Libertarian satirist P.J. O’Rourke has written about a journey he took recently through New Hampshire Tea Party land in search of the movement’s foreign policy platform. He is a sympathetic tourist. The piece he produced for World Affairs Journal, “Innocence Abroad,” includes just enough of the kind of “innocent” Tea Party talk to draw a familiar picture but not to mock or dismiss. In fact, he paints the Tea Partiers he met as everymen and women whose clear vision of government would translate to good or at least better U.S. foreign policy, even if they struggle to articulate what that policy would look like.
Skeptics may see this essay as the kind of piece written in the mind before the writer met any of the players involved. The Tea Party foreign policy articulated by O’Rourke is something O’Rourke likely envisioned before there ever was such thing as a Tea Party.
Specific, concrete political policy goals were disavowed by almost all of the people I talked to in the Tea Party movement (I use the term in the overly broad public commentator way). Instead, what I heard were arguments against the kind of centralized government power that concocts political policy goals — arguments of the Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman kind, that individuals are the best judges of how to employ their individual energies and resources. Whatever else the Tea Party movement believes, it espouses (and evidences) a firm belief in the self-organizing capacities of free individuals.
Unfortunately, we individuals are rarely free in the face of foreign policy. Foreign policy is highly centralized. And the political power that centralizes foreign policy is — when wielded by foreigners — outside the realm of our political influence no matter how popular the Tea Party becomes.
Simplistic, by the standards of the State Department (or the Trilateral Commission), but there are simple aspects to the biggest complexities. If the Tea Party movement, so-called, achieves “small, effective government with low taxes and free enterprise,” America will be a much richer nation. A much richer nation will have a much more powerful foreign policy, whether it means to or wants to or not.