By Matt Kibbe
Santa came early this year. He arrived on December 16th, the 237th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. And he was flying a Gadsden flag from the back of his sleigh.
If you believe in fiscal responsibility and limited government, the defeat of the Omnibus spending bill – chockablock with a bloated stimulus baseline that ratchets up all spending, funding to implement ObamaCare, and over 6,600 earmarks – was the perfect present. It was a surprise gift, unexpected by everyone. Everyone, that is, save the men and women who now stand at the very center of American politics. Just as they defined election outcomes on November 2nd, the massive constituency we now know as the Tea Party roiled, and then rolled right over the big spenders to stop the bipartisan culture of pork barrel spending.
The November 2nd election was a mandate against such things. It was a mandate against a big, expensive and arrogant government that was spending too much money and getting involved in too many things that it had no business, or Constitutional authority, to do.
Most members of the incoming freshman Republican class had signed on to what amounts to a Tea Party campaign manifesto called the Contract FROM America. Number nine on that list of ten items: “ban all earmarks.” Soon after the election, House Republicans embraced a ban, something House Republican Leader John Boehner had failed to convince his caucus to do just months earlier. Then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he too, for the first time, supported an end to spending earmarks. But some Senate Republicans refused to back him, enough to join with Democrats to pass the Omnibus pork fest.
But on December 16th, with a keen eye on the 2012 elections, those Republicans and vulnerable Democrats like Claire McCaskill (MO) and Jim Webb (VA) finally walked away from the bloated spending measure, forcing Harry Reid to pull it from the floor.
As this remarkable year comes to a close, I wanted to write and thank you for all that you have done personally to support FreedomWorks and the millions of activists who work so hard to make a difference. None of us could have done what we do without your support. I can say, with just a little bit of pride, that together you and I made a difference for our nation, for our freedoms, and for the futures of our children and grandchildren.
It’s not every day that we can say that!
What a long strange trip it’s been since January 2008. Admit it, you didn’t believe that anything would – or could – stop what then seemed like an inexorable march towards omnipotent government and the end of individual freedom in America.
And then citizens started standing up from their kitchen tables; up from their couches. You, your family, your friends and neighbors, and millions of other fellow citizens you will likely never meet all began standing up against an arrogant political class that had lost touch. At best, our political leaders had forgotten the simple values of freedom, individual initiative and government restraint that make America exceptional. At worse, they were hostile to these values, hell-bent on the idea that government knew better and had the right to redistribute your hard-earned money to their ends.
The Pelosi Democrats call this idea “progressive,” but it’s not a new idea. It has been the Fool’s Errand of all would-be central planners for centuries. The new progressives hate the old “Socialist” label of their failed ideology. The President himself, piqued by the question, went out of his way to tell the New York Times: “I am not a Socialist.” Of course, words mean what they mean, and “Socialism” refers to a system of economic organization where government owns the means of production. Like car companies, or the provision of health insurance, or seats on the governing board of investment banks. In fairness, maybe their real goal is government control of the means of production. But that system of economic organization effectively functions in the very same way, and has its own history of catastrophic failure.
Americans, it turns out, are genetically opposed to socialism. So we stood up because we did not know what else to do.
And they ignored us.
No one really paid much mind of Mary Rakovich outside the Harborside Center in Ft. Meyers on February 10, 2009, protesting against the federal government’s desire to spend a trillion dollars in borrowed money to “stimulate” the economy. But Mary and thousands like her soldiered on, knowing that impossible odds were no excuse for letting our unique heritage of liberty pass on without a fight. As if Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty were goading them into action from the pages of history, more and more citizens took to the streets in peaceful protest.
This uprising became harder and harder not to notice, and like the last dinosaurs watching icebergs drifting past, the political establishment finally took note of the Tea Party.
And then they ridiculed us.
Leftist bloggers, liberal Nobel Laureates and Democratic apparatchiks all joined in, calling us phony, fake, “Astroturf.” They called us tea-baggers, a juvenile pejorative eventually employed by President Obama himself. Speaker Pelosi called us “un-American.”
The Tea Party was now a full-blown uprising that had knowingly embraced a unique heritage as a free people obligated, willing and able to take to the streets in peaceful protest against oppressive government. It had happened in Boston Harbor on December 16th, 1773, and now it was happening again, all over America. The Tea Party ethos was a uniquely American mandate from our founders, a personal responsibility to check government power and to ensure “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty.” February’s lonely and ignored voices were multiplying and connecting with each other, in town squares, at Book Club and online on Facebook and Ning. The Tea Party had become a nascent movement capable of turning out growing crowds of protestors. It was leaderless. No one was in charge. It was beautiful chaos, a spontaneous order built on voluntary association between neighbors with a personal knowledge of their families and communities and the core American values that bound them as a movement.
