The Tea Party movement arose as a conservative reaction to Barack Obama's election to the presidency. It has become a force in Idaho and national politics. Brendan Smythe, founder and president of Tea Party Boise, is a draftsman, father of four from Northern California and amateur scholar of government systems. In our hour-and-a-half-long interview, Smythe set out to convert us to his liberty-loving ways, but we agreed to disagree, perhaps to continue the debate over a beer.
How did you start Tea Party Boise?
It all started with the bailouts that got us angry enough. Watching that happen--it drove us to do something that we've never done before, and that's stand on a street corner with a sign. There were just three of us: my brother-in-law, myself and my wife. I drug Michelle out there and she was embarrassed the whole way, but we felt passionate enough to say something to people that we disapproved of what was going on in Washington. A year later, we're up to 2,600 members that feel the same way.
What made you mad about the bailouts?
We're capitalists, we're business owners and to allow capitalism to fully work its course, you have to allow for failure, and for the government to take our tax money, lots of our tax money ... whatever method they choose to take our money and give it to companies that really should have failed really made us angry.
What was your preferred alternative?
To try and guess as to what would happen requires prophecy. When people are held accountable to their actions, they do everything they can to try and stop the worst-case scenario from happening. People work together, we pull together as Americans and do it in an appropriate way, which is that anyone who had interest in those companies, for them to stay afloat or survive, would all pull together and fix what needed to be fixed. If all their investors bailed on them and said, nah, you need to go down, obviously they've upset their investors or any other Americans enough that they need to disappear. To become prophet and say that this will trickle down to all of us ... we believe that that was just fear tactics. Obviously, it started under Bush and we were all just watching this happen.
Was your first protest during the Bush administration?
It was just around the kitchen tables at that time. As a conservative, this is a conservative movement. But one thing it absolutely is not is a Republican movement. They have done just as much damage to this economy and to the destruction of our founding principles as the Democratic Party. This started at the kitchen table, and when it came to watching where Obama was taking it, it really drove us to the streets.
What did Obama do that moved it to the streets?
First off, he was continuing what was going on with the bailouts. But secondly, the tone changed from simply the bailouts to wanting to control and save all these other American problems. And we felt we didn't want any more touching of the system. If you remember, it started going over to GM, we started working into other industries, and if there wasn't any public pressure at the time, who knows how far it would have gone.
How far do you think it could go?
Tyranny, no doubt, and we have lots and lots of history that shows that. Tyranny is when you have one person or a group of persons that take control of a society, and so, if you look back in history, even with some well-founded republics, when those republics think that they are a democracy--100 percent vote of the people--what happens is elitists will soon find themselves in power and they can't control themselves with that much power, it's a very addictive force, and so you quickly find yourself with a tyrannical government.
What about the tyranny of corporations?
They try to be, but there's another force that's working against them, and that's the consumer. And so you have this beautiful match as to who has the money and who decides where that money is going to go, and so corporations have these handcuffs on them. They have to convince us and make us happy enough and make us want to give our money to them, but ultimately, at the end of the day, we have the choice and the power to give them that money or turn on that TV station or listen to that radio program or buy a Boise Weekly, or pick it up, it's ultimately our choice. Now some people might say, "Well, they're playing mind games with you." Oh definitely, they're trying to do mind games all the time but they never for once have the power to just say, you know what? I'm not going to try and convince you anymore, I'm just going to take your money.
The government does have that power, and so corporations have been able to go to the government now and use that same force ... to take our money. What we see is definitely corporate power working side by side with government to take control.
Well, can't we check government power with our vote?
Now we go back to the reason why we are not a democracy. Democracies ultimately fail because there are times in history that we can be fooled, that we can be bought with our votes, and so our forefathers put a very, very genius system in place, one that the world has never seen before, and that's the checks and balances that exist in American government ... They created the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch, but over the years, mostly over the last 100 years, corruption has infiltrated these systems. For instance, the 17th Amendment, that's an issue that many people are very confused about.
Do you call the trend in the United States "socialism"?
Yeah, definitely. Any kind of government intervention or rules as far as safety, providing safety or safety cushions, government programs, bailouts, those are all social programs: "social-ism." Socialism, the whole idea of socialism, and it always sounds so mean, "what, you don't want to help somebody out?" What socialism is is it's charity. I've never met a Democrat that didn't have their heart in the right place, but with these programs, there are ... repercussions not planned for. History has shown, without a shadow of a doubt, that charity and social programs belong in the hands of the individual, not the government.
What's a historic example?
Social Security, Medicare. They're bankrupt; it doesn't work. All social programs are well intentioned. What people forget about is that Lenin and Stalin and Hitler, they were well-intentioned. It was to create a better society for all, but there was a force working against them that they just couldn't explain. The same is happening today with Social Security. Why is it bankrupt, why is it failed? Well, if we just throw more money at it. Well, Stalin and Hitler got to the point, they said, "why isn't this working, well maybe I just need to kill people that disagree with me." My philosophy for economic intelligence is that charity belongs in the hands of the individual. I tell people, if they want better health care, volunteer at a hospital.
