind energy were overblown.

Regardless of the source of good ideas, the odds for significant policy victories will grow by putting the full intellectual ammunition of the free-market think tank movement into the hands of the battle-tested Tea Party soldiers.

This past September, the Independent Women’s Voice conducted a controlled experiment in Colorado demonstrating that “issue education” affects voter preferences, even when the educational materials do not mention specific candidates. Non-partisan messaging by IWV on the Affordable Care Act moved presidential preferences by a net 14 points, compared with a control group that received no messaging.

The lesson is that ideas matter. Over time, we must reach and persuade Americans who are today oblivious to the issues that have the greatest bearing on their futures.

Ronald Reagan closed his administration with a wish for more “informed patriotism that can sustain us through the long term.” In the Tea Party and the free-market think tank movement, Reagan got his wish, albeit two decades late. The freedom movement must not let “mourning in America” become a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially given the hollow, agenda-less character of Obama’s victory. It is time to man up to the challenges ahead and redouble our efforts at saving the country. 

Brad Lips is CEO of the Atlas Network, which connects a worldwide movement of more than 400 organizations in 90 countries working to preserve individual freedom and free enterprise.

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