You already know the rest of this story. It is as Mahatma Gandhi once observed:
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
As 2010 comes to a close, we should all take a moment to reflect on this. We won. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, we won. As everyone predicted that we would lose, we won.
I am proud to have been a part of making history.
I am proud that all the staff at FreedomWorks was there at the very beginning. We were on the ground, training activists like Mary Rakovich long before the media acknowledged that there was a Tea Party. We were there at the starting line planning protests, joining in, and providing logistical, legal and technical support to any activist that wanted to stage their own event or plan their own protest.
I am proud that we took a big risk and had the foresight to raise resources and plan the logistics for the September 12th, 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington. In retrospect, that day amounted to a national coming out party for the Tea Party movement, the biggest mutual support group ever assembled. It was a magical moment. It was transformative. Every week, I hear another story from someone who was there protesting, for the first time, and is now leading some successful community organization, moving to Washington to work for the Congressman they helped elect, or even taking the oath of office themselves. That day, in front of the U.S. Capitol, a national social movement was born.
I am proud that FreedomWorks was one of the very first to endorse Marco Rubio of Florida in his efforts to defeat Charlie Crist. We did so before he was winning or even considered politically viable by conventional measures. We were the first to endorse Mike Lee of Utah in his insurgent Senate bid to defeat Republican appropriator-for-life Robert Bennett. These races were the beginning of what Dick Armey and I called a “hostile takeover” of the GOP. The Omnibus spending bill would have passed without these efforts. We had to beat the Republicans before we could beat the Democrats.
I am proud that we had a major hand in the November 2nd political tsunami. We insisted that candidates embrace the planks of the Contract FROM America, knowing that grassroots Americans would respond to candidates that boldly stood for something. In another innovation, our PAC served primarily as a service center for local networks of volunteers who wanted to put up yard signs, walk precincts or hand out literature but didn’t have the resources or legal structures to do so on their own.
I am most proud to be a member of this leaderless community of activists committed to taking America back. My wife Terry and I have protested and marched along with everyone else. We have drunk beer together, talked to hostile media together, walked neighborhoods to Get Out The Vote, and accomplished un-accomplishable goals, together.
I am proud of so many things that we helped accomplish, but success has created many new opportunities and challenges. There is little time to rest. Now WE must govern. WE, that is, as in We the People.
As we go into 2011, those that ignored us, ridiculed and attacked us are now predicting that Tea Party strength will wane. They hope that infighting will divide us; that such a decentralized movement cannot possibly pivot from GOTV activities to the complexities of the legislative process. The Tea Party cannot possibly govern, they say.
They wish it were so.
It is our job to prove them wrong. Again. At FreedomWorks, we have plans in place to do just that. I like our odds. Far more so than in 1995, the incoming freshman class is unified in what needs to get done. More important, this class has the backing of a powerful grassroots constituency in the Tea Party. This “inside/outside game” is historically unprecedented, and has the potential to beat the odds, and fundamentally shift the rules of the game when it comes to the politics of spending.
I know, I know. It’s a tall order. But remember where we started. Did you ever believe that we would come this far so fast in the battle to restore individual freedom and limited government?
As the Washington establishment struggles with the stark reality of the new political order, all eyes are on the massive class of incoming freshmen, totaling 85 House and 13 Senate Republicans. Of those, 69 will replace Democrats, representing a historic electoral rebuke of the Democratic Party. More meaningful and underreported is the quality and unity of purpose in this massive voting bloc. Almost to a person, they ran on job creation, restoring economic growth, repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and reining in deficit spending.
A vast majority signed, and won by campaigning on the Contract FROM America, the closest thing there is to a policy manifesto from the leaderless, decentralized Tea Party movement. Tim Scott from South Carolina, now a freshman representative on the House Republican leadership team, won in part by pointing out that his primary opponent had refused to sign on to the Tea Party’s document. He will be working with at least 56 contract signers in the House. In the Senate, 12 victorious Republicans signed the Contract, representing the largest bloc of committed fiscal conservatives in our lifetimes. No such bloc existed in 1995, even though Republicans controlled the body. Mike Lee was the very first signer of the Contract, and fully embraced it in his insurgent campaign. Expect to see Lee, along with Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and their freshman colleagues make life uncomfortable for the tax, borrow and spend collegiality in the Senate.