Don't you have any concerns about your personal health-care situation?
We worry about that every day. I've got four kids. If something happens to them, how are we going to pay for it?
So what can you as an individual do about it? You can't just go volunteer at a hospital and get X-rays.
I wish I didn't have to get up day-to-day and bust my butt ... there is no better system than the principles laid out by Adam Smith and that economic system, and basically that comes down to innovation. You gotta think your way out of it. You can't just work a menial job and give your dollar to some bureaucracy ...
I'm not naive about government and government force, but in this country, I feel like I am the government.
It's a difference in principal beliefs. You have two ends of the spectrum. You have the collective good and you have the individual. Those two concepts have been battling each other since the beginning of time, I mean biblically. You have the Tower of Babel on the once side, which was the collective good. And you have the power of the individual on the other side, which is the Exodus, finding one's freedom. You had the Pharaoh in Egypt, which was the collective good. I'm not bringing up anything new and in fact I'm just a novice when it comes to understanding these things, but the more research you do, you find, oh my gosh, I have scratched the surface here. You say, I feel like I am the government, this is America. I'm driving on the road, surely I've got to give money. But what ends up happening is corruption takes place, and one man, one organization, can't handle that much power.
What's the layout of the Tea Party movement in Idaho?
We communicate once in a while, but this truly is as grass roots as it gets. I know a lot of people have a hard time believing that. Pelosi and Obama didn't at first, either; they thought this was some contrived Republican thing. We're just meeting some of these other groups around the state. We believe in freedom and the power of the individual. I'm not going to tell them what to do, and they're not going to tell me what to do. That's why you see floaters in this movement. You'll see people go from one group to another group. But the one thing that we do have, and it is a very consistent message, is the principles of liberty and economic intelligence, fiscal responsibility. You'll see the Pledge of Allegiance done at all our groups. You gotta ask yourself, why are those things happening? And it's because of love of country, love of the foundations, believing in what our forefathers taught us. When you look at the opposite side of those groups, they think our forefathers were just white slave owners that had old ideals and principles that don't pertain to the 21st century, let alone the 20th century.
So there's no collectivism in our founding documents?
There was. You need a national security, those type of things.
To protect one's freedom was their main objective, at all costs, life liberty and property, those were unalienable rights not given to us by Congress, they were given to us by God, is what was laid out. They didn't mention a specific God, because it didn't need to be. You had to believe in a force higher than yourself, and the minute that you think all you have to do is vote rights in, you're going downhill. For instance, like the health-care vote. People have said, well it's a right, it should be a right, for health care and the one thing that everybody misses the boat is that this is a republic, not a democracy, and in a republic you have the rule of law. In a democracy, if somebody does something wrong, he steals a horse, the 30 people in that town could all vote to hang him. That's a democracy, but you can't in this country, those 30 people say hang him, the sheriff says no, he goes to court, then a jury says hang him or not hang him. If health care is a right, then all you have to do is sue the person that's not giving it to you. We have a court system here. Fine, if it's a right and you're due it, sue, take it up in the courts. You don't take it up in Congress because Congress doesn't give out rights.
What are our rights?
Life, liberty and property.
Those are all open to interpretation.
Our educational system is not taught these things. I had to search them out on my own. It was easier for me to agree with the left philosophy right out of public school that they were white slaveholders who just killed off a bunch of Indians, and Lewis and Clark would be lost in the woods arguing with each other if it wasn't for Sacajawea. It's like all of our heritage has always been so stupid and moronic and wrong and greed driven. It's incredible. Life is your future, liberty is your present--being free right now--property is your past. You have your property taken away from you, you aren't anything.
What are your sources? What have you been reading?
Other than our original documents, there's Ayn Rand's book, there's a good conservative book, Atlas Shrugged, that's a little too much reading for me, but you can pull some good things out of it. There's Milton Friedman's work. Believe it or not, for our age group, there's a lot of good stuff on YouTube. Look up some of Reagan's speeches, look up some other democracies and social movements. You can research Chile. That was a good one, to see what happened there. You can look up William Bradford, our Pilgrims. Look up Jamestown, the letters that came out of there.
You mentioned God-given rights ... I don't want to debate that right now, but is the Tea Party a religious movement?
They are very religious, but they are very careful to place their religious beliefs, at least with our group. Under liberty, you can believe in whatever you want to believe in. There is a difference between spirituality and religion. Churches can become just as corrupt as any other organization. The Tea Party folks are very spiritual, yes.
Are you? Do you go to church?
Yes, here and there. It's definitely my favorite book, is the Bible. The Old Testament. The Five Books of Moses definitely are interesting. Exodus, I'd have to say, freedom. It's a huge topic.