This is the “inside game,” and we are wasting no time pivoting to address the new makeup of Congress. The week after the election, FreedomWorks Foundation organized a “Legislative Entrepreneur” gathering in Baltimore for the best of the recently elected freshman members from the House and Senate. The idea was to gather and focus this historic class before the Washington machine started dictating the rules of the game as they always attempt to do. Former Senate Leader Trent Lott accurately, if indelicately, called this dictating process “co-opting.”
Our retreat was in part to inoculate the freshmen from Beltway Fever. Dick Armey and I, along with other allies and staff, spent a productive two days with the group. Of course, the media got wind of the meeting and the Baltimore gathering became a major news story, helping to elevate the pull of the incoming legislators. Having had the opportunity to spend this time with the men and women who were elected under the Tea Party banner on November 2nd, I can tell you that the quality of character and commitment to principle is unprecedented in this massive freshman class. Without even having taken office yet, these freshmen have already pulled the entire legislative body in the right direction. The defeat of earmarks and the bloated Omnibus was just the beginning.
It is our job, of course, to prevent the co-opting process. But we also understand the challenges that new legislators face. How do you translate campaign promises into laws that work? How do you turn a good idea into effective legislative language? What are the best parliamentary tactics to stop a bad bill from moving on the floor? FreedomWorks is uniquely positioned to provide support and strategic insights to our most promising legislative entrepreneurs, because many of us have worked on the inside before.
We recently brought on Dean Clancy, a seasoned legislative counsel with twenty years of Capitol Hill and Executive branch experience to provide advice and technical support to any legislator who wants to tackle the repeal of ObamaCare and other entitlement reforms. These are not easy questions, and we want our champions to go into this new environment, famously hostile to good, innovative ideas, prepared to drive legislation from the right philosophical foundations.
Dr. Judy Shelton has also joined us to offer sophisticated advice from the “Austrian School” of economics on monetary policy, financial reform, and free market alternatives to bailouts. FreedomWorks Foundation, in partnership with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, has just released Dr. Shelton’s “Guide to Sound Money,” making it available to legislators, staff and grassroots citizens alike.
But good ideas are never enough to win public policy debates. The right parliamentary tactics only get you so far. Ultimately, we know that good public policy will happen when America beats Washington, and grassroots citizens demand nothing less. With skilled legislators effectively pursuing good legislative initiatives, we need to ensure that they have the continued and growing support of a national constituency that will defend them and pressure their colleagues to join their efforts to cut spending, fix health care, and reform the tax code.
And should they slip up or get co-opted, we will be there to remind them who they really report to: We the People!
Because of a number of innovations from our grassroots team, we have seen an exponential growth in our online membership, our Facebook friends and Ning networks. This is also true of our relationships with tens of thousands of local community leaders, including Tea Partiers, Glenn Beck’s 9/12ers, Liberty Groups and countless other local manifestations of the grassroots freedom movement. Our new partnership with Glenn Beck has brought a whole new community of principled activists into the fold, recruiting, on average about one thousand new folks a day!
We work with all these activists as a service center based on the trader principle. We voluntarily join forces to achieve our mutual goals. But as this broad community gets more sophisticated and connected at the local level, our challenge is to continue adding value in that trader relationship.
A top down, hierarchical approach will not work in this new internet age, and undermines the potential power that comes from decentralization. This is true of the market, and it is equally true of grassroots organization circa 2011. Faithful to this spirit, right after the election FreedomWorks launched a new online community that is a mash-up of all of the functionality of Facebook, Ning, Twitter and Google Maps – all together in an easy to use format.
FreedomConnect is a major new social networking platform that takes decentralized coordination of local groups to a new level of sophistication. The soft launch was held in Columbus, Ohio with a gathering of leaders from 60 local groups from across the state (and others from West Virginia and Indiana). Many had not met before, and once they were introduced to FreedomConnect, they immediately started creating new groups and plans, including a statewide tax initiative battle and an Ohio Tea Party Convention.
Nationally, we will roll out FreedomConnect in February. Its genius is that it removes additional barriers to information and coordination by getting the middleman out of the middle. This freedom is a powerful tool. By the time this community is fully populated in 2012, it will make the once powerful online networking tools of Organizing for Obama look obsolete.
By connecting our legislative entrepreneurs inside with a growing constituency for freedom outside the Beltway, we plan to do things that, in the words of former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “we could not do before.” This will help us win immediate battles on spending and taxes, and the repeal of key components of ObamaCare. It will also build momentum for the big ideas that can save our country from its once inexorable march towards omnipotent government. Finally, it will grow and sustain a national community of freedom-loving citizens ready, willing and able to hold the President, Senators and Congressmen accountable on November 6, 2012.
And then we win.
Yours in Liberty,
President and CEO